Sunday, February 24, 2013

What Ever Happened to the Courtesy Wave?

I'll be brief today.  I've been working some crazy hours, and I haven't had my usual sled for almost three weeks, so its been a bit of an awful February.  Here we go...

Flash Returns
So, I got my car back from the mechanic that my wife usually uses.  Her family goes to him, and with Justin unavailable, I thought I'd try him.  In my last post, I lamented all the stuff I had to pay for, but he gave me a fair deal.  Unfortunately, when I got the car back, the turbo doesn't turn on anymore.  I think its a simple case of a vacuum line failing or the N75 going bad.  It just seemed peculiar to me that the turbo was working fine when Flash went into the shop, but now (many dollars later), I still have to do something on it.  Grr...

Traffic Patterns
Over the years, I've driven lots of miles.  From following the Dead around parts of the country, to delivering pizzas to basic commuting, I've driven many miles.  I'll make jokes about how I learned to drive in NY, and that meant you only needed 2 fingers: a middle one to communicate visually and one for the horn.  There's a spark of truth in that, though.  There is a whole means of communicating through your horn that many drivers don't understand.  There's the "hey buddy" short toot, the "wake up" long blast and the repeated medium-length "you're an idiot" honks.  All I hear anymore are the one-shot medium length "I'm pissed because I think you invaded my personal space" honks.  Boo.  Learn more.

Hand Waving
Take away the middle-finger-for-communicating joke, and there are many ways to communicate with just hand gestures.  We "palms up" to show no-harm-meant and wave someone in front of us with varied degrees of condescension: the holier-than-thou single waft over the wheel, the frantic I'm-in-a-big-hurry waving, even a frowny faced one-wave come-hither.  They all effectively say the same thing: I'm letting you in, but I really don't have to.  What has all but disappeared, though, is the response once they have gotten in front: the in-front-of-the-cabin-rear-view-mirror big-arm wave of thanks.  This is perhaps the biggest indication of traffic politeness decay.  When traffic merges, and you slide into a spot that barely fits, you big-arm wave.  Most drivers will give you about 2 seconds to do so before they retort with tailgating, headlight flashes or the poorly-spoken "you're an idiot" medium length honk.  Please make the extra effort and help calm everybody down.  Its not a race...

That's about it for today.  I think I found the true source of the leak on the bus a couple of weeks ago.  I'll post on that individually later.  Thanks for following along...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

How Diesel Gets Expensive

No, I'm not going to talk about the geo-political influences on fuel prices, or about the cost of additives or start a flame about US government underwriting of our fuel-driven economy.  Oops, maybe I just did.  I'm talking about how even with a low cost of ownership, sometimes, you still have to fork out a bunch of cash to keep your old diesel-burner on the road.  I'm having one of those realizations now.

Cost per Mile
Car-heads talk about cost-per-mile when referring to their cars.  Its an "easy" way to compare your '85 Toyota pickup to your friend's '06 Nissan Skyline.  I quote easy because everyone needs to calculate it the same way, and that's not easy to do.  In concept, you take everything you spend on the car and divide that by the miles.  Simple.  Cost per mile.  If you have a black car and you live in a dusty climate, you probably wash that car all the time.  That should be part of your calculation, arguably, but if you wash it yourself at home, how do you price the water you use?  This is were it gets blurry, but this is all one long digression.  I call out the cost per mile because that was one of the key reasons I bought the Jetta TDI in the first place.  Promises of 50 mpg, and running at a low cost to 250k miles rang in my head.  So, 8 years ago I bought Flash, a 2000 Jetta TDI.  Since then, I've spent little, and drove him tons.  Its been a very low cost per mile, not that I bothered calculating it.  I might after this...

Drip Drip Drip
TDI Injection Pump.
re-man: $1000
Since moving in with, and then marrying Boo, Flash has been driven more by others than by me.  This has left me a little blind to the steady deterioration of things.  A few weeks ago, I noticed that there was a diesel fuel smell and a corresponding leak near the injection pump (IP).  "Well, that's not good," I thought, and looked up some solutions.  The TDIClub had a many postings on this issue, and there are even YouTube videos of guys doing in-situ re-gasketing of an injection pump.  "wow, that's neat".  Of course, no garage, tools in storage and an ever-watchful home-owners association at the condo complex had my hands tied.  My job had me really busy, and I wasn't driving him, so I wasn't thinking about the problem every day.  Boo (the regular driver) started complaining of headaches and I didn't immediately realize that it was fumes from the leak that was causing them.  She hasn't driven him in a few days and the headaches seem to have passed, so I think we may have found cause.  It wasn't until K drove him and told me after that the temperature warning light had started flashing and a buzzer was going off that I remembered Flash was ill.  Simple rule: when your idiot lights start to flash and warning buzzers go off, pull over and turn the engine off.

So that's the Sound of Money Pouring out of my Wallet
Diesel Injector
Set of 4: $1000
The temp flashing red and buzzer mean the coolant bottle is empty, threatening the consistent cooling of your engine.  Basically, the water level is low enough that your head is no longer getting cooled.  Badness will ensue.  I filled the bottle, started the engine, and filled it again.  And again.  Yikes, he was low.  Wile the engine was running, I could see drips under the engine, so I scheduled time with Boo's mechanic.  Justin (my friend and TDI guru) is working on other things these days, so I went another direction.  Johnny is a good man, knows diesels (knows gassers better), and wants my car to last a long time, just like I do.  He works on Boo's car, Boo's mom's and friends' cars too, so he's a good egg.  He looked Flash over, and concluded that the diesel leak at the injector pump lead to the premature aging of the coolant line that runs beneath it, eventually putting a hole in the line.  Others are similarly threatened.  Cost for the hose: $200 (w/labor, new coolant, etc), but solving the leaking IP was another story.  He conferred with a fellow VW mechanic and they agreed that at over 150k miles on the original IP, it was probably at its end-state.  Removing the IP includes removing the timing belt, so our simple hose leak had now blossomed into a $1.2k or more job (as we're doing a timing belt replacement now, too).  The IP was sent to Diesel Fuel Injection Service for a look-see.  The important steel bits inside were all okay, but they are going to re-man it anyway with Viton (Bio-Diesel tolerant) seals moving it to better-than-new condition.  Before Johnny sent it to them, we talked about verifying the health of the injectors too.  Why bother getting the pump right, if your injectors are fouled.... Yep, 3 of the 4 were bad or really bad, and the 4th one was leaky.  Neat.  Add another $600 to the job to get all four rebuilt with good German Bosch pintles and other bits.

(Not) Bringing it Home
Added to the costs of the work are things like living without a car for almost 2 weeks.  Yes, that's right.  The IP and injectors need to be rebuilt, and that kind of craftsmanship can't be rushed.  Some of the parts need to be sourced from the East Coast, etc.  So, added to the trauma of not having a car are little things like looking for a rental, bumming rides, cancelling events and asking your MIL to borrow her car.  Its been a de-lightful week.  Flash will be back next Saturday, and his throttle response should be better than it was the day I bought him (used).  Johnny is going to clean-up and match my glowplugs to rid a code, wrapping up the work for around $2200.  Considering a re-man IP runs $1k and new injectors do too, a timing belt job usually runs over $600 and the original hose leak is getting done, its a more-than-fair deal.  Still hurts like mad, though.  Consider that the front end still clunks, and I'm pretty sure the struts need replacing, but that will have to wait until after taxes.  Sigh.  How long til Summer?

Remember: Get and Use Stanadyne in your semi-modern (pre-2006) diesel engine'd cars and trucks.  Since the US pumps have low-sulfer fuel in them, older systems require lubrication through a fuel additive.  Omitting a lubricant will shorten the life of your system, and you will have a $2k problem to solve.  Just like I did.