Thursday, December 31, 2015

Christmas at SkiBowl

Continuing my posts from the winter break, I was able to pull my wife away from her seemingly incessant workload to play in the snow for Christmas. Today's post covers that. No bus content this time.

Getting There
On its surface, this should be relatively obvious: get in the car and drive there. Duh. Well, the TDI Jetta, Flash, has been hard starting since the weather started getting colder in the valley. He had some starting issues in late Summer/Fall too. I verified the alternator and replaced the battery, even re-did the vacuum lines and replaced the anti-shudder valve along the way (the original had a bunch of PO goop on it presumably to keep it working). My last resort, which I probably should have done sooner, was to replace the glow plugs. I replaced the glow plugs in the bus a while back and that motor fires right up every time. Since I went off-script for sourcing those plugs, I went to the same source for the Jetta: AccurateDiesel. They are based in Michigan and manufacture glow plugs for all kinds of vehicles, mostly domestic trucks. For $55 delivered, they make TDI plugs. I'm sure some will read this and bristle at not using Bosch plugs. It's okay. Make your own choices. These plugs work great, and the Jetta starts more responsively than before.

Beer Stube deck
Anyway, I replaced the plugs on Christmas Eve, so we were car-ready. Boo had to work until after dinner time on Christmas Eve, so I got all our gear ready while I waited for her to come home. We awoke early on Chirstmas, not wakened by excited little ones, rather, an alarm like it was a workday. Swift shower, breakfast and coffee, and we loaded up Flash. We were leaving the Portland west side by 7:AM.

Expectedly, the traffic through the city was very light. It wasn't until we were on I-84 that we started really seeing other cars. With such light friction, we were in Sandy shortly after 8 and chaining-up along the 26 in the Mt Hood Forest by 8:30. We were met with cries of Merry Christmas from the parking lot attendant at SkiBowl, as well as a less-than-1/3-full lot.

The Fluffy
The weather guys in the Portland area have been trying to outdo each other with their descriptions of the snow that has been hammering the Cascade Mountains this past week. Each day,  there has been measurable snowfall of more than 6". Some days have seen almost a foot. With the weather folks going bonkers and the resorts also describing the snow as some of the best ever, our expectations were suitably high. Very high. We were gloriously not disappointed.
The snow was arguably perfect. There was maybe 2-3" of fluff atop a firm base. Aside from a little bit, and I mean little, of icy at the very top of Upper Reynolds where the sun break had struck, SkiBowl was ice-free. The riding was fast, but controllable, allowing new and experienced riders alike an opportunity to have a day of their choosing. Most of the resort had been groomed, but "Surprise" hadn't so we were able to get our rough-stuff-fluff fix in as well.

The Staff
Upper Bowl from lift
After the horrible season last year, SkiBowl had to almost completely re-staff. While there are a few folks around who have been there for a few years, most of the staff are brand new. Their new-ness was pretty apparent, but not entirely in a bad way. We met Josten, a brand new server in the Cascade Lodge who brought an energetic positive energy. There was a new woman working in the gift shop alongside a couple of old pro's who seemed right with the flow. At the lifts, though, the new folks didn't quite have the vibe yet. On Lower Bowl, there was some confusion, resulting in only one of the picket lines getting used. This created what looked like a backup on the SkiBowl camera, but the queue actually moved quite quickly. The biggest miss was at the Multipor lift where the guy managing the queue didn't have the vibe at all. He created a longer queue of more frustrated people because of how much time he would spend with each person, verifying their pass. I've had an easier time getting on an airplane. I'm sure he'll mellow out, but he needs to be paired with an old-timer to get a better handle on how SkiBowl operates.

The Services
Boo and I tried just about everything SkiBowl had to offer. We started at the Beer Stube after getting our passes, and sampled the platter of fries from the cafeteria next door. The pours were strong, and the pile of fries big enough that we shared it with the ladies at the table next to us. After some runs and another round, we took the shuttle over to the Cascade Lodge (SkiBowl East) for dinner. Once we conquered the queue at Multipor, we hit the Historic Warming Hut for Americano's. At each stop, the servers were great, friendly and responsive. The shuttle driver chatted us up as we negotiated the traffic in Govy.

The Crowd
Upper Reynolds from below
The Govy traffic was completely hidden from us on the slopes, but the crowds that blew in from that traffic were most certainly not. Around mid-day, SkiBowl got quite busy very quickly and the crowd changed from mellow and content. Turns out, there was a major car fire on Timberline Highway, blocking traffic in both directions to/from Timberline Lodge while the fire was put out and the occupants treated. Since it was Christmas, many had their holiday "ruined" by the blocked road, so they chose to suffer the rest of us at SkiBowl with their misery. As awesome as the snow and the workers were, many of the patrons were not. Boo made a point of shouting "Merry Christmas" at the lift riders as we slid under or from the lift as others passed. These calls were almost entirely met with a flat look. The restaurants and bars were filled.... with somber faces. To those who chose to spread their ruined Christmas, I ask that next year you just wander into the forest or go home. SkiBowl doesn't need your second-place attitude.

We had a great holiday, arriving home completely tapped from playing in the snow all day. With comments of the "best Christmas ever", we both look forward to what could be an amazing season on the mountain. So, if you were like me, skeptical of snow after last year, I strongly encourage you to go up... just bring your positive happy-to-be-there energy :)

That's it for today. Thanks, as always, for following along, This will be my last post for the year, so Happy New Year 2016.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Vanagon Rear Heater Leak fix

No, I don't have a Vanagon. But, I do use the rear heater for my main heater in the bus. In the Vanagon, these sit under the rear seat, and provide auxiliary heat for the passengers back there. I've heard that they do little more than provide a leak in the cooling system and a corresponding coolant smell in the passenger compartment. I don't know all the answers as to why these leak, but I did find one. Today's post is about that, furthering my winter break efforts (See: Planning Winter Break)

Heater Layout
Let's start with some orientation. The heater is a hard plastic shell that is relatively rectangular (approx 12" wide, 7" deep and 7-1/2" tall). There is a snorkel on the front (front is front) that directs the air out onto the floor. On the rearmost part of the right side there is a round hole (about 3" diameter) where the air is pulled in. Passing in front of the fresh air hole are the coolant inlet and outlet lines. The bottom line (return) leaves the heater core, turns 90* and runs rearward. The top (feed) line enters a valve and then turns 90* into the heater core. The core is held in place with 2 Phillips head screws. The valve is held together with 2 7mm-head bolts running front to back.

Possible Points of Failure
I first thought these heater units had all kinds of failure points, but there really aren't that many. There's the core. Sure, heater cores go bad. There are the points where the rubber hoses meet the bibs. There are the plastic 90* bends, but they hardly ever fail, and then there's the valve. Not too many opportunities for issues.

Look Around
If your unit is leaking, look around to see if you can tell where it is originating. Yeah, that sounds obvious, but if you clean it up and dry it off and then start adding distilled water to your system, you should be able to identify where the drips are starting. This is especially true of anything that isn't the heater core. If that's your cause, water will just start appearing underneath the unit. This is an easy fix: buy a new heater core, pull the old one (2 screws), slap in a new one. Still, I'd complete the rest of the post here, just in case.

Start with the Obvious
Okay, so you see some drips over by where the rubber lines meet the unit. Are the rubber lines in good shape? Any cracks or splits? Are they seated all the way on to the flat plastic stop? Are the hose clamps tight? My top coolant line wasn't all the way on, so I thought this was my cause. I loosened the clamp, pushed the hose all the way in and tightened it up. This slowed the leak, but it didn't stop.

Leaving the Valve
Van Cafe replacement valve
The valve attaches to the heater unit with 2 bolts, one above and one below the opening where the coolant passes. If you remove the bolts, you may see that there is no gasket between the two opposing faces. I think this is the spot where many of the Vanagon rear heater leaks originate. The coolant doesn't leak when these units leave the factory, but after years of jostling around, the lack of a gasket eventually takes it's toll and a tiny gap is created. If your valve has failed, and the leak is coming from the valve, Van Cafe has a replacement here.

In classic shade-tree fashion, I solved the problem with a rubber washer from my house plumbing supplies. I took a small dab of Form-a-Gasket to act as a temporary glue and smeared it on one side of the rubber washer. I place the washer on the tip of my pinky finger and stuck that finger into the valve, sliding the rubber washer into the flat face, goo-side first. This centered the washer on the hole. I held it there for a few seconds and carefully removed my finger. The washer stayed in place. I then set valve against heater unit taking care to not bump or in any way shift the washer. Once aligned, I ran the bolts through and tightened the bolts. Unlike when there wasn't a washer, the bolts are unable to mate the faces completely. There is a small gap through which I can see the washer. I initially thought this was not going t hold for that reason, but so far testing has shown that this is holding up okay. I need a longer at-temp road test, but the round-the-block tests have been very positive. Total cost: $0.

That's it for today. If you like throwing parts at a problem, Van Cafe has your solution for a leaking Vanagon rear heater unit: replace everything except the plastic housing in one kit. Check it out here. As always, thanks for following along.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Fuel Gauge Replacement

It's been a while since I did a how-to post. I guess I'm overdue. Here is a step-by-step for installing a new fuel gauge that I did over my winter break (see: Planning Winter break). This is not about installing a new tank-float. That's documented pretty well around the internet, with 2 main options: pull the engine, firewall and tank -or- cut a hole above the tank and put in a maintenance port-hole.  I've seen lots of accounts from folks who have replaced their tank float, and I think that's because that's the most common cause of fuel gauge failures. Before I did the engine swap, I lost the use of my fuel gauge. So, when I pulled the tank to get cleaned, I tested it. It wasn't the cause. After waiting a long time, I finally found a gauge that looked like the original (original look available from Cip1). So, on with the new gauge.

This should go without saying, but when you get down to swapping out stuff that is electrical, or if you're messing with stuff that's near other stuff that is electrical, pull the ground off the battery. I left mine attached a little too long (I spent some time testing the old and new gauges to make sure the old one was bad and the new one acted differently), and blew a fuse. Duh.

Pull the Dashpod
The VW bus dash is held on with 4 Phillips-head screws, but first that's not where we start. First, reach around the back and unthread the speedometer cable. Next, pull the little plastic bits off the ends of the fresh air and heat controls. My bus doesn't have those, but I've heard they can be stubborn and break easily. There are replacements on BusDepot, if you break any. Now, remove the 4 screws. Starting on mid-year bays, there are little clips on the backside, and those can bounce pretty far when the screw comes out. Put your hand back there as you remove the screw and catch it. Once the screws are out, the air controls are free and the speedo cable is detatched, there's nothing holding the pod in to the dash. Lift it a couple of inches and then tip the top down under the steering wheel. You can do this job without moving anything much farther than this. Zip-lock baggy the 4 screws and label it. You may intend to come back to the job right away, but jobs get interrupted.

Remove the Back
The rear panel is held on with 6 hex-screws (6mm). Righty-tighty. Lefty-loosey. Easy Peasey. Like the 4 in the step above, stow the screws in a zip-lock baggy. The metal rear panel wants to stay attached because of a little lip that runs around the edge of the plastic housing. Pop the metal panel off and set the plastic housing aside. The brake idiot light wiring will prevent you from moving it too far, but there isn't that much room under that steering wheel, so any inches are worth it.

Loosen Fuel Gauge
Circled in red in the picture (and on the back of your dashpod), you can see a small bolt. That bolt and the two tiny brass buttons on either side of it hold the fuel gauge to the metal rear panel. The "nut" doesn't have any flat sides to it, so you need to crack it loose with a pair of pliers. It has a couple slots on either side, implying there's some obscure VW (or VDO) tool to remove the nut. Pliers work fine; it's not torqued much. Under the nut are 2 washers. Put them together into a zip-lock baggy and label it.

Free the Face
On either side of the center of the front of the gauge, there are 2 tiny slotted bolts. You will need a tiny slotted screwdriver to remove those, but once removed, the grey face can be removed. Those bolts are tiny. They will sail and disappear if you aren't really careful with them as you remove them. Like all the other fasteners, put them in a zip-lock baggy. Hold the dashpod as level as you can and lift the face directly upward. Under the face, you will find colored plastic blocks for the turn signals and idiot lights. I'd thought they were simple gels, very thin and hard-attached. They're actually quite thick, almost as thick as a lego, and they will fall out if you tip the dashpod. Ask me how I know :)

Gauge Swap
Now that we have all the dash stuff out of the way, we can get down to it. Gently lift the old gauge out of the pod and unplug the tiny clips from the signal and switched-power. The lower corners need to be negotiated around the bolt holes. The new one (from Cip1), fits in as well as the old one, requiring some wiggling to get it in place. The colors of the wires on the new gauge aren't consistent with the original. The green goes to signal and the red goes to switched-power. Make sure the bolt fits through the hole in the metal rear panel, and the gauge is behind the bolt holes.

After the gauge is in place and wired, get the gauge face back on next. The main motivation here is getting the face on before the color plastic bits fall out. Again, ask me why :) The bolts can be tricky, even if you have small fingers. They don't need to be torqued down terribly hard, just snug. I tightened until snug and then just enough to make the slots level. Yeah, that's a little OCD, but whatever. Now, you can put the 2 washers on the bolt-post sticking out the back and thread the round nut onto it. In my case, I added another grounding wire at this point running off this post. Finger tighten and then snug with pliers. Next, attach the rear metal panel to the plastic housing with the hex screws (6mm). Before you install the dashpod back into the dash, double check that there aren't any loose wires, and verify your grounds. Then, slip the dashpod into place, screw in the 4 Phillips head screws, and put the air control knobs back on. Reach around the back and thread on the speedometer cable. Last, re-connect the negative cable to the battery.

In my case, the fuel gauge wasn't actually the problem. I did all of the above and the gauge still didn't work. I found that the gauge ran to Full (1/1) when connected and hanging loose (ungrounded), but as soon as the gauge was grounded by mounting it to the metal rear panel, it fell to 0/1. Concluding the thought-to-be-good float/sender was the culprit, I went to the rear of the bus and tested the resistance on the float: 49.5 ohms or 1/2 full (range from 100 - 0 ohms 0/1 - 1/1). So, the sender is good, the gauge is good. This leaves the wire as the problem. I'll post on that another day (after I've fixed it). In the meantime, I put the original gauge back in: Aint Broke, Don't Fit It.

That's it for today. Thanks for following along...

Friday, December 18, 2015

Planning Winter Break

My employer shuts the offices down for the week between Christmas and NewYears. Half of my team will be taking the week of Christmas off as well, so I figured I would too. Today, I'm going to try to string together a plan for how to get some bus stuff done over the 2 weeks without spending all (or none) of my time wrenching. I have 16 days from this Saturday through the final Sunday. I added actual time spent edits in orange for my own benefit for when I want to make estimates next year. Goes to show that high level planning is wise, but getting too deep into detail is a waste.

It is the holidays, after all, so I should expect at least one family event. Bowl games, the Winter Classic NHL game, etc. Assume another day there. Instead of 16 days, now its 14 days. One family event plus shopping for gifts. NHL Winter Classic plus a bowl game and some NFL. All in, there were probably 4 days "lost" to actually taking a break. Actual burndown at 12.

I've been pretty transparent about my love of playing in the snow. Snow has a peculiar sound when you're on the mountain away from the crowds and the bustle. I fully intend to visit the mountain a few times, so there's got to be room for at least 2 day-trips to snow. I'd love to make one of them in the bus, but I've posted enough on that score. Playing it safe, I'll assume 3 day trips so reduce to 11 days. EDIT: went twice. Burndown to 10.

Regular chore stuff
Any break brings with it hopes and dreams of some non-vehicular job getting done. Clean this, fix that, etc. Reduce to 10 days. This was an ongoing affair, but all in, there were probably 2 days worth of time spent doing this kind of stuff. Now 8.

Kid's Car
The A4 has a few problems, including a bad thermostat. Since everything takes longer cuz I"m slow. I'll set aside a day, even though it shouldn't take more than a couple hours. Now 9 days. EDIT: didn't fix the thermostat, but fixed a few other things and changed the oil. Thermostat on an A4 is a huge deal, like change the timing belt huge. Maybe in the Summer. Regardless, days now at 7.

Inevitably, I'll want to do stuff with my wife. I love spending time with her, and she works a lot, so there will be time spent dilly-dallying in front of the fire while she works. Maybe this is where I fit in the regular chore stuff. Assume a day lost, so now we're down to 8 days. We fit time around the edges. She worked every day except Christmas Day, and we spent that on the mountain (See Christmas at SkiBowl). She works too hard. Still 7.

The Painted House
I think I posted pictures last year or the year before of my usual Christmas tradition of painting a ceramic house for one of my family members every year. With the intensity around work, I haven't started yet. It usually takes me many many hours. While the one I have selected isn't crazy complex, it will still take me a while. Figure 3 days lost there, so now I'm down to 5 days. EDIT: this actually took over 4 days. Looks great though. Down to less than 3 days.

What Fits?
Like anyone who owns a project car, there is a long list of stuff to do and a short list of hours available to do it. Estimating can be a challenge because you never really get a big block of time to do things. Looking back on things, it's hard to tell how long it took, so you can't use past experience to help estimate new things. Awesome. Here's my list of things I want to do in approximately the order in which I'd like to do them, and my rough guess of how long it will take.

 - Fuel Gauge. I haven't found any how-to's on the internet. All links lead to replacing the float in the tank, which isn't the problem. Since I'll have to figure it out (and then post about it), figure 1/2 a day. I fiddled with this a few times (see Fuel Gauge Replacement), but in the end it's an issue with the float, not the gauge. Awesome. Down to about 1 day.

- Heat / Leak. Like the fuel gauge, there's no roadmap to follow. In order to really test it out, I need to get the bus engine up to normal operating temperature (NOT) and look for leaks. 1/2 day. I was able to identify and solve the leak (see Vanagon Rear Heater Leak Fix), but it took me most of a day to do it. This left no time for anything else.

 - saggy butt. There are lots of how-to's on fixing the saggy butt problem on a bus. Since the rear end hasn't ever been apart, I expect this to take a while. Knowing my ability to take much longer than everyone else, I'm saying a day per side, so 2 days. Early during the break, I went to Discount Import Parts (VWFLAPS), but with the holidays causing such disruption to deliveries, they couldn't have my bushings until almost NewYears. cancel this job until the Jetta's are solid runners. I have the bushings in-hand now, though

 - Rear brakes. I haven't really addressed the rear brakes in years. I'm sure they're over due for at least new shoes. I have complete brakes innards, so I'd like to just completely replace everything. The first side will take most of a day while I figure it out, the other side will take 2 hours. So, 1 day. Never touched them, but I did find all the hardware I had and remembered that I did the shoes a few years ago. Since the bus doesn't see much travel, they could be okay. I need to pull the drums and see, though.

 - wheels / rims. Remember those? Yeah, me too. What happened? Life, and now they're sitting patiently for me to get back to them. They need sanding down and another coat of primer, maybe some filler. Then I need to finish sand them, color and clear coat. Figure a 1/2 day per rim, so that's 2 days. Didn't touch them other than to move them around the garage.

Hmm... math says I'm down to -1 days. Something has to give, but knowing I have more to do than I have time ahead of time is better than regret at the other end. Maybe I collapse the chores into one of the "holiday" days of watching football and hockey. Maybe I leave the brakes or the saggy butt (or both) for a weekend. We'll see.

That's it for now. I expect to spend close to a week working on cars and some time playing in the snow, so there will be plenty of raw material for future posts. Thanks, as always, for following along. I hope you have a happy, rest (or project) filled holiday season-

Post holiday, I did things around the edges that I hadn't planned on: changed the air filters on 2dot0 and Flash, replaced the glow plugs on Flash, fixed the slider door (the cable became detached) and started working on a new shelf idea or the bus. I took a stab at constructing my own kick panels but decided it wasn't worth the work compared to just buying a pair, clowned around with the stereo in the bus and got the unlock codes for the junkyard stereo I got for Flash. I also went out to a movie with my wife (that Hunger Games one) and a movie (Star Wars 7) with one of my boys. Overall, it was a great break. One thing to remember for next year: the week I have the boys I really can't plan for much of anything. They need my time.