Sunday, February 26, 2012

Front is Front

Front is front.  Sounds like nonsense.  If you troll car repair websites, etc, especially those sites oft-visited by John Muir fans (this one, not that one), you'll see that phrase when they are talking about the orientation of a section of car or how something is situated relative to the rest of the car.  "front is front" means "when I say 'front' I mean that face of the subsystem is pointing towards the front of the car".  Consider the phrase "I dropped my wrench down in front of the engine."  Now, where is it?  On the side closest to the nose of the car!  It sounds so simple now.  So, why is this post-worthy?  Ah... that's where today's story begins, or ends.

No Juice -> No Go
Lower Bowl Lift
Ski Bowl Night skiing
New o-ring.  Freshly re-seated temperature probe.  Coolant and water mixture set.  Skipping the mountain for the weekend to get the bus running, and was rewarded with some great breaks in the weather.  The stage was set.  So, after running the engine a bunch in the garage (starting and restarting a bunch), the bus looked leak-free. Hazah!  Saturday I wrangled the garage door open and set to starting the engine. 'click-click'.  Sweet.  All that testing drained the battery, so I put it back on the charger and returned to pulling bootlegs off the 'net.

#$%& Leaking Again
Sunday, the weather gods continued to smile.  The spits of rain broke in mid-afternoon, so I re-connected the battery, wrestled the door open and fired up the bus.  We drove around a little bit and then over to the BioDiesel-selling Chevron on Allen & Murray.  The computer started beeping at the intersection triggering that familiar "oh crap, we're out of coolant again" feeling.  We hobbled into the parking area and I killed the engine.  The overflow bottle was empty again, and there was evidence of coolant having sprayed on the rear (first front-is-front reference) of the fuel tank.  Coolant was draining out with verve.  I wrestled with it a bit, thought I had it fixed and watched more fresh coolant drain when I tested my theory.  Great.  At least it was a nice day, the lot was flat and I had ready-access to water (I was next to the air/water thing).

Pardon the Interruption
Interrupting the story for a second, but when I was at the Air/Water thing re-filling my water bottle, there was this odd couple putting air in their Smart car.  The guy was trying to figure out how to work the air thing, and the woman asks him if he'd gotten a pressure reading on the tire, and he turned to her and said "if you would just shut up, maybe I would".  I was aghast; I mean I'm standing right there, and then made the mistake of making eye contact with the woman.  Her face said "this happens all the time, he's an asshole".  Wow, the crap some folks put up with.  I just took my water back to my bus, grateful I don't have to sit in that Smart car with that asshole.

Front is Front
After singeing my fingers and my left wrist a bit, I sat on the slider door entrance and thought a bit.  I changed the o-ring, so that's not it.  The C-clip is in good shape; not bent.  The flange was new, and the engine hasn't gotten warm enough to warp things.  I remembered that the C-clip is usually pushed on from below when the TDI engine is in a stock car.  In my Jetta, for example, there's lots of room under the flange, but almost none from above.  I figured this was why it was installed that way.  So, I had been putting mine in from the top.  In "front is front" form, I decided that "bottom was bottom" and I should try the C-clip from underneath.  Considering that the lower edge of the flange sits less than 1/2 inch above the fuel tank deck, there is very little maneuvering room.  Still, I was able to get the C-clip in with a minimum of swearing and burning.

Drive It Like You Stole It
Wanting to get away from the bad vibes of a-hole, I put everything away, and quick-started / killed the engine to clear the air bubbles.  I checked the coolant level, and I was off.  I drove like I assumed it was fixed: pushed the RPM's into the low 3000's before shifting, etc.  If you don't test drive it like you're going to drive it... its not a valid test, now is it?  Anyway, I got home and circled the block before turning into the apartment complex.  No beeping from the computer.  Temperature steadily climbed, but it wasn't at all erratic (which happens where there's air near the sensor).  So, I parked the bus outside the garage, killed the engine and opened the garage door.

While doing my opener wrestling stuff, I watched the bus for leaks.  Nuttin.  I fired him up, parked him and closed up the garage again.  Still no drips.  Hmm.. Now, the final test: how's the coolant level.  I looked at the bottle, and it looked low, so I started to open the bottle.... I heard a sucking sound and the coolant rose up to the full line.  The system was so sealed that the vacuum/pressure created by the coolant pump was holding.  I think we're finally fixed, and this time, I have reason to believe its for keeps.

As always, thanks for following along.  Now that he's road-worthy again, I will drive him to work a few times this week to get the gear oil into the tranny and prove the fix.  Then, maybe next weekend to Mt Hood?  I suppose, if I leave early enough, we can get to Timberline before the lot fills.. Regardless, it feels great to even consider it again.  I guess it does matter which way you put the C-clip in.  Bottom is bottom.  Front is front.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Mopping Shop and Eating Crow

Being Monday, today is all about updating what happened over the weekend.  I was able to test drive the bus,  take a run at the mountain, work on the cooling system some more and even watch a little football.

Mopping Shop
Well, as you may expect from the sub-heading here, the test drive got a little, uh.. wet.  Like my prior attempts to drive the bus, I had all the usual trappings.  Everything seems fine, and then its not.  I started him up, checking for leaks and for air bubbles in the overflow bottle.  Nada.  Then, I drove the bus down to the local 7-11 and picked up a celebratory beer.  Drove home.  By the time I got home, the engine was warmer, and the coolant started to leak.  I parked him in front of my place and like a nervous puppy, he formed a puddle underneath.  Drat.  I proceeded to mop the garage floor where he is usually parked and backed him in.  I slid a pan under the drip, went upstairs with my now-conciliatory beer and watched the Blazers beat the tar out of Denver on tv.

View of Mt. Jefferson
from the top of Magic Mile
Timberline Shines
I awoke to an alarm on Sunday morning, triggering a day playing in the snow.  I grabbed Boo, met my brother in Hollywood and made it to Timberline Lodge by 9:30.  We figured the resort would be less crowded on StuporBowl Sunday, but there were still quite a large number of folks there.  The weather was absolutely fantastic: sunny with a slight wind.  It was cold enough to stave-off the melting but warm enough so you didn't need lots of layers.  Perfect weather.  The snow was pretty packed, but there weren't many ruts and the groomers had churned enough to keep the top fresh.  Everything except the Palmer Ice Sheet was open, though the Magic Mile trails were pretty icy (making them fast and easy to catch edges).  Alpine, Thunder, Glade and Kruser were really good runs, with plenty of open space between folks.  The terrain parks were jammed, but I avoid those anyway.  We played until around 2 when we packed off back home.

Dinner of Crow
I dropped my brother and Boo off at their respective homes and hit the parts store for an o-ring.  I'd come to the conclusion that the leak was caused by an o-ring failure, not a human error.  I got home and my legs declared they were too tired to do anymore.  So, I snapped on the game.  Boo and I stopped for a quick bite at one of our regular spots (Mandarin Palace on the corner of Allen & Scholls Ferry), and I saw the 1st quarter there.  It seemed like it was a decent enough slow-start StuporBowl.  By the time I got home with my o-ring, got my snow stuff into the laundry and the game back on, it was nearly over.  Yes, that was an amazing finish to any football game, and it being the final game of the year makes it all the more impressive.  I watched the post-game interviews and swallowed my crow.  Maybe I'll try to watch the game next year.  It sure would be nice to see a West Coast team in there, though.

More Cooling Surgery
After the game, I took my new o-ring and swapped it into the bus.  This time, I did things a little differently.  First, the o-ring is a little oversized.  The stock part is metric, but all I could find was one in imperial sizes. So, rather than 3mm thick, it is 3.1mm.  Instead of 20mm inner diameter, it is 19.6mm.  You get my point. As a result, the o-ring was snug on the temperature sensor and snug in the flange.  Once the c-clip was back in place, I couldn't wiggle the sensor at all.  I contrast that with the ability to wiggle it enough to make it leak before, and I think I've found the leak source.
Second, I captured the coolant differently.  Rather than try to drain coolant, I caught all of it at the flange during the sensor removal.  Take a clean kitchen garbage bag and push the closed end down from the flange towards the ground.  Wrap the open end around the flange and remove the c-clip.  Pull the sensor and all the coolant goes into the bag.  Put the new o-ring on the sensor, install the sensor and pour the coolant back into the overflow bottle.  In my case, the coolant bottle didn't drain during the work, so I had to start the engine to circulate the air bubbles back into the bottle.  Then, I re-filled it from the bag.  Neat!  And no mess!

I'll test drive when I have some time this week.  Like every other time, it feels like I have it fixed.  We'll see. Maybe this time I actually found and fixed the problem.  Thanks for following along.  More next time..

Friday, February 3, 2012

Not a Water Leaker

The early Vanagon gets a pretty bad rap.  After years of service, their cooling systems start to break down and pop leaks.  Oftentimes, owners will perform "for now" changes that become permanent.  This increases the bad rap, when its really a case of owner abuse, and misguided group-think.  It was these kinds of things that awarded it the nickname "WaterLeaker".  Knowing what issues the Vanagon encounters gives perspective on my water-cooled bus.  I'm going to hit on that today, with an update on my cooling system testing.

Rad Placement
Vanagon cooling system '83-'86
pic from BusDepot
Consider first, the location of the radiator.  It sits on the front of the Vanagon like any other car or van.  Unlike any other car or van, however, the engine sits in the very back.  This creates a cooling circuit like none other in that the coolant moves 15 feet forward and another 15 feet back.  This distance is ripe for problems. Often, the pipes that run along the under-body are attacked by rust.  If the wrong kind of water is put in the system, the rust can attack from the inside as well!  Once it starts, it is hard to stop, and for a long time replacement pipes were unavailable.  They are now, but they are spendy.  More often than the main pipe rusting, the couplings fail.  These can be replaced a little more easily (but it still ain't easy!).

Rear Heat
The rear heater is most often the source of leaks.  Not the core, mind you, but the circuit to and from.  So, many owners turn off the rear heater by disconnecting the cable and shutting off the valve.  The owner is sitting in the front where there still is heat, but woe to the rear-seat occupant on a winter's drive.  It's like driving around in an old (ill-repaired) air-cooled bus back there.  Grab a blanket!  Usually, its the connecting rubber lines that fail, but by turning off the valve, no coolant tries to rush through the lines and it seems like the problem is solved.

Front Heat / Defrost
The front system (core) rarely is the leak cause.  This is fortunate, but it is one more location where the coolant goes.  Unlike the air-cooled bus where the long runs for the defroster are handled with an air-tube, the Vanagon leverages the front radiator to get coolant to the front of the cabin.  This poses junctions, more hoses and valves, and with each additional junction, there is opportunity for leaking.

pressure testing cooling system
So, what does this have to do with the bus?  Great question; I was getting to that.  The implementation in the bus is a franken-system that is part air-cooled / part water-cooled.  With the Jetta radiator under the belly, I have some of the benefits of a more typical radiator system in that the circuit is not 30 feet long.  Its closer to 10 (still long).  My heater core (Vanagon rear-seat unit) sits in the engine compartment.  The distance from heat source to heater core is probably less than 2 feet, so it is more responsive than a Vanagon system.  I am leveraging the front third of the original air-ducting (this is the air-cooled part), so no coolant moves past the mid-point of the bus (the front edge of the radiator).  This means that when there is a leak in the bus, I have 1/2 the area to search for it.

Pressure Test Results
I did the pressure test using the Mity-Vac, but I was only able to get the air-pressure up to around 10psi (pounds per square inch).  Even that took lots of pumping.  If you look at the picture above, you can see that I attached through the overflow bottle.  When it was at 10psi, the coolant level was pushed down below the low-point on the fill indicator.  When I released the pressure, it popped back up to just under the completely full line.  I took that to mean that there was sufficient pressure to force a leak had there been one.  There wasn't.

I'll test drive this weekend around tax preparations, and a dash to the mountain on StuporBowl Sunday.  Don't get me wrong, I love football, but the SuperBowl has become a media circus where the ad's and the halftime show take center stage... and the game usually sucks.  The NFC and AFC Championship games (and the other playoff games), on the other hand, were fantastic.  More next time...