Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Hapy Rides Again

My last 2 posts have been about my efforts to resolve the electrical melt-down we had on the way home from 4Peaks. Today, we hit bottom and work our way back to operational.

No Start
With so many good signals, I wanted to try starting the engine. So, I turned the key to run and nothing happened. At first, this was because the wire to the starter (circuit 50) out of the ignition wasn't connected. Once that was solved, things got worse. I tried the start again and everything went dead. Nothing worked. I went around to check the voltage on the battery and it was crazy low, like 5V. Huh? While watching the voltmeter, it climbed back up to 12.5V. I checked other circuits and they started to show 12V too. By the time I had worked by way to the front of the bus, everything was working again.

I was able to demonstrate this a few times, and it seemed like no matter what wires I tested, I couldn't find a new burned wire. "Could the starter have fried," Boo asked. Why, yes. Yes, it could have. Since so much power routes through the positive post on the starter, the electrical fry that smoked between my knees could have caused a short there too. So, I pulled the starter and tried a ShadeTree starter test.

ShadeTree Starter Test
First, I checked for resistance between the positive and negative sides of the starter solenoid. It was infinite, which told me that the solenoid was probably fine. Still, I couldn't find a good recommendation for testing the starter motor on the internet. Most folks encouraged various tests while the starter was in the car. Mine was on the ground, and I wanted to test just the starter motor without all the other variables. So, I tried my own ShadeTree bench test. I grabbed an old battery that I had lying around. It had around 9V charge. That's enough to trigger the start, but not enough to do much else.

I took my jumper cables, and clipped one black end to the mounting ear (ground) and the negative battery post. I clipped one red end to the positive post on the starter and the positive battery post. I double checked the voltage. No change, indicating again that the solenoid is not blown. If it had been the solenoid, I would have expected current to travel through the starter all the time (solenoid broken with the current open) or none of the time. I worked the leads for the multi-meter into the clips on the starter so I could see how voltage changed when I triggered the start. Using a short section of insulated wire, I touched one stripped copper end to the positive post on the starter and the other stripped copper end to the trigger tab.

The starter did not fire, but the voltage dropped to almost 0. I immediately removed the trigger wire and watched multi-meter. The voltage climbed slowly, but steadily back to 9V. Yep. That starter got toasted, but the solenoid was doing it's job: open the circuit to fire the starter when 12V (or in this case 9V) is applied to the switch. I phoned over to the no-longer-local VW Friendly Auto Parts Store and they had one for me on the following Monday.

Assuming the starter was fried during the initial issue, replacing it should be fine. What if the starter was fried by my test-start because something else was still wrong? Then, the next test-start will cause the new starter to fry as well, right? Eek.

My fears, ultimately, were not realized. I swapped out the rebuilt Bosch I installed less than 3 months earlier with another rebuilt Bosch from Discount Import Parts (still only on the east side... and still not Hapy about it). I followed the instructions I laid out back then, and the test start provided the same disheartening click noise. So, I removed the starter and performed a very similar ShadeTree test. I used the battery and battery-to-starter cable from the bus for the positive side. I clamped a black jumper cable on the negative battery post and to the mounting ear on the starter for the negative side. Using the same little jumper wire from before, I triggered the starter and it fired. So, I haven't re-fried a starter and so maybe some of the wiring has been improved. But something remained. So, I looked at what was still an unknown around the starter while I re-installed it again.

There's the 30 circuit (always hot) that runs to the front of the bus from the positive post and there's the trigger signal plug (circuit 50). I checked the 30 circuit first next because I felt it would be easy to rule it out. The 30-circuit is a red-with-white-stripe wire that runs from the starter positive post to the fuse box. In the Bentley book it is labeled as a "4" thick. That's in cubic millimeters and translated to AWG 12 (see my handy conversion reference here). The plastic on the wire near the fuse box was a little melted or swollen from the ignition failure, but I assumed (possibly a mistake) that it was just from being near the issues and that it was fine. To prove it wasn't an issue, I tried a few things. First, I did a continuity test to show that the wire didn't have a break in it. I believed that wasn't the case and the continuity test proved it. Resistance tests didn't show anything either (very low resistance). I didn't want to run voltage through that wire again, so I ran a long wire from the positive post on the battery along the ground under the bus through the driver door and into the same spot on the fuse box as the red-white stripped wire. This eliminated that wire from the equation as a variable. Then, I tried to start again. Just a "click" again. I tried swapping out the "50" wire that triggers the starter to fire. "Click".

Clumping the Circuits
In the interests of reducing variables, I considered the wiring as 3 large units or clumps.
There's "front-of-bus": that's the original wiring, including the ignition switch, fuse box,etc.
There's the "back-of-bus": that's the '98 NewBeetle engine related wiring. I include the battery in the back-of-bus not because its in the back, but because there are lots of wires routing to the NewBeetle stuff and only one heading to the front-of-bus.
Last, there's the "accessory" that is the deep cycle battery that powers the cabin lights. The accessory is completely separate, only connected by a common ground: the bus chassis. So, we rule that out.
If we consider that the front and the back only connect through a few wires, and I just tested replacements for them above, maybe we can unplug those and test. So, I disconnected the trigger wire for the starter (50), the always hot wire from the starter (30) and the signal wire for switched power (15) from the front-to-back connections, completely separating the clumps. Using my remote starter, I tried to start. "Click". From this, I concluded that the issue was not a front-of-bus problem nor a connection between problem. It resided squarely in the back. That's when Boo dropped by to see how things were going. "Could the battery have gotten affected," she asked. I had been checking voltage and it had been consistently 12.5V, but maybe there just isn't power (amps) behind that voltage. So, following that question, I put the battery on the charger.

I left the battery charging at low amps (2A setting) overnight while Boo and I went to catch the new Incredibles movie. The next day, I re-set all my wiring was back at normal (front-to-back returned, nothing left unplugged, etc), and verified that the battery charger was complete. Everything looked good. So, I tried the new key. It fired right up. Ahh... much rejoicing.

Dollars and Sense
old housing,
melted and hammered
In the end, we add one starter ($160) to the total of the running costs from the last post, and we're approaching $1000. That's pretty darn expensive, but I can't say it was because of either owner neglect nor because of the engine upgrade. The interfaces between the front and rear of bus are very few, insulated with fuses or relays and weren't part of the problem. Ultimately, 50 year old wiring eventually fails. I need to commit to a complete rewire one of these days... but not while there's camping to be had this Summer. As to the total cost, if I remove the wiring harness I didn't need, the cost of the hotel that was just a bad timing thing and the steering wheel I chipped due to being dumb, this electrical repair cost me $295US ($85 for new housing and switch, $25 sub-harness, $25 headlight switch which is another whole story, $160 new starter) plus a $300 tow.

I do want to point out that the 2 major failures found along the way after the original ignition was solved were both identified by Boo. Obviously, she's amazing, but this also serves to illustrate something so important on projects like this: this is a team sport. You need input from a random friend leaning against the fender while drinking a beer pointing at stuff and asking questions. Or, a helpful wife wandering over with a lemonade innocently asking if the starter or battery could have been affected. I'm looking at trees, and she asked about the forest. Brilliant.

That's the end of the ignition smoked saga. While we may have missed String Cheese in the bus, it looks like our other musical (and simple summering) events can include Hapy. Thanks, as always, for following along.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Ignition Re-Assembly

In my last post, I described the tear-down of the ignition assembly of the old 1972 VW microbus. Today's post covers the re-assembly.

Some Part Suppliers Are Better Than Others
I mentioned that I found a bus wrecker in Washington who sold me a lock housing for $75 plus shipping. What I learned when I opened the box was that the lock housing came with an original key cylinder and key. The seller had stored the housing, cylinder and key all oiled up and in a zip-lock baggy. The key works the mechanism flawlessly. They included the small set-screws which hold the housing into the black box. Avery's Air Cooled, you rock. I wish I'd found you years ago. You'll be my first call now.

Lock Cylinder, Housing and Sub-Harness
new plug has exposed
solder so I taped it off
The Bentley has re-assembly instructions. I tried them. They didn't work. The book says to install the housing, then put in the lock cylinder and then, once everything else is in place, install the electrical sub-harness. Yeah.. that last bit doesn't work. The harness is constructed so that the wire bundle comes out to the side, not straight out. In general, that's good, but once you orient the plug to the housing, you realize that the wire bundle comes out the completely wrong way, running almost rear-wards. Holding the housing up with the plug facing you, it comes out around 4:30. Ideally it comes out around 9:00. So, to plug it in, and have it click home, the wires needs to double-back on themselves in a very tight area while you are somehow applying leverage for it to snug in. Physics just won't comply.

So, we do it differently. Before I started, I removed the lock cylinder from the housing and test fit everything. First the harness, then trying the lock cylinder first to see if there were any serious issues with doing the lock cylinder last. Nope. Since the harness was already wired into the bus, all of this was done using the driver seat as a work bench. So glad it's Summer, by the way. I plugged the harness into the lock cylinder and made sure it clicked home. There is only one way to get this all the way seated, with a larger tab fitting into the larger slot and a smaller tab into the smaller. I even tested whether the key, housing and sub-harness would trigger power, so I hooked up the battery and turned the key to the run position. I could hear the click-click of things getting juice, so I considered the test a pass.

Into Darkness
turn signal wire bundle
With the harness in the housing, we now twist into a pretzel to fit the housing into the black box. For reference, consider that the entire steering post, etc had been back together only to discover that the old housing wouldn't work. Recognizing how difficult the tear down was before (3 full days), I wasn't going to do that again. So, the black box is on the steering column with the rubber bushing, and such in place. The housing takes some fiddling to get into the right orientation, in part because the harness is plugged in, but mostly because it is not exactly parallel to the bottom of the black box. It tilts up to the right (towards the key opening). Once the tabs find the slots, you need to press the housing firmly as deep as it can go into the slots while tightening the set screws. This took a few tries, but once it was in the right place and the set-screws cinched down, I could start to see the light out of the dark

Key Lock
With the housing in-place, the lock cylinder can slide home. This is a do-it-once kind of thing. If everything isn't lined up right, and you need to pull the lock cylinder again, its a multi-day job. Things looked good, so I slid it home. It fortunately had no issues.

Other Discoveries
In my case, we believed the ignition fry was caused by either the heat/defrost fan or by the headlight switch. So, I removed the wiring for the heat/defrost fan and replaced the headlight switch. As happens these days, the headlight switch was faulty out of the box. I had to wire both the running lights and the headlights out of the same pin because the pin for the headlights simply didn't work. Also, the new switches don't come with a pin for the idiot-light on the dash, so I wired that into that same pin. Now, when I pull the stalk out one spot, the running lights, headlights and idiot light all illuminate. Nice.

While I was removing wires for the heat/defrost fan, I installed a new switched 12V wire along the same route. Following older VW coloring, I used black, and tied it into the furthest right fuse, the switched 12V for the coil used to come from. Now, when I turned the key to run, I have a nice strong signal for the new-engine electronics. But there was more darkness ahead. I'll get into that next time.

Thanks for following along. I'll wrap this up next time

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Ignition Switch Teardown

This will be the first of 2 posts covering the efforts to resolve the damage caused during the electrical fire we had while driving home from 4Peaks (See 4Peaks 2018 - Road Report).

Recall... I looked down and smoke started first as a wisp and then as a billow from between my knees. We were fortunate to have a small road intersecting with the highway, so we dodged onto the shoulder at the corner, turned off the ignition and flipped on the hazard lights. I jumped out to make sure the hazards were on and saw the headlights were lit even though that switch was off. I went around back and removed the positive battery cable, thinking that the electrical was completely borked....

Roadside Findings
As I mentioned in the road report, we pushed Hapy under a tree. While Boo made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I twisted into a pretzel between the front seat and the steering column to see what was going on. The wires leading into the steering column were still hot. One of them was down to bare copper wire from just past the fuse box all the way past where my fingers could reach: a goot foot of plastic insulation had vaporized into smoke. I think if we'd gone much further without killing the electric, we would have either fried the battery or had the fire spread into the fuse box. Either could have spelled ruin for Hapy. As I said in that prior post, getting into the electrical solve required a 27mm socket to remove the steering wheel, so we got a tow.

Home-Drive Findings
160 miles (and $300US) later, Hapy was back in his usual tarmac-paved spot in front of the house. With the camping gear removed, and a good night's sleep, I was able to look at what was going on. My initial fears that my entire wiring harness had failed were not realized. I don't think. The sub-harness that runs from the fuse box to the ignition switch, however, was completely toasted. I concluded that the headlight switch was in need of replacing too, since the headlights flickered on the way to 4Peaks and were on without explanation when we broke down.

I started following the Bentley to get access to the badness. Bentley documents this fairly well: remove the horn button and cancel ring, remove the steering wheel nut (27mm socket). Using a gear puller, remove the steering wheel, but they don't say anything about pushing the wire for the horn into the steering column. If you don't, the gear puller will probably cut it off for you nice and cleanly right where it comes out the steering column. Ask me how I know.

With the steering wheel off, you can remove the turn signal housing, leaving the turn signal hanging by it's bundle of wires from the black box. The black box is held to a silver support with 4 Phillips bolts. When these are removed, the steering column can pivot at the bottom. So, it is wise to remove the clip-ring, washer and rubber bushing. At least that's what Bentley says. The top of my clip-ring was so full of crap, I couldn't get to it. Also, that rubber bushing had never been off, so it wasn't inclined to move. Fortunately, the ignition sub-harness had burned so badly that it just fell out of the black box. So, the only things holding the steering column and wires was the column base and the wire bundle for the turn signal. The turn signal wires unplugged and the whole steering column came out as an assembly.

I had to loosen the black box from the column thru judicious use of a rubber mallet. First, I cleaned the top, removed the clip-ring and washer and shot lubricant around the rubber. It wouldn't give without a fight. Once apart, I could focus on getting the ignition cylinder separated from the housing. Now, the housing and lock cylinder were also original, so they had become very friendly. The housing removes (with the lock cylinder still attached) by removing these 2 little hidden bolts from within the rear-most bolt holes that held the black box to the silver support. With a little coaxing, the housing will come out with the lock cylinder still attached. The 72 and later (not sure about how much earlier) lock cylinders are held in with a small spring. This spring can only be compressed through a hole through the housing near the end where the cylinder goes in. This spring can also only be compressed if it hasn't been compromised. Mine was. Badly.

I tried compressing the spring in the hole with various pokey tools. None would budge it. Lubricants couldn't do it. I finally resorted to drilling the lock cylinder like a safe cracker. It didn't matter. When I finally got the cylinder pieces out of the housing, the housing was unusable. The fire had melted some of the plastic inside and my man-handling of the housing and cylinder had made it's use uncertain. I figured I'd just order another one and be on my merry way. Uh... no. This housing isn't manufactured anymore. It's not on the internet enthusiast site classifieds. I found one on eBarf for almost $180 (shipped), but the seller wouldn't guarantee that it either worked nor that it would arrive within a month. So, I spent several hours hunting down small VW crackers, and found one in Washington who had one and sold it to me. $85US shipped.

Costly costly
So, the running tally for this mishap.... $300 for the tow home. $20 for that old switch I had lying around. $85 for a new housing. $25 for a new ignition sub-harness. I decided to replace the headlight switch, in case that was part of the problem, so add another $25. Add in the $180 for the complete wiring harness I bought but BusDepot won't accept as a return. Add in the $200 spent on a hotel for the shows in Eugene where we intended to camp but couldn't because Hapy was stuck in the driveway. Add $150 for a replacement steering wheel after I chipped my original during the extraction. AND, I haven't even done the assembly yet, so there may be more costs yet to come. Running tally: $785.

I'm ending this post genuinely more optimistic than I sound. This is an opportunity to improve lots of things as I go. The black box and the turn signal housing can get cleaned up so they look nicer. I can upgrade the steering wheel to one of those fancy wood ones for another $100. The key cylinder will be new so turning the key will no longer be a frustrating experience. All told, the ignition control and the area where I spend the most time will be much improved once this is done. Oh, and the engine will start and run again. So that's nice.

Thanks, as always, for following along.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Camp Shower

Today's brief post is about the assemblage of seemingly random things Boo put together to create a fully viable, small-packing private camp shower for use with the bus.

Boo had this idea at our first camp together (Furthur in 2011): a portable shower with privacy so we could get clean while camping, using as little water as possible. So, we bought a solar showerbag and started bringing it with us to festivals so we could consider options.

We tried using just a solar showerbag at NorthWest String Summit a few years ago. Since they park cars so close together, privacy wasn't as much of an issue as other places. Still, We strung beach towels between our bus and the pickup truck next to us using clothespins in the rain gutters. In this early experiment, we were standing in dirt, so our feet got dirtier the longer we showered. We thought we could just bring a small slatted platform or something to stand on. We later concluded that getting clean without waste water going all over the place, making mud, was better than just getting off the ground. The net result is very simple, and consumes no space during travel.

From the Ground Up
Underfoot, the shower floor is a 4-foot diameter inflatable kid pool. This catches the water and keeps your feet clean. Being inflatable, it travels very small, but these are harder to find than the large hard-plastic pools. Also, there is a puncture concern. We are thinking about how we could make the air sections less puncture prone.

Overhead is a 4-foot diameter hula-hoop which acts like a shower curtain rod. It holds up 2 dollar-store shower curtains. The dollar store curtains are very thin, but not opaque. Those were chosen for their weight, so they are not weighing down the hula-hoop. They are also very inexpensive, which works well for our initial attempts at a design. We used a couple of clothespins to hold the curtains closed while in use.

For mounting, the hula-hoop is held in place by pinching it between the top of the passenger door window and the top of the window frame. Yes, it's that simple, and the operation is that lightweight. On the other end, we used a small bungy-cord looped around the hula-hoop and hooked to the canopy.

Last, we used the solar camping shower bag to heat the water so it was warm-ish. The bag was set in the luggage bin to catch the central Oregon desert sun and then shifted to outside the front corner of the luggage bin / on the passenger-side wind-screen for use.

In Use
We both took showers at least once at 4Peaks. The curtains created complete privacy. We oriented the splits in the curtains so one pointed at the hinge in the door and the other 180* the opposite side. The hinge-side opening created a way to grab a towel or clothes without letting water into the bus. We climbed into and out of the shower through the other side, into the main camp-living space. Once the shower was complete, the pool would be carried to a spot where waste-water could be dumped. For the most part, we were each able to shower in less than 1/2 gallon of water. It is amazing how little water you can use if you set your mind to it.

Tucked Away
When the shower was not in use, the hula-hoop detached from the bungy cord and window. Once dry, we would set them inside the pool and then slide the unit under the nose of the bus. There, the wind didn't touch it, the pool wasn't subject to random punctures, but it was ever-ready for use. The shower bag would go back into the luggage bin to collect more sun.

I highly recommend duplicating this, especially at hot dusty festivals. At the end of festival, when the curtains and pool were dry, we deflated the pool and set the hula-hoop inside, complete with the curtains still attached. The combined unit fits on top of the upper bunk pad, underneath the pop-top when closed: taking up no previously used space.

That's it for today. Thanks, as always, for following along-