My 2003 VW Golf: A History and Love Story

My VW just keeps going and going and going, even without regular dusting.

I love my VW Golf. Even though it’s showing its age (2003) and it’s been around the block a few times (216k miles), I have never thought about trading it in for something new. Out of all the cars I have owned through the years, the VW is easily my favorite. To better understand what I love about it, it helps to review a history of all my vehicles to date.

My 1993 Mazda Protege had off-road capabilities.

My first car was a green 1993 Mazda Protege. I believe someone my mother worked with sold it to me for $700. It was an excellent first car. It was beat-up on the outside and simple on the inside, but everything about it was great because — it was my own car! I had a tape adapter to play songs off of my Discman and the car had those awesome seatbelt buckles that would slide around the door frame when you got out of the car; what more could a sixteen year old ask for?

Sadly, I only had the car for a few months before the transmission went out. I remember trying to back out of a parking spot and instead of going in reverse, the car lurched forward into a slight ditch where the car stopped itself on a tree trunk. I somehow managed to rock the car off the tree back into the parking lot where I then began my excruciatingly slow and loud 10-mile drive home in first gear.

Me and my green Civic in front of the Quick Stop (from the movie Clerks) in New Jersey.

My second car was a beautiful green 1997 Honda Civic. I remember I had paid around $3600 for it using money I had saved up from performing magic shows and building websites. It had a manual gearbox and I was excited to learn how to drive stick. My father’s technique for teaching me to drive stick involved stoping on the incline of the hill and then practicing driving forward. Once I got the car moving and proved I wouldn’t stall, he’d have me stop on the hill again and repeat. After a couple hours of going up a single hill over and over again, I felt comfortable enough to be able to drive the Civic on my own.

I really liked this Civic.

I upgraded the stereo (it played mp3 CDs!) and wired up an “ah-wooooo-ga” horn into it. My friends and I would drive around and blast the ridiculous sounding horn in tunnels, by golfers in mid-swing, and anywhere else we thought would be funny. This car was what I drove all through high school so it held lots of memories for me with hanging out with friends after football games and taking it on road trips to go camping and skiing in Vermont.

Getting ready to go camping.

Eventually one summer the radiator started leaking like a sieve. I spent that summer driving around with 2–3 gallons of water in my trunk at all times, so I could refill the radiator when it inevitably ran out of water. I was planning on getting the radiator fixed before winter, but unfortunately an old man slammed into the side of my Civic in broad daylight and my car was totaled. I loved my Civic as much as I love my Golf now and if it didn’t get totaled who knows how long I still would have driven it for. Anyway, I ripped out the stereo and took my insurance money and went and got…

Apparently I never loved my Nissan enough to take an exterior picture of it. This interior shot is all I got.

A champagne-colored 1998 Nissan Altima. I never really wanted this car, but after the Civic was totaled I needed to get something fast so I could get back on the road (the Civic got totaled when I was on summer break a couple weeks before heading off to college in Ohio, so I needed a car). Someone my father worked with was a mechanic on the side and made a hobby of flipping cars. He had just fixed up this Altima and it was a manual transmission, so that met my qualifications and I went ahead and bought it. The Altima was an ok car, but it was nothing like the Civic. It didn’t steer as well, it felt like it was built more cheaply, the gear box didn’t shift as smoothly as the Civic, and I didn’t really like the styling. Plus, someone had done a poor of adding DIY window tint that was bubbling up all over the place, so that didn’t add to the appeal. However, it was a mechanically solid car and I never really had any issues with it. I honestly didn’t drive this car nearly as much as my Civic because I got it when I was going to college. Besides weekend trips to the grocery store, this car mostly sat parked in a garage.

My 2003 VW Golf.

My current car is my beloved candy-white 2003 VW Golf. As I was about to graduate college, my father was in the market for a new car. As a graduation present he offered me his 110k mile VW Golf. I accepted and gave him the Altima to trade-in. I loved this car when my dad drove it around, and I was even more thrilled with it when it was finally mine.

2014’s brutal winter caused my back window to explode when I turned on the rear defroster.

The 2003 VW Golf is a perfect car. You can look at auto review websites and magazines and they will all agree with me. There is something about this car that is magical. In no particular order, here are the things I absolutely love about my car:

  • The shifting is amazingly smooth. Unlike my Nissan where I had to constantly struggle to get the shifter into gear, it’s effortless in the VW.
  • Although it’s not the fastest car (just got the 2.0 “too slow” model, no turbo like the GTI) it is insanely fun to drive. It handles well and being able to bomb through corners makes up for any lack of speed.
  • It looks good. The 2003 is still part of the MkIV revision of the Golf, which I think is the last great looking Golf. Starting with the MkV I think the outside design of the car got too smooth and offers too many curves. I like cars that are boxy — they look good and make the car look unique. Every year, cars become more curvy and harder to distinguish from each other. Fortunately with the MkVII VW went back to adding some hard angles, making the Golf look good again.
Fixing some rust and painting the hatch.
  • It looks good on the inside too. Blue and red lights make it feel sleek in the dark. Solid feeling plastic and rubber parts everywhere. The thing that I hate most about new cars, in particular American made cars as well as certain models offered by most manufacturers, is how cheap and flimsy interior components feel. The inside of my Golf feels solid and I love that.
  • Lots of cargo space. I have the 2-door model, and this thing can haul anything. It helped me move about 5 times when switching college dorms and apartments. It can haul most things back I buy from the store. The seats fold flat and I’ve fit mini fridges, snow blowers, lawn mowers, 8ft 2×4 lumber and a lot else into this well designed space.
  • German attention to detail. My cup holders are spring-loaded and awesome. When folding the back seats flat, there are built in spots to hold the headrests. The trunk cover is solid and works well. There are so many small things in this car that could have been an afterthought but instead were given a lot of attention by the designers which makes it a pleasure to drive in this car.
Disassembling the dash to install a USB port and an audio jack.

In addition to the features I love about this car, this was the first car that I really learned to work on myself. Although there are plenty of things that I hate about working on this car (special torx screw and triple square bits, lug bolts instead of nuts, rust under the rear window which I can never get to go away), overall this car has been pretty easy to service. There are a number of great forums online that offer help and knowledge about fixing VWs, being my favorite, the likes of which have helped me gone from knowing nothing about repairing cars to being able to:

-Change oil and filters

-Rotate tires

-Replace wheel bearings

-Replace brake pads and rotors

-Disassemble and clean the starter motor

-Replace the headlight assemblies

-Clean up rust and paint

-Replace the struts

-Replace the clutch

-Add an in-dash powered USB and stereo line-in jack

Overall, I really love this car. I love it so much that I don’t want to trade it in to get a new one. Even if it’s old, it is an awesome car and I want to drive it for as long as possible. With 13 years of age and 216k miles, it still is solid and drives great. Hopefully it lasts me a while and that when I finally do need to get a new car, I will be able to find one that is just as awesome as my Golf.

Book Notes: The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business — by Josh Kaufman

The Personal MBA Master the Art of Business by Josh Kaufman

I highlight and take notes when I read nonfiction books. Once I finish a book, I format and edit my notes so that I can easily remind myself of what I learned without having to reread the book. These notes are not a substitute for reading the book, they only serve as a reminder of key concepts.

The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble. — RALPH WALDO EMERSON

If you put the same amount of time and energy you’d spend completing an MBA into doing good work and improving your skills, you’ll do just as well.

Whoever best describes the problem is the one most likely to solve it. — DAN ROAM, AUTHOR OF THE BACK OF THE NAPKIN

What you need is a latticework of mental models in your head. And, with that system, things gradually fit together in a way that enhances cognition.

Every successful business (1) creates or provides something of value that (2) other people want or need (3) at a price they’re willing to pay, in a way that (4) satisfies the purchaser’s needs and expectations and (5) provides the business sufficient revenue to make it worthwhile for the owners to continue operation.

At the core, every business is a collection of processes that can be reliably repeated to produce a particular result. By understanding the essentials of how complex systems work, it’s possible to find ways to improve existing systems, whether you’re dealing with a marketing campaign or an automotive assembly line.

There is a difference between (A) what an MBA does to help you prove your abilities to others and (B) what getting an MBA actually does to improve your abilities. They are two different things. — SCOTT BERKUN, AUTHOR OF MAKING THINGS HAPPEN AND THE MYTHS OF INNOVATION

College: two hundred people reading the same book. An obvious mistake. Two hundred people can read two hundred books. — JOHN CAGE, SELF-TAUGHT WRITER AND COMPOSER

3 problems about MBA programs:

  1. Often times not worth the cost.
  2. Too much theory, not enough real world problems.
  3. MBA programs don’t guarantee high paying jobs.

Business schools don’t create successful people. They simply accept them, then take credit for their success.

Business school is a big risk. Should you choose to enroll, the only certainty is that you will shell out about $125,000. Such a figure correlates to a $1,500/month non-deductible loan repayment and a ten-year period of time in which you will not be able to save a red cent.

According to Pfeffer and Fong’s study, it doesn’t matter if you graduate at the top of your class with a perfect 4.0 or at the bottom with a barely passing grade — getting an MBA has zero correlation with long-term career success. None.

The quickest and easiest way to screw up your life is to take on too much debt.

Financial stress can destroy relationships, threaten your health, and jeopardize your sanity.

When you first start to study a field, it seems like you have to memorize a zillion things. You don’t. What you need is to identify the core principles — generally three to twelve of them — that govern the field. The million things you thought you had to memorize are simply various combinations of the core principles. — JOHN T. REED, REAL ESTATE INVESTMENT EXPERT AND AUTHOR OF SUCCEEDING

Your job as a businessperson is to identify things that people don’t have enough of, then find a way to provide them.

Some businesses thrive by providing a little value to many, and others focus on providing a lot of value to only a few people.

So often people are working hard at the wrong thing. Working on the right thing is probably more important than working hard. — CATERINA FAKE, FOUNDER OF FLICKR.COM AND HUNCH.COM

10 ways to evaluate a potential market for a new business. Rate on scale of 0–10. Sum of 75+ is potential for an idea.

  1. Urgency
  2. Market size
  3. Pricing potential
  4. Cost of customer acquisition
  5. Cost of value delivery
  6. Uniqueness of Offer
  7. Speed to market
  8. Up-front investment
  9. Upsell potential
  10. Evergreen potential

The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time. — HENRY FORD, FOUNDER OF THE FORD MOTOR COMPANY AND ASSEMBLY-LINE PIONEER

When any two markets are equally attractive in other respects, you’re better off choosing to enter the one with competition. Here’s why: it means you know from the start there’s a market of paying customers for this idea, eliminating your biggest risk.

Some ideas don’t have enough of a market behind them to support a business, and that’s perfectly okay. That doesn’t mean you should ignore them: side projects can help you expand your knowledge, improve your skills, and experiment with new methods and techniques.

Don’t be shy about showing potential customers your work in progress.

Nobody — no matter how smart or talented they are — gets it right the first time.

Pick three key attributes or features, get those things very, very right, and then forget about everything else… By focusing on only a few core features in the first version, you are forced to find the true essence and value of the product. — PAUL BUCHHEIT, CREATOR OF GMAIL AND GOOGLE ADSENSE

Any engineer that doesn’t need to wash his hands at least three times a day is a failure. — SHOICHIRO TOYODA, FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION

People don’t buy quarter-inch drills; they buy quarter-inch holes. — THEODORE LEVITT, ECONOMIST AND FORMER PROFESSOR AT HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL

Most drivers don’t buy expensive off-road-capable vehicles because they actually drive off the road. They buy them because off-road capability makes them feel adventurous and bold, capable of meeting any driving challenge.

Believe it or not, it’s often wise to turn away paying customers. Not every customer is a good customer: customers who require more time, energy, attention, or risk than they’re worth to your bottom line aren’t worth attracting in the first place.

Your job as a marketer isn’t to convince people to want what you’re offering: it’s to help your prospects convince themselves that what you’re offering will help them get what they really want.

Raising your prices can increase demand by appealing to a more attractive type of customer.

The best salespeople are the ones who can listen intently for the things the customer really wants.

If you discover why, how, and how much your offer will benefit the customer, you’ll be able to explain that value in terms they’ll understand and appreciate. Understanding the value you can provide your customers is the golden path to a profitable sale.

Present yourself to the prospect as an “assistant buyer.” Your job is not to sell the prospect a bill of goods: it’s to help them make an informed decision about what’s best for them.

Accepting this small offer creates a psychological need to Reciprocate, subtly stacking the deck in the salesman’s favor. Prospective car buyers who accepted this free offer were far more likely to purchase a vehicle, add optional accessories, and agree to less attractive financing terms. As a result, these customers spent thousands of dollars more than the people who did not accept anything from the salesman while negotiating. That doesn’t make rational sense, because the coffee or cookies cost the dealer very little, but Reciprocation makes it more likely that the buyer will “pay back” the favor with a much larger concession.

Colloquially, this approach is sometimes called the “take the puppy home” strategy. If you visit a pet store and meet an adorable puppy, but you’re not sure whether or not you’re ready to commit, the pet store will tell you to take the puppy home on a trial basis. “If it doesn’t work out,” the salesman says, “you can always bring it back.”

Do whatever you can do to provide something that unexpectedly delights your customers.

Finance is the art and science of watching the money flowing into and out of a business, then deciding how to allocate it and determining whether or not what you’re doing is producing the results you want.

Accounting is the process of ensuring the data you use to make financial decisions is as complete and accurate as possible.

The Cash Flow Statement is straightforward: it’s an examination of a company’s bank account over a certain period of time.

The Income Statement contains an estimate of the business’s Profit over a certain period of time, once revenue is matched with the related expenses.

A Balance Sheet is a snapshot of what a business owns and what it owes at a particular moment in time. You can think of it as an estimate of the company’s net worth at the time the Balance Sheet was created.

Believe it or not, there are only four ways to increase your business’s revenue: Increase the number of customers you serve. Increase the average size of each Transaction by selling more. Increase the frequency of transactions per customer. Raise your prices.

If you want to do good work, taking care of yourself isn’t optional. Nutrition, exercise, and rest are the inputs your body converts into productive energy. Poor (or too little) input inevitably reduces the quantity and quality of your output.

People respond twice as strongly to potential loss as they do to the opportunity of an equivalent gain. Eliminate this perception of risk by offering a money-back guarantee or similar Risk Reversal offer, and people will feel the decision is less risky, resulting in more sales.

Great management is boring — and often unrewarding. The hallmark of an effective manager is anticipating likely issues and resolving them in advance, before they become an issue.

Some of the best managers in the world look like they’re not doing much, but everything gets done on time and under budget.

The problem is, no one sees all of the bad things that the great manager prevents. Less skilled managers are actually more likely to be rewarded, since everyone can see them “making things happen” and “moving heaven and earth” to resolve issues — issues they may have created themselves via poor management.

Limit scarcity by:

  1. Limited Quantities
  2. Price Increases
  3. Price Decreases
  4. Deadlines

It’s perfectly okay to change your Goals. Sometimes we think we want something, only to find out later that we don’t want it so much anymore. Don’t feel bad about that — it’s called learning.

The more people know your capabilities and respect the Reputation you’ve built, the more Power you will have.

Comparative Advantage also explains why diverse teams consistently outperform homogenous teams. Having a wide variety of team members with different skills and backgrounds is a major asset: it increases the probability that one of your teammates will know what to do in any given circumstance. If every team member has the same skills and the same background, it’s far more likely the team will get stuck or make a preventable error.

There’s a reason high-performing surgical teams, military units, and sports teams tend to be small and focused: too much time spent in communication and coordination can kill a team’s effectiveness.

Everyone has a fundamental need to feel Important. The more Important you make them feel, the more they’ll value their relationship with you.

People will be more receptive to any request if you give them a reason why. Any reason will do.

The most effective testimonials tend to follow this format: “I was interested in this offer, but skeptical. I decided to purchase anyway, and I’m very pleased with the end result.”

Dale Carnegie recommends “Giving others a great reputation to live up to.” He was a wise man — raise your expectations of others, and they’ll naturally do their best to satisfy those expectations.

Here’s the golden rule of hiring: the best predictor of future behavior is past performance.

Checking references at this point is a good use of time. Question should be simple: Would they work with the candidate again? If they hesitate or talk around the question, it’s a no. If you can’t reach a reference when you call, leave a message and ask them to contact you if the candidate is extraordinary. If they are, you’ll receive a return call. If they aren’t, you won’t.

Finally, give promising candidates a short-turnaround project or scenario to see how they think, work, and communicate firsthand. Small projects tend to work best for skilled technical employees, while scenarios work best for candidates who will be responsible for product creation, marketing, sales, business development, finance, and management roles. The outcome of the assignment should be a deliverable of some kind: a report, a pitch, an asset, or a process.

If you want to build a system that works, the best approach is to build a simple system that meets the Environment’s current selection tests first, then improve it over time. Over time, you’ll build a complex system that works.

The more tightly coupled the processes in a system are, the more likely failures or delays will affect other parts of the system.

Self-education, whether it’s about business or anything else, is a never-ending process.

NOTE: Links to products in this post go through my Amazon affiliate account so if you use my links to buy something, a small percentage of that sale will go towards funding my book buying habit.