Wednesday, January 28, 2009

you wanna charge me what?

So, the other day, my primary ride (another TDI) wouldn't start. I couldn't be down for more than a day, so I had it towed to the garage around the way (Vic's Auto on Boones Ferry in Lake O, Oregon). Now, they've been in business for a long time, and they have all the right signs for being reputable... but.... no. So, it was towed there mid-day, but they weren't able to evaluate it until the following day. Maybe they wanted to run my credit first, to see how much they could gouge me for. Anyway, I got a call from them around lunchtime the day after I had it towed to them. First, he's hits me with "the injection pump is bad" and then "it'll need a timing belt service" and closes with an insulting "and I'll want a synthetic oil change". Total cost? $3500. I told him to take his hands off my car, that I'd have it towed off his lot by close-of-business, and asked how much I owed him for the evaluation. "$90..." He then went on a tirade about the evils of biodiesel and that the dealer wouldn't warrantee the work. F him. Don't go there. Repeat, do not take your car to Vic's unless you like throwing money away.


I called my good friend Justin. I explained the symptoms over the few days leading up to the failed start like I did to know-nothing at Vic's: MPG getting steadily worse, diesel fuel smell from near the front right wheel, finally, it failing to start. His diagnosis: seal replacement in injection pump. I ordered the seal kit from (<$50 including shipping) and rolled/tow-chained the car onto my driveway. During the week it took for the parts to arrive, our friends loaned us their "extra" car, so we were able to work and go to school, etc. Great thanks to them, of course.
Monday, Justin came by, replaced the seals (without pulling the pump) and set the fuel flow volume in about an hour and a half in sub 40* weather. After joining the family for a couple of bowls of potato-leek soup (homemade) to chase away the chill, I paid him the agreed to $150. Car runs great, and it cost me less than $200. We believe the seals failed because we varied the biodiesel (BD) percentage too widely. I was running almost pure BD for a while, but when my last contract ended, I wasn't near a good BD source anymore. So, I've been running almost pure dino-diesel for the last 4 months. That variance causes the seals to expand and contract, and, ultimately, fail.

So, the moral of the story? Trust your friends. I should have called Justin right away. I've always trusted his knowledge, and we gotta keep the money in the family when we can. Justin, you rock. When we were down, he found a way of getting here as the parts arrived; our friends loaned us a car so life could keep on keeping on without hassle.

On the bus-side, I've been making slow progress in the radiator cowling. Between working 50 hour weeks and wearing down my drill bits, though, its been a slow go. No worries. Its more important to take each step right than taking it fast. More later, and remember your friends.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

rad progress

After over-thinking the whole radiator / cooling design, I'm back to what I started with last Fall. Back then, the design was simple: hang a radiator (TDI Jetta rad w/ AC condenser removed) below the belly of the bus at a slight angle. Build a cowling around it to help guide air up into the fins. To better control the temps, have a thermo-switch / manual override in parallel so the water temp would fire up the fans or I could switch it on from the driver's seat if the sensor failed.

I passed that design around to a few people, and I got lots of feedback. First, there was concern that debris could get into the cowling and damage the radiator. Of course, there was a "security mesh" at the opening, but little things could get through. Then there was concern about paper, rags, whatever blocking the opening. What if you hit something and the cowling/rad get smashed? Could you make it so the radiator angle could be cable-driven, so the angle could be changed from the driver seat? Will enough air get in there? Will it really go up through the rad and not around the cowling? Etc. I started working through a much more involved plan, but, in the end, its just too much. I'm back to the original, simple design.

Straight cowl around a rad hanging 5" below the belly of the bus with a manual fan-speed switch.

In the end, that design should work. The folks in Australia hang a rad under their buses at 0* angle, drive them around their deserts, and have no problems. They have big monster fans on theirs, obviously, but I think the stock fans with some angle into the airflow will work.

From Plan to Progress
I got a bunch of galvanized steel from the HVAC section of Home Despot. There were 4 reasons for this. 1 - my welding abilities are nearly nil. 2 - I wanted the cowling to be as light as can be. 3 - galvanized steel is already rust treated. 4 - its strong enough for a first cut (maybe as the permanent). I cut the 2 angled sides from galvanized sheet and started drilling and metal screwing it (m8 sheet metal screws) together. Remember, a triangle is much stronger than a square/rectangle, so if you think about doing a similar thing, think in terms of triangles, not squares. I have the 2 angled sides framed and sided. I have the pieces cut for the rear and front bottom pieces and the top front. I may not have a top rear; it may be strong enough without it, and any bar across the top-rear would interrupt the exhaust air flow. Anyway, I'll be screwing the rest of it together this week (if I don't have to work one of these nights).
I was also able to get the radiator test-hung from the under-belly of the bus as a test fit. While it didn't stay there very long, it gave me an opportunity to test the measurements and chalk in where I'll need to cut the belly pan to make room for the water lines.

Next: finish the cowling. Then, re-fit the rad in position to confirm cut marks. Make belly pan cuts. Hang the radiator, mount cowling, route water lines. Hopefully, I can be that far along before the middle of February.