Monday, February 8, 2016

Flash gets sounds

Another installment in the Flash improvement saga. This ends the list of improvements to date. Since Thanksgiving, Flash has gotten his front end rebuilt (lower control arms, upgraded bushings, ball joints, tie-rods..), and new struts with new strut bearings and mounts. I replaced the rear shocks, swapped out his steelie 15" rims for 16" alloys with better rubber and in my last posting covered new seats and an oil change. Flash has been feeling the love.

Sounds Next
we butcher your wiring
My next improvement will be adding music. At some point over the last year, my son T was the primary owner/driver of Flash. He had made some money and wanted to improve his ride. I totally get and supported that, but the idiots at CarToys butchered the wiring. Rather than install the stereo with a basic $5 VW pigtail to leverage the existing harness, they cut it all up and direct-wired into Flash. A few months later, when we found T his A4, T had CarToys remove the stereo and install it into his A4. We saw how bad a job they had done. Don't have CarToys install a stereo for you. Or, if you do, bring them the pigtail available on Amazon for $5 so they don't cut your wires. Seriously, they make those pigtails for every make and model out there. Sure its cheap Chinese manufacturing, but it beats the hatchet-job the CarToys Clowns will do without it. The "free" install isn't free.

Old Radio? Older Radio?
sound machine
Since then, I've gotten a new plug from the junkyard and re-wired the harness. I picked up a stock radio at the junk yard too (since the incompetents at CarToys destroyed the old one when they removed it). After weeks of trying to get the unlock code, I gave up. It was quite the saga.
So, I called up the local VW dealer and asked for the unlock code. After a few days of run around, they asked for the serial number and a VIN for a VW to demonstrate I was an actual VW owner. At least that's what the internet and VW led me to believe. After trying the code they provided, the stereo locked out. I called them back, they told me that they needed the VIN for the radio-provider car.
Apparently, the dealer will give you the unlock code for a stereo if you can provide to them both the serial number from the side of the radio and the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) for the car from which it came. It seems that their system is only capable of looking up an unlock code from the VIN. Uber-dumb. So, I;m not really sure why they ask for the serial code, but either way, I didn't have the VIN from the junkyard. NOTE TO OTHERS: if you're going to pluck a stock/original stereo from a VW/Audi built after the early 90's, get the VIN when you're there. Better yet, look for the owners manual and take the page with the unlock code on it. If the manual is there, the unlock code page probably is too.
I looked up the junkyard inventory system and found the 3 cars which were on the lot the day I pulled the stereo. I provided VW those three VIN's, but they decided that since I couldn't provide the single VIN, I must be a thief and told me not to call back. Jeez. Maybe the smog testing scandal isn't enough to drive business away. Thanks Herzog Meier.

New Radio
simple interface
Rather than continue down the path of trying to get a stock/original stereo to work, I hit the interweb and found a cheap new stereo: a Pioneer MVH-X380BT. It has AM/FM, Bluetooth and USB inputs, but no CD player. I don't use CD's. Heck, I've been driving without music for most of the last 3 years. It has a microphone for hands-free phone calls, which is becoming increasingly important after the office move. With the pigtail I'd purchased, installing was a lot easier than I'd expected. There was lots of chatter in the internet about how shallow this stereo sits in the radio hole compared to CD-equipped radios. It's true, it is shallow. That makes it a great candidate for smaller spaces, or locations that didn't usually have a stereo installed. Maybe a bus glove box, for example, or in the back somewhere. It does have a remote control....

Wiring the Microphone
wiring the radio harness
Like so many things, start with reading the manual. From the manual and the plug diagrams for the VW, I was able to label the wires on the two pigtails. Then it was a simple matter of matching. Once the harness bridge was built, I took the pile of parts and bits to the car.
To make room, I removed the little-stuff pocket/shelf in the center console under the vents. To route the microphone, I removed the plastic cover over the steering column (2 Phillips bolts from the underside) and the underdash (2 star-bolts, one each over the accelerator and brake pedals). Shining a flashlight into the stereo hole, I could see the pass-through. I simply threaded the microphone wire through the pass-through and then set the microphone. The mic delivered with a little clip, so I hooked that in the center of my dash, between the gauges. The wire ran under the steering column cover, along the underside of the dash through the hole with lots of extra wire to spare. I re-installed the panels.

I tested everything by wiring it all up and placing a test phone call to Boo. She was making mince-meat turn-overs (yummy), but the call demonstrated the phone part was set up. The radio worked too. In order to install into the dash, I needed to unplug everything and then, using the included steel frame, set the hole for the stereo. The steel frame is the same width and height as the stereo, but only an inch and a half deep. It has many little tangs on it so it will fit in many types of openings. Set the frame in the hole such that the front lip is against the leading edge of the hole. Then, with a screwdriver, test various tangs until you can find a few that bend into holes around the stereo hole within the dash. These will hold the stereo in place. Test that you've secured it by pulling and pushing on the frame. Figure, you will be pushing and pulling the detachable face on and off thousands of times, so you want that frame solid.

shows the steel frame
Once you're satisfied that the frame won't move, route the pigtail, antennae and phone wires through the frame and plug them in. If you're running a sub-woofer, I suppose you'd run that through too. set the radio into the frame, but don't slam it home yet. Conduct one more test of the radio to make sure you've got it. I found that my wrangling of the frame caused the little tangs that hold the stereo secured to the frame had been bent and had to bend them back. Getting the stereo to set right in the frame ended up being the only thing I had to do multiple times. Once you're ready to start setting the stereo into the frame, remove the face. Re-install the face after you have the stereo secured. Fire it up, set the clock and the station pre-sets. Enjoy :)

That's it for today. I was comprehensive on the install to show that it installing a stereo isn't hard. Anyone can do it. Don't take your prized vehicle to the CarToy Clowns. Do it yourself. Or, if you don't have time, get the pigtail and have the neighbor kid do it. S/He will do as good a job or better than CarToys will, and you keep the money local. Next time, I'll start a short series of posts about a trip to Lake Tahoe and Denver I took a few weeks ago. More travel is coming after that, so it might be a little while before I get back to Hapy the wonderbus. As always, thanks for following along-

Monday, February 1, 2016

Flash gets Leather and Oil

Continuing the saga of Flash improvements....

Cool Cool Leather
Old seat pattern
Before the holidays, I connected with a new VW friend Jim over a set of seats. My old seats were black cloth. He had a full set of grey leather ones. Since my Jetta was silver, it had silver/grey highlights all over the interior. I figured the grey leather would brighten it up. In the end, I think the grey looks better than the black would have looked. These seats have the heater units in them, but I don't yet have the wiring harness nor switches to activate them. That's something for another day. Unfortunately for Jim, it turned out that the swamp-feet stink was in the seats, not the carpet as I had always thought. So, when we swapped seats (plus some cash on my end), I accidentally swapped out the stink.

Now, these seats are considerably colder in the winter time, as you can imagine. Additionally, the TDI engine is so efficient, it takes a long time for the heater to start producing perceivable heat. So, my commutes have suddenly become much colder. But so much more comfortable underneath. With the new rims (See Flash Gets New Shoes) and these new seats, Flash feels like a new car.

The seats remove pretty easily. For the front, there are plastic covers over the rails that need to be removed first. They are held on with a single Phillips-head bolt each. Then, at the front of the seat, near the center by the floor, there are two bolts which hold the seat down. Remove these bolts and push the seat back. For the rear seats, it is even easier. Fold the base forward, and there is a bail that holds the base to the floor of the car. Unhook this and the seat base comes away. Fold down the seat back, and look at the hingepoint closest to the door. There is a small (about as thick as your finger) silver bar protruding from the seat into a C-shaped clip within the plastic panel. With a slotted screwdriver, push the catch-ring from around the metal bar until the C-shaped clip has its open end facing upward. The seat lifts out... though you may need to wrestle it a little bit. Install is the reverse, and yes it is that simple.

Oil Changes
new grey leather
I changed Flash's oil last weekend, but I haven't been as consistent with my oil changes as I should have been. Honestly, it was much easier when I only had one car to keep track of. Now that I'm mentally tracking on at least 4, I can't do it. I know there are folks out there who use smartphone/PC tools, web based things or even spreadsheets. I am now doing it in a much simpler way: just watch the thousands place on your odometer. When it is a 0 or a 5, it's time to change the oil. This is easy to watch for, and I don't need to remember anything or write anything down. Yes, I know manufacturers say change the oil every 3k miles or every season (if driving habits mean you drive less than 3k miles per season) or after driving through dusty conditions. Most folks don't do the seasonal change because we drive so much. Unfortunately , most folks don't do the dusty conditions change either. That leaves the 3k interval.

I have heard from a few sources that the 3k is what they put in there knowing that most people will delay a little while and that the real interval is 5k.... which aligns perfectly with my little system. With drive-thru oil change places, it's easy to stay on top of it. I prefer to do my own, so I just make sure I have an oil-change-worth of oil available for my cars, and change the oil the weekend after the odometer hits.

That's it for today. More next time on Flash improvements...