Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Flash fixes

I realized that I hadn't posted on a collection of things that broke all around the same time on Flash, the Jetta, so today I'll cover what went wrong and what I did to fix them.

Snow Shoes Grow
With a plan to hit the mountain for a taste of snow over the Christmas holiday, I pulled out the snow tires I got for Flash last Thanksgiving (Nov 2017). I got them new off of craigslist for $400 already mounted on universal steel rims. I say universal because they fit the 2 standard VW 5-bolt patterns. In looking back on my old posts, I don't think I ever posted on this purchase. Anyway, they are i-Pike tires and hold firm in ice and snow like no tires I have ever owned. Since we were down to one car, I had to swap the tires after Boo got home from work, so, on the night of December 23rd I set to swapping out tires in some nasty weather. I found, however, that the brakes were in pretty shabby shape and needed to be done as soon as possible. I found some locally-sourced pads (Adaptive One brand) and on Christmas Eve I did a brake job before we left for the mountain.

Lights? Who Needs Lights?
The pads fit well, and have performed extremely well, considering I'd never heard of them, and I didn't go with one of the usual VW-friendly brands. If Discount Import was still on the West Side, I would have gotten pads there. Anyway, while I was digging around the driver front wheel, I noticed a light bulb dangling by a wire. I concluded that it had fallen out of it's holder on the front bumper on one of the many times the bumper got ripped off by a parking curb. Yes, this happens often, and apparently happens to anyone owning a Jetta MK4. The TDI engine is an engineering marvel; the body it was delivered in, however, is not. Anyway, I put the bulb into the little hole, and finished the brake job. When I went to take a test drive, though, the brakes were great... but I lost my dash lights. That is, I lost all of the lights on the dash except the idiot light telling me I needed to replace my brake pads. Suddenly that light was on now. Love you, Flash.

Mountain Fun
We drove to the mountain anyway, having no idea how fast we were going. While we were still near the city, this was not much of an issue. We just stayed with the speed of traffic. Once we got onto US26 east of Sandy, though, we were alone. So, I checked speed periodically with a flashlight. We arrived in Welches after the local grocery closed for the holiday, so we just hit the cabin for the night. Christmas morning, we (me, Boo and T) drove up to Timberline Lodge, and we rode snow until sunset. We drove down, again without the benefit of dash lights, but the traffic was so heavy it didn't matter. By the time we hit the Damascus turn-off, the traffic was so crazy it really didn't matter how fast we were going; someone else was going to come racing up from behind anyway.

Dash Light Fix
As you may have surmised, the cause of the dashlight failure was that otherwise uninteresting bulb I found hanging. A small section of bare wire had become exposed, probably when it was force-ably removed from the bumper. When any one of your running lights creates a short, it blows a fuse... which also routes 12V to the lights on your dashboard. Either side can cause this. I find it so hard to understand how a fuse box with so many fuses doesn't isolate the dashboard from the running lights. Engineering marvel. So, I taped up the bare wire, replaced the fuse and the dashboard lights returned.

Brake Warning Light Fix
When I did the brakes, I plugged in the sensor in the new pads. Apparently, the sensor doesn't work. Maybe there is not enough metal material in the pad to conduct electricity or maybe these AdaptiveOne pads are NOT that great. Regardless, I check the condition of my car often enough that an idiot light should not be necessary. So, I cut the wire from the "sensor" in the brake pad and removed it from the car. I stripped and spliced the two wires together and plugged it back in. Warning light off: but also will never light up. So, I will be sure to check my brakes when I switch over to regular tires in March, and may just add that check to my oil-change routine.

Wipers Not Wiping
No sooner were we back to having an operational car than the wipers stopped working. Seriously, I fixed the lights on a Sunday night and on Monday morning the wipers stopped working. If you turned them on, the wiper would move a few inches and then stop. You could hear the motor, and since they tried to move, but failed, I thought the problem was in the linkage between the wiper arms and the motor. While waiting for linkage to arrive, I applied Rain-X water repellent. That stuff is magic. The following morning, we were greeted by ice on our windows. While letting the car warm up, I set to scraping. The windscreen was the only glass to which I had applied the Rain-X, and it was also the window which was freed of ice the easiest. Also, as we drove down the road, the little bits of left-behind ice quickly melted and beaded away.

I'll post on the wiper repair and the other fix (reverse lights) next time. Both of those jobs have more tale to tell than I can put in one post. Thanks, as always, for following along-

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

New Seat, What a Treat - Part 1

I had a few days off, so rather than spend them playing in the snow or taking a personal trip, I stayed home, and re-upholstered the driver seat of Oliver, the MG. Today's post covers the start of that journey. Sorry today's post is a few hours late.

Old Seat Out
Remember when I installed the old seats on top of the new carpet (See MGB - carpeting (part 2))? Even with the nuts jammed under the seat rails, the seats placed the driver kind of low in the car. Sure, it is a little British car, so you're supposed to sit low. But, there are limits. I figure my eyes should be about 2/3 of the way up the windscreen, and I was around halfway. It felt like I was sitting a hair over the floor, suspended by the vinyl seat cover and little else. I had planned to replace the seat covers, foams, etc last Spring when I had the small win-fall that netted me the new carpet. I just hadn't gotten to the work because I had other things going on, and I wanted to drive the car. So, with this small break, I had my chance. Starting with a basic 7/16" spanner, I removed the 4 bolts which held the driver seat to the floor and removed the driver seat.

I moved the seat upstairs to the shedroom. That room is clean, and all of the interior bits are stored there, so it made more sense than trying to do it in the packed garage or in one of the general living spaces. First, the headrest needs to come off. With the seat on the floor, I stood on the seat bottom and whip-sawed the headrest: pushing it all the way down and then yanking it back up. This violent push/shove blend actually worked, freeing the headrest in a handful of reps. I set the headrest aside, and moved to the Lower Cover.

Old Lower Cover Off
The lower cover is held on with 4 sets of 4 hog rings: one set along each of the sides. I was able to work them free with a small slotted screw driver, exposing the padding underneath. The padding was orange and tattered near the edges. When originally constructed, this foam would sit on top of a 3-sided metal hoop to which 6 rubber straps are attached. This webbing creates a little give to the seat, and provides the lift from underneath. On this seat, the webbing was in disarray. Most of the ends were disconnected and tattered. Fortunately, I had a replacement set for the refresh effort. The pad, cover and webbing were tossed towards the shedroom door and I shifted to the Upper Cover.

Old Upper Cover Off
The upper cover is held on with 4 square clips along the back and 4 hog rings below that, holding the front down. The hog rings flew off with a little pressure with a slotted screwdriver. I did my best to not damage the cover. The square clips needed more coaxing, and since I did not know about them, I had not ordered replacements, so I needed to be careful with the originals. Before the cover will slide off, the seat-angle arm needs to be removed. It is held on with a Phillps head bolt. Once the 2 sets of clips and the angle arm were removed, the cover slid right off the top.

Within the cover, I could see a few interesting things. First, the original foam was orange, and had tattered along the edges. The "hard back" was cardboard that appeared to not be original, nor standard-issue. It looked like a square of cardboard had been cut from a shoe box, or something. It had been taped, with duct tape, to the orange foam. Cool. The tape, cardboard and foam fell apart without much prompting. I think the cover was holding everything together. I tossed the mess atop the Lower Cover mess.

Now, I was down to the metal. I could see the rust spots, and recognized the need to address the frame. There are 2 plastic hinge covers that protect fingers and the covers from the seat hinge. These remove with a Phillips screwdriver. With the plastic covers set aside, the bolts that represent the hinge can be removed with 1/2 inch spanners. Before I could deal with the rust, though, I removed the seat runners from the bottom of the seat. Moving the seat forward and backward had become difficult, so I wanted to get all that nasty grease and grit out of the runners. I took the seat frame and the runners downstairs, and then focused on the head rest.

The seam for the headrest cover is on the bottom, hidden by a small plastic strip, held in place by 2 Phillips screws. With the plastic strip removed, the staples which hold the cover on can be addressed. I used a small slotted screw driver to loosen them, and finished the job with a pair of needle-nose pliers. The cover slides off fairly easily at this point, taking the old foam with it. I had new covers and new foam, but I hadn't anticipated small wood slats along the bottom edge. It is to these slats that the staples and Phillips screws attach. Not all of the wood was bad, but the bottom-most pieces were. I took one good sample from each side and cut pieces that would fit from some scrap wood I had lying around. In a pinch, you could cut up a paint stir-stick: it is the right thickness. The key is finding something thin enough to fit in the channel along the underside of he headrest.

The headrest steel was in a similar state to the rest of the seat frame: some surface rust spots, but no rust-through. I brought it downstairs as well, and moved all 3 pieces to the front porch.

Rust Treatment
Some aspects of working on cars does not change no matter what you are working on: dealing with rust. I attacked the rusty areas with 60-grit sandpaper and then sanded the whole thing with 100-grit. This left a decent edge for paint to bite into. I painted all surfaces with Permatex Rust Treatment, and let them dry overnight. The following morning, I shot them with some black Rustoleum I had in the garage, and hung everything to cure on the front porch with bailing wire.

All of the random other bits got the cleaning treatment. The seat runners, for example, were soaked in de-greaser and cleaned up. All of the little plastic bits and handles were deep cleaned as well. Even the fasteners which I intended to reuse were cleaned up and scrubbed.

I was feeling pretty good at this point. The tear down was easy, the rust invasion was not too bad. I figured the easy part was over, though. Turned out, I was right, but I'll get into that next time. Thanks, as always, for following along-

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Speaker Box Finished

After months of sporadic work, the speaker-box is finally finished. Today's post will go over the final few things I did to complete it.

Where Were We
test fit with rear panel in place
When I last posted on this thing, I closed the post with "...after a bunch of hours with the Dremel and hand planer, the wall mate-points are smooth enough where I think it will be hard to see how out-of-alignment they are once covered with carpet. That's what I'll do for next time... as well as get some wiring in, and the 6th side of the box attached... and then the edges planed.... ". I had 5 of the 6 sides attached and planed, baffles installed. I felt ready for the final side, carpet, and wiring.

One Wire
The route from the wire cups on the right side of the box (front-is-front, so the "right side" assumes the 6x9 speakers face forward and the 10-inch sub faces rear) to the left 6x9 speaker needed to go through a baffle. The other wires, for the sub and the right speaker, were not so constrained. So, I left those wires out until after the carpet was on. For the one, left, speaker, though, I drilled a hole through the baffle, threaded speaker wire through, and then routed it along the bottom seams to the wire cup. I glued it into place so it wouldn't flop around, nor create an internal vibration. My concern about a vibration may seem a little without basis, but I thought with a wire that was running the length of the box, it might find it's way against the sub woofer cone. Regardless, a few extra minutes and some wood glue was a very small cost. I filled the speaker wire drill-hole with glue on both sides as well.
papering for pattern

Rear Panel
With that one wire installed, the rear panel could go on. When I set the panel in place, I could see gaps that couldn't be resolved with wood screw force; I needed to plane the edges of the side panels. To get things flush, I started by setting the panel on, and marking the high points on the sides with a pencil, and then planing those areas down. I repeated this process a few times; each time taking less material between checks. I was not aiming for perfection, rather close enough to fit where I could make up the difference with torquing down with wood screws. Otherwise, I would have spent many hours clowning with perfection. As it was, I spend about an hour planing before spreading generous wood glue along the edges and setting the panel in place. I swiftly applied wood screws around the edges, using more screws on this panel than on the others to get it to set flat.

carpet pattern
I tested the seams with a flashlight, shining it from inside the box (hand through the sub-woofer hole) to confirm that the seal was good. To my surprise, it worked quite well. Maybe having a pilot hole every few inches isn't a totally bad idea. Once the glue had dried, I filled the holes with spackle, waited for it to dry, sanded it flush and repeated 2 more times to make sure the holes were smooth enough to not be noticeable through carpet. I probably over-revved on it a little bit, but I'd come this far, and spent so much time on it now, a few extra minutes was not going to make much difference.

At this point, I painted the outside of the box black. I wanted to make sure the box was sealed, though afterwards I was concerned that I might have made it harder to attach the carpet. My thought about painting was that if I jacked the carpet, any open spot would be black instead of raw MDF, so it would not be as obvious.

carpet cemented
With all of the panels in place and all of the pilot holes filled, I was ready for carpet. I found some basic black trunk carpet online for about $8US for a 4-foot by 5-foot rectangle. This was about twice what I needed, but I bought extra with a plan to carpet the trunk of the MG with the same stuff eventually. So... how to carpet a box? Off hand, it sounds simple: you have 6 sides, so cut 6 pieces of carpet, glue them on. Yeah.. that creates 12 seams. I wasn't going to carpet the bottom, so it would have been 5 pieces of carpet and 8 seams, but still, that's way too many.

Instead, I mocked up a single piece of carpet that was shaped like a "T" using paper to construct a pattern (see pictures). Imagine the "T" upside down. That long side ran along the bottom edge of the rear and the two sides. The vertical part of the "T" wrapped over the top of the box and down the front. I cut the vertical part of the "T" wider by 1/2 an inch on each side so the edges of the top on the right and left sides would fold down and get covered by the side pieces when they wrapped around. This created 2 seams: one on each side along the top edge and down the front... and each seam was double-thick for a 1/2 an inch Once the box was installed into the trunk of the MG, you couldn't see them, and the seams are facing away from anything else in the trunk so the edges won't catch.

The carpet was attached to the box with DAP contact cement. This is nasty stuff, so I did this on my front porch under the overhang. Wear disposable clothes, and gloves because if the glue gets on, it doesn't come off. I followed the directions, thoroughly covering all 5 sides of the box (no carpet on the bottom, just black paint), as well as the inside of the carpet. Well, I did that best I could on carpet with a paintbrush. Using a glass tabletop as a guide for keeping the bottom edge flat and using my thumbs to mark where the sides were, I started applying the carpet to the rear of the box. Contact cement adheres on contact (hence, the name), so you really have one chance to get it right. I was able to get it lightly attached while checking the angles and had to adjust it once. After that, though, I started pressing it down into place, wrapping from the rear over the top to the front, leaving the sides flapping. Then, I brushed contact cement onto the little 1/2 inch flaps, waited a few minutes and then pressed the sides into place. This part of the assembly was probably the most nerve-wracking, knowing that misalignment during this process would make the whole thing look amateurish. Which, if I hadn't spent so much time on it, I would have been fine with, but now, I wanted it to look good.

Cut In
wire cups and 6x9's in
The contact cement needs at least 24 hours to cure. I waited a day for the stink to dissipate and then moved the box into the garage for a couple of days. Once I was confident that the cement was solid, I took an exacto knife and cut in the holes. I started with the wire cup holes, cutting across the diameter of the hole first and then laying the edge of the knife against the hole in the wood to direct the cut of the carpet. This worked very well, and allowed me to cut all of the holes without any mistakes.

With the holes exposed in the carpet, I was in the final stretch. I did the final wiring first: Laying out a length of wire for the sub and the right speaker, attaching wire ends and heat-shrinking. To these wires, I attached the wire cups, set the cups in the holes and then screwed them in place. The 6x9 speakers are held on with nuts, so the bolts which protrude from the box needed to be cut free first, but otherwise the wiring was straightforward and the speakers went in without issue. The sub-woofer had barely been out of it's box since I purchased it. It wired up and installed relatively easily, though. I needed to pilot the holes for the bolts through the carpet, and I did that by pushing a roofing nail through from the outside. Once bolted into place, I set the protective grill in place, and the box was done.

The construction could not be complete without installing and test-firing. So, I took the box out to Oliver and set it in place. It fit without difficulty, and the speaker wires easily reached the wire cups on the side. You can see the extra wire on the far side of the box in the picture here. There remains work ahead for wiring up an amp and wires for the sub, so I'll address the extra speaker wire then. In the meantime, I fired up the stereo (local metal station was joyously playing Ronny James Dio), and verified that all 4 speakers were running.

That's it for today. This post contains work effort that spanned a few weeks, completing New Years Day. I intend to paint the bottom of the box with some flex-seal so we can use the box outside, but that will wait a while. In the meantime, I'll be enjoying the sounds, and eventually getting an amplifier installed so I can power the sub.

Thanks, as always, for following along.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

MGB now in service

Just in time for the snowy winter months, Oliver, the convertible MGB, is now ready to be pressed into service. Today's post highlights the final touches: tires, brake bleeding, preparing the windshield for rain and the dash lights. oh, Hapy New Year.

New Shoes
I had lamented the body roll during the last test drive when I did the alignment (See MGB Alignment). I knew the tires were old, and wanted to remove that variable first. So, on a day when I had to miss work for a routine dental cleaning, I bopped past the local Les Schwab Tire Center and got Oliver some all-season tires. I haven't forgiven the other Schwab for not tightening down the boots on the steering of Flash (Jetta TDI), but I thought a different Schwab might be okay. I hit the Schwab on Lower Boones Ferry, which was under construction. For a mid-week, mid-morning, the place was buzzing. They were able to serve the need though, and had a new set of 195/65R15 tires on within an hour. I asked them to give the brakes a bleed while they had it on the rack, but they didn't. They checked the brakes and indicated that they might need a bleed, but didn't do anything about it. Les Schwab, you are just not the same tire shop that you were 10 years ago. This may be the last of our business together.

The tires are nice, though a little louder than I expected. Perhaps that will shift as they age, though I've found tires usually get louder, not quieter. The drive from Beavo to the dentist, then the tire shop and then back home was a great test. Morning rush hour meant lots of rubber-band driving, so lots of clutch, brake, low gear driving. Oliver did that in stride. On the way home, the morning rush was over, so the highway was fairly clear. So, I could get Oliver up to a much higher speed. That was super fun, but the brakes still were a little softer than I'd like. I made a plan to bleed the brakes the following weekend.

Brake Bleed
I have tried to get the last air bubble out of the brake system a few times. I bled the master cylinder (see MGB Sponge Brakes) and thought I had the air out of the system then. I was wrong. And, after having that belief confirmed by the Les Schwab folks, I knew I needed to get it right this time. I started on the rear wheel furthest from the master brake cylinder. I put the rear end up in the air, removed the rim and got out the MityVac. The bleed screw is a 5/16", and I think my prior challenges before came from a combination of little errors that I corrected this time:

First, rather than use the box-end of the spanner, I used the open end this time. I found this did not encourage the vacuum line to lift off the bleed screw.
Second, never let the vacuum drop below a few pounds of vacuum in the line. In fact, I made sure I had no less than 5 pounds of vacuum in the line when I closed the bleed screw.
Third, I started with brake fluid in the vacuum bleeder canister, and made sure it always had some. I think this prevented air from working it's way back up the bleed line.
Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, I never let the master cylinder reservoir fall below half-full. By doing all these things, no air was introduced into the system.

So, I was able to follow all the other good practices: monitor the fluid coming out of the bleeder for bubbles, minding that tiny and/or large bubbles mean the seal of the vacuum bleeder is not perfect. You are looking for a small bubble. Also, bleed far more than you think you really need to. There is nothing wrong with completely replacing the fluid in the line from the reservoir to the bleed screw.

Windscreen and Wipers
While driving Oliver late last Summer, I found that seeing through the windshield was virtually impossible when I turned into the sunset. This is a fairly common problem in Oregon because so many of the roads run due east-west, and the low-hanging sun finds its way directly in your face in the weeks nearest to the equinox. I think this is why the US-26 west of Portland is called the Sunset Highway. To remedy, I used the Rain-X Xtreme Clean. I'm sure there are other and arguably better products out there, but I had it in the garage. Like the directions said, I cleaned the windshield with glass cleaner, then applied a small amount of the RainX stuff onto a damp clean cloth. I rubbed it a bunch in a circular motion and then wiped it clean. Except for a few deeper gouges from bad wiper scratches, the windshield looks considerably better. I failed to take a picture before I started. Honestly, I just jumped in and did it before thinking about taking pictures. To complete the rain-readiness, I replaced the 2 nasty stiff crumbly old wipers with a pair of new ones I got in one of my other orders from Victoria British.

Dash Lights
I had one last thing that I needed to solve before Oliver was road-ready: his dash lights didn't really work. I tested them in a dark garage and found that the tach and the cigar lighter were the only things that lit up when I turned on the headlights. That won't do. The rheostat that controls the brightness of the dash lights is a common failure part, and finding a replacement for the late-model (read: rubber-bumper) MGB is pretty difficult. Many of the usual part places don't carry it. Many owners simply wire around the switch so the dash lights are full-bright when the running or headlights are on. I did this on Oliver (leveraging a 10amp fuse from the feed line to a wire-splitter which I then wrapped with electrical tape), but I may still replace the switch.. Getting the old switch out was a real bear, since the nuts had frozen in place and the set-screw for the knob had as well. I effectively destroyed both, so I'll need new for both if I decide to install a dimmer. Still, with the hack in place, all of the lights come on so no bulbs needed to be replaced. Winner! I had been thinking about adding some fog lights, so if I don't replace the dimmer, that hole in the dash would be perfect for a fog light switch. Hmm..

So, now with the number of cars available meaningfully reduced (See Herd Thinning), Oliver will be seeing some road time. We really only have one regular-driver car: Flash. Flash will continue to see 95% of the drives through winter, but when we have those rare needs to be in two places at once, and mass-transit can't abide, we can safely drive Oliver. I intend to slowly work through the interior replacement work, but won't be officially taking Oliver off the road to do it. This will make for an interesting few months.

Thanks, as always, for following along.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Don't Should on Yourself

Some folks welcome the new calendar year with a resolution to try something different. I can respect that, though it often comes in the form of huge crowds of new folks at the gym for the month of January (about the time the resolution wears off), and that's kind of annoying. Today's post offers an alternative.

So.. What Now?
Early fall 2018 was not a good one for Boo and me. I honestly have a real problem with the month of October because it seems like any system that is barely hanging on fails in October. So, I spend my weekends fixing things in an emergency way rather than at my leisure. We had a few of those around the house, but we had a progressively unsettling health situation arise, and that forced us to make some prioritization decisions. These were not made all at once, rather we make them every day, as things come up. So often, we would find ourselves saying things like "I should (enter possible work item here)".

Not Should, Try Could
Just that simple phrase, "I should" carries so much weight. We feel immediate remorse and maybe even guilt, then, for NOT doing what we just said. For example, it's raining sideways, and you're fighting off a cold when you look out the window and notice there are leaves covering the back lawn. In your mind, you can hear the words... "I should rake those leaves today". Why "should"? Where did that imperative come from where now suddenly a Saturday morning that had started so nicely with a hot coffee and breakfast with your significant other has become one where you are compelled to do a particular task?

Don't Should on Yourself
Strike that. Boo and I have taken to catching each other when we say that and gently respond to the one caught "don't should on yourself". In other words, don't put an obligation on your time and energy like that. No one is making you do that except yourself. So, instead, change should to could, and see if it fits with how you're feeling that day. In the example above, when its raining like mad, I rephrase... "I could rake those leaves today". Suddenly, it feels like optimism. It feels like I could do anything today, even rake those leaves. I could sit and watch football all day. I could clown around with a speaker-box project or I could sit and play cribbage with my wife. I realize that this may read silly, but the psychology totally works. I feel less like I am a captive to repairing a house, or a fleet of cars and more self-directed. The same work gets done, but without the resentment, and with renewed a level of joy I used to feel from the simple maintenance on my first house.

So, if you are looking for a New Years resolution, I suggest taking on our little phrase: Don't Should on Yourself, and change that "should" to a "could". Give yourself the out. Give yourself the choice, and feel empowered by simply giving yourself those little gifts.

Yes, this was a weird post for today. It has been a strange Fall, with very little time spent doing anything car-related, but with lots of time loving my wife. So, there won't be much in terms of car content coming for a bit. In the meantime, I wish you all a happy, healthy and self-directed new year.