Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Hapy Seating

Over the years, Hapy has had 3 sets of front seats. Today, I start down a path of a fourth, and hopefully final, set. For the curious, I continue to Bondo-cycle on the replacement front fender for Zed, as well as sort through the garage. Boo and I have been taking advantage of the waning days of "decent" weather (read: light rain, around 8*C / 45*F) to get some hikes in before late Fall weather really kicks in. So, large steps forward on any car project is not happening right now. Sometimes, you just need to spend some time on a project that you actually want to do. These days, neither the Zed nor my garage are that project, but they are each getting some of my attention. So, as a distraction from that, I'm looking at Hapy's seats.

Seats 1-3
the '74s
I suppose it makes sense to start with what Hapy has had for seating. First, he had his original manufactured-in-1971 seats. These were built before headrests, and while they looked the part, they were completely clapped out, sagging painfully across the entire seat base. The horsehair stuffing was mostly gone and the fabric was dry-rotting away. So, while I was still working in Old Town (an area of downtown Portland now called "the Pearl District") I bought a set of blue-green plaid 1974 seats off craigslist for $20.

The blue-green set were marginally better. Maybe. The seats had been rebuilt at some point with foam, but I discovered along the way that they were getting ditched for $20 for a reason: they were very uncomfortable. Still, they were the seats I had, and they had headrests for better neck protection in an accident. After a few months with them, though, I would have probably gone back to my originals if I had still had them.

A few years ago, GratefulEd swapped out his original 1973 seats with minivan seats (which look and seat great), so he loaned me his seats while I figured something out. The 1973 seats served GratefulEd just fine, but they, too, were worn out. The fabric is so destroyed that the simple aftermarket seat covers cling to the foam underneath, not the seat fabric. Again, these seats are not the most comfortable, but they are better than the '74 set. GratefulEd put many miles on these seats. For, like, 2k of those miles, I rode with him. Still, at some point he wants these back, and at some point I would like a seat that will improve the ride... like the seats he put in Belle.

New Seat, What a Treat
Yeah, I've used that line before. In my scouting around craigslist, I found a set of "comfort" front seats from a 2016 Sprinter for $250. The "comfort" seats are so labelled because they have things like angle control and lumbar support that the "standard" seats do not have. Coming from seats that were little more than an uneven pile of flattened foam wrapped in shredded cloth, these things are puh-lush. With an arm rest. I read reviews of these seats where authors described taking road trips of 8-12 hours and not suffering from leg or back aches or any additional fatigue they could assign to their seats. Sounds perfect, but are they 10x better than those old ratty '74 seats I bought 15 years ago? I think so.

I drove over to the seller in Hapy. Upon arrival, I pulled the front passenger seat out of Hapy and set the Sprinter seat in it's location. It fit well enough to know that it could probably work, and then I jumped in to test-sit it. Ultimately, figuring out how to mount it, deciding whether I go whole-hog and do a swivel-seat upgrade, etc, all only matters if the seat is comfortable for a long drive. Just because some random internet authors said so, doesn't mean it will work for Boo and me. Of course, sitting in a seat for a few seconds won't tell the story either. But, I liked the seats, so I paid the guy, put the seats in the back and headed home. Hapy ran great, by the way: no codes, no stammering; he just cruised and felt peppy.

So, Will It Fit?
extra surround
getting cut off
Before I go too deep into the install, there are some basics. The Sprinter seats are much taller and the bottom is much thicker than any of the stock bus seats. When I placed the seat in, the headrest sat about an inch or so below the ceiling. Because of the original mountpoints in the passenger seat pedestal, I could not position the seat on top of the inner flat very well. As a result, I could only sorta-kinda get a sense for how it would be before the inner seat rail slid down into the well in the middle of the pedestal. So, regardless of what I do, that old passenger-side mountpoint will need to get cut off.

A little concerned about how the driver-side would fit, I pulled the '73 driver seat out and set the Sprinter seat in its place when I got home. This made for a much better assessment because the stock driver seat is mounted with toothed sliders, not large C-hooks sticking up from the pedestal. Still, the height of the seat base wedged my legs under the steering wheel. I confirmed that the seat will be very comfortable, once I have figured out how to lower them. These are built for delivery drivers, service folks and RV's: designed to be sat in a lot for long periods, and Sprinter's are not cheap, so the seats are a reflection of that as well (read: these are good seats). I will not have to cut out the partition for the seats to fit, but removing the partition could make them more adjustable.

Seat Gets Trimmed
While I did not have to cut up the bus, I did have to cut a section of plastic off the seat base. These seats are adjustable in 3 ways: height, seat-back tilt, and seat-base tilt. The height is controlled with a lever on the outside along the base, and it raises / lowers the entire seat above the rails by as much as 3 inches. In the Sprinter, the seat is bolted to a pedestal that is smaller than the seat, so when it is lowered, the bottom plastic surround drops below/around that pedestal. This will not work in a bus installation, as the pedestal is larger than the seat.

new seat (with surround removed)
versus old seat
The plastic surround, however, seems almost designed for this modification. There is an indentation that runs along the lower edge of the cushion, maybe 3 inches above the bottom of the surround (see picture above). I scored this indentation repeatedly with a box-cutter until the lower section fell off, halving the plastic surround's height. The new now-the-bottom sets slightly above the seat rail at the seat adjuster's lowest setting. With this lower surround removed, the seat rests cleanly on the bus seat pedestal (see picture on the right). For a longer legged driver, there are now a few inches of headroom, if the seat needs to be raised.

Install Thinks
Boo and I would love to have at least the passenger seat swivel, if not both, to create more usable space while camped. But Hapy has steel partitions behind the front seats. Those partitions, I think, were critical for collision safety since the back of the passenger seat was literally mounted with a hook-and-ring connector thing to it, and the seat was unable to sit upright without leaning against it. Still, these partitions could also represent some stiffness in holding the sides  of the bus square against twisting or in case of an accident. So, we have a few options:
  1. *Mount the seats in a forward-facing-only orientation, bolting the slider rails to the bus.
  2. Remove the partition behind the passenger seat, install angle iron to take up the side-stiffness, install a swivel base and the seat. Driver side remains just like option 1.
  3. Remove the partition, but don't install a swivel. Maybe, the seat is just removed, reversed and re-installed facing rear-ward when we camp? Maybe instead of using bolts, the seat is mounted with nuts on studs, making the reverse-swap that much easier.
  4. Remove both partitions, install an angle iron for each side for side-stiffness, install a swivel on each side.
  5. Blending options 3 and 4, remove both partitions, but don't install any swivels. One or both seats could be mounted rear-facing when camped.
both seats mocked
My biggest question for whether options 4 or 5 are possible circles back to the steering wheel. Unlike the passenger side, where there is a big open space for the seat back to go when you face it rearward, that wheel is big, and sticks pretty far back from the dashboard. Just looking at the picture on the right here tells the tale. It is hard to imagine that driver seat facing rearward. Frankly, I'm going to have to think carefully about how to just install the driver seat. Use of studs may be necessary simply for that. I asterisked option 1 since that's the most direct option that gets seats in. I can always grow from there. Knowing that any swivel is going to raise the seat more, all the others may not be real options.

Some Prep Is Universal
Regardless of what we choose to do, there are some universal steps I need to take. First, of course, is addressing any rust on top of the seat pedestals. I removed the pedestal carpet a few years ago, and need to re-install it or cut some fresh carpet to install there. I intend to add some noise reduction stuff while everything is open before the carpet goes back in. I would like to move the brake fluid reservoir down into that below-the-seat area to simplify things a little bit. This would also create more possibility for a driver-side swivel (though that is still very remote). I may need to cut off the old driver-side seat tracks, if I run into issues putting holes through for the Sprinter seat rails. On the passenger side, the pointing-up C-hooks need to be cut off. You can see how they interfere in the mock-up picture on the right, here: the seat is pushed further forward because of where the C-hooks are. All of these (except the carpet install) can be done while I mull-over whether I am going to cut off one or both partitions. 

Boo and I tried sitting the mocked up seats just like the picture above shows. Overall, they are very comfortable. They do sit high, though, for our shorter-than-average-for-a-US-person legs. I can fully activate the pedals all the way to the floor, though. For Boo, she may need something under her feet for longer drives so the leg-dangle doesn't negatively impact her lower back. I'm sure we have something that usually travels with us that could stow there which would meet that need. In the past, she has sat with her feet propped up on the dash, so a more permanent step isn't necessary. The partitions do impact the degree to which the seat-back can be tilted. For the driver, I'm not sure how much it matters. For a passenger who sometimes likes to sleep on the drive, this might lead us to removing that partition eventually. At this point, I am going to work on simply mounting the seats and leaving the partitions. We figure I can always circle-back around on removing a partition, but once it's gone, it's gone. Maybe there's a way to just lower the passenger-side partition a couple inches to enable a seat tilt.

That's it for today. I'll post more on this progress as there is some, leveraging the old "Part (x)" to keep them strung together. Thanks, as always, for following along-

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

$50 tool chest

This Summer, I got an unsolicited offer for a massive tool chest/cabinet for around 6% of something smaller at Harbor Freight (like this base and this topper ~$850US as of this writing). Curious as to what $50US can actually buy in terms of a new tool chest/cabinet, I ordered one. This post covers that mini-adventure, as well as some thoughts on tool cabinets, now that this adventure has me thinking about it.

What They Said
Let's start with the product description. They said a lot, but the key points were
Milwaukee 56 top
and bottom cabinets
  • Ship within 24 hours after payment, Free Worldwide Shipping
  • Assembled in La Palma, California, USA
  • 150 lbs. rated drawers
  • 2-deep bottom cabinet drawers have double drawer slides, offering a 300 lbs. load capacity
  • 18-Gauge steel frame and drawers with reinforced 6-Gauge angle iron cabinet base finished with rust-resistant red and black powder-coat finish
  • digital locking system, no need for keys
  • 6-outlet/2USB power strip mounted inside chest till and on exterior cabinet side wall, cord hooks included to wrap the power cords for storage
  • Assembled dimensions with casters installed (approximate): 56 in. W x 22 in. D x 64 in. H and weighs 643.8 lbs.
Company Policies
First, it should be noted that on the anthead.club (seller) website, it is indicated that all shipping is done through 4PX, order processing can take 3-10 days (as opposed to within 24 hours as mentioned above) and delivery time is 3-4 weeks. I translate the 3-4 weeks to 21-28 days from their warehouse to my driveway. Last, it says worldwide shipping is free.

So, all of that sounds really great, right? Like, within 38 days after placing an order, you get this massive tool cabinet/chest combo for $50US. But, of course, how could this possibly be? And, free shipping on almost 650 pounds? This can't possibly be right. For just $50US, though, seemed like it was worth spending the money just to see what would happen. Besides, I figured this might make a good post. So, I ordered one.

The timeline for my order is below. We should probably start with the fact that the website said that this was "Assembled in La Palma, California, USA". Not sure how that works if it is shipping from Guangzhou, China. For the benefit of the doubt, let's pretend that it ships as a pile of bits to an assembly space in La Palma where it is assembled into this final shape before continuing on its way. As I document this, it would not be fair to at least recognize that supply chains are a mess around the world. So, delays could be attributed to that. Still, the data is the data:

12-Aug: ordered, paid for
20-Aug: (8 days later) order accepted and shipped out of warehouse in Guangzhou City, China by China-Post (not 4PX). This is within the policy time window, just not the designated carrier.
23-Aug: arrived / departed Chinese port (Shenzhen) on a ship
 5-Sept: (13 days at sea) arrived in USA. Port unclear, but let's assume Los Angeles, since they're the biggest US port for ships from China.
29-Sept: (24 days in US, 41 days since left china warehouse) Message from vendor rec'd. Cabinet still not arrived, current shipper unknown. Could be languishing in a warehouse, shipping container, customs, or maybe it's with USPS and they didn't know how to provide a tracking number to me. Yeah... right...
12-Oct: (54 days since left China warehouse) posting published. No further updates from vendor nor on the trackers.

After over 40 days days of waiting and multiple requests-for-update, I finally heard from the vendor. They indicated that there was a "problem with logistics" and that they would cancel my order, returning my $50. I wonder if it will be another 40 days before I see my $50, if ever. So, what did we learn from this? Well, I learned how to track a shipment from China using AfterShip and Track17. I think we all also learned that no, you cannot get a 56"W x 22"D x 64"H, 645 pound tool chest shipped to you from "La Palma, CA" (read: China) for $50.

Husky 52 top
and bottom cabinets
I do wonder what was actually shipped from China, where it US-landed on 5-September, and what its final destination was / will be. I mean, the tracking number was valid for something leaving China for the US. I suspect, whatever was sent will not go back to China. Instead, will end up in a LA-area warehouse for local sale, covering the real cost of manufacture and shipping with some profit cooked in. Maybe it was pre-arranged swiped off the dock a-la the second season of HBO's "The Wire". But, why the internet ruse for $50? Perhaps there are import limits placed on the local-to-LA-area seller, and this is an end-run around that? Maybe what was shipped was something else entirely, and they just needed a cover story for customs. I don't know, but there is a reason the too-good-to-be-true tool cabinet/chest combo experienced a "problem with logistics" when I have never had that experience with Alibaba or other clearly-direct-from-China orders from, like, eBay or whatever. I did discover, however, that this exact tool chest set up is available from Home Depot for $1500, and most of the images on the 2 websites are identical. Before you ask, yes I have been watching the account I used to place this order, looking for suspicious activity, and no, there has not been any.

Cabinet Options
Husky 41 bottom
I realize that I will have to break down and buy a real tool cabinet (maybe a topper chest too) if I intend to get my tools in order. The combo bottom/top "red rollie" I have now is too small (27" wide), to the point where I have tools sitting on storage shelves.... or worse, sitting in a pile on the crowded garage floor. In short, the current-state is not sustainable. I learned that too: thinking about tool storage opened my eyes to one of the underlying factors to my garage disarray. So, what are the real options out there?

Like I said, Home Depot has this exact unit for $1500. Home Depot has a Husky (this, pictured alongside "Learnings" above) that's 2/3 the price (at $1000US) of the Milwaukee brand, but 52" wide rather than 56. Of course, for 1/2 of that, I could just get the bottom 44" deal from Harbor Freight I linked at the beginning, and get the upper later, if I feel the need for more. For that matter, I could look at Husky's 41" (picture on the right) for about the same price. The Home Depot models have things like integrated power strips, a bottle opener and soft-close drawers. I figure you're paying for those, so if the prices are otherwise close, where is that difference getting made up?
US General "44" bottom
I have been unable to find drawer spec's on these US General "44" cabinets. So, I went to Harbor Freight with a measuring tape. The cabinet is genuinely 22 inches deep but only 42" wide, not 44. I know. It puzzled me too, so I measured twice. The image on the right here has the measurements I took. The drawer width measurements are the inside space, between the sidewalls. For height, I measured the distance from the deck with the rubber mat installed to the bottom edge of whatever is above it, be it another drawer or part of the cabinet. By measuring the actual usable space, I hope these measurements help others. I expect that as I plan my shop tool storage upgrade, these will be useful.

As a way to consider the various options, I took the published "cubic inches" of storage and divided that by the price to get square inches or storage space per $1US. In all cases, when just the lower cabinets are considered, the square inch per dollar is lower/worse than when the top is added. For example, the upper for the US General "44" costs $330, but adds 11700 cubic inches of storage space (35.45 square inches per $1US). Since I don't know if I need an upper, I just considered lowers. In order of most to least (square inches per $1US) with some other data bits:
  1. Husky 52           - 22934 cu in -  9   drawers (35.28)  - $1000US
  2. Husky 41           - 17221 cu in - 11  drawers (34.44)  - $500US
  3. US General 44   - 14000 cu in - 13* drawers (28)       - $500US
  4. Milwaukee 56    - 23583 cu in - 10  drawers (26.2)    - $900US
  5. US General 56   - 21500 cu in - 11  drawers (25.3)    - $850US
Unless you are just going to throw everything in your cabinet with no organizational thought, overall capacity is not terribly informative. The number and shapes/sizes of the drawers really speak to use more than an overall number. So, I need to consider that against what I need. For me, overall footprint and how well it will compliment my existing "red rollie" are also factors. I intend put hands on examples of the Home Depot offerings before making a decision, but I am leaning towards the US General 44 (asterisked) because of the 2-3/4" most-shallow drawers compared to the 2" most-shallow from Husky and Milwaukee. And because there are more of them. Impact drivers and some larger wrenches would not fit the smaller 2" clearance without laying them down, defeating some of the storage "gain". Also, those other cabinets offer a few large drawers that the US General does not. For me, those big drawers may not be very useful, or space-wasteful, attracting something that could just as easily sit on a shelf (like my MityVac or Dremel, still in their plastic carrying cases). Last, I have seen negative reviews about the plastic bits in the soft-close drawers breaking in a couple years, so that might be influencing my thinking too.

That's it for today. When I get to solving my tool storage, and sorting the garage, I'll post on it. I do have to spend some weekends organizing in there. You'll know when that's happened by the lack of interesting car-related posts... like this one. Hahaha. Thanks, as always, for following along-

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Resolving the Stammer

In the 2 major trips I took this Summer (2021), my road reports focused mostly Hapy's handling, the wind and the traffic or road conditions. I mentioned, sort of in passing, about the engine stumbling or stammering, having an error code thrown, and the occasional blanket of smoke. Today's post covers how I resolved this condition.

I should call out that the last trip of the season (for Hapy's birthday) did not include a code being thrown. He struggled into the headwind on the way there, but cruised with a tailwind on the way back. In neither direction did he throw a code nor dump smoke, but there were bumbles. So, I did this maintenance so the next trip would not be wanting for power.

Let's start with the code that was getting thrown: P1550. This indicates: Solenoid Valve for Boost Pressure Control (N75) - Control Deviation. in short, the thing that controls the turbo is not behaving consistently. So, the turbo is dumping boost to protect the engine. The result is a loss in power, sometimes a considerable loss. When I first noted the stumbling engine, I assumed it was fuel related. I replaced the clear fuel filter, because it had some stuff in it, but while that may have helped with consistent fuel delivery, it did not meaningfully address the engine stammering.

As I reflect back on the drives, we should have had WAY more power. I just got bigger nozzles and had the computer chipped. We should have been flying down OR-22, limited solely by the completely soft setting on the adjustable shocks. Instead, I was back to climbing hills in 3rd. It didn't register while we were driving, but it is now. Since we were sporadically getting a P1550 code, the turbo was sometimes dumping boost on the ground.... and creating a nice smoke blanket in the process.

Vacuum Lines First
stock hoses
Throwing parts at a problem is one way to solve it. Most people don't like resolving that way, though. When you have vacuum issues, which a P1550 error code usually means, there are some parts you kind of need to throw at it. If you only want to change the one thing that's wrong, you need to check all of the vacuum lines and appliances (turbo wastegate, N75, N18, EGR, ASV, vacuum ball, brake line, etc) and replace the one that is not holding pressure. The least expensive solution is to disconnect and re-connect all of the hoses. Sometimes they work themselves loose, and when you put things back together again, they just work. While cheapest and least guaranteed, this is also the least satisfying path.

If your vacuum lines are over 10 years old, like the ones on Hapy are, then you are due for replacing the lines anyway. Many of Hapy's hoses removed with little effort, almost falling off. Others were brittle and baked on and some others looked like they could have been replaced a couple of years ago. My hoses were following the stock pattern, but the other 2 valves (for Exhaust Gas Recirculation - EGR and Anti-Shudder Valve - ASV) were just blocked off. So, I switched to the simplified version (image below, courtesy of DaveLinger of TDIClub), leaving the unused valves in-place and wired, but without a vacuum source. This should reduce the opportunities for vacuum leaks to appear in the future.

There are kits on the 'net for a couple of meters of 3mm hose and a couple of meters of 5mm hose. The 5mm is for the line from the N75 to the bottom of the turbo and from the N75 to the air cleaner. The rest on Hapy are 3mm, but from looking at the diagram, I would expect that the line from the "T" to the N18 should also be 5mm. All of the lines I removed from Hapy were 3mm: I didn't have any 5mm when I did these 10 years ago. I am sure the VW engineers used the bigger diameter hose for a reason, though, so I installed 5mm hose to/from the N75. Anyway, replace one hose at a time, cutting the old hose off by slicing along the plastic nipple (to avoid breaking it). This will cost, like $30US, in hoses and in about an hour your hoses will be good as new. Possibly better. P1550 possibly fixed.

Brake Booster Line
So, you still have a code or lack of power? Next, I would replace that big vacuum line from the vacuum pump to the power brake. These age and crack like the others, but the replacement is not in the hose kits. For another $30US, you can replace this. I was about at this point when I kinda remembered that my brakes were not as responsive, and I had to push harder to get the bus to stop. Sometimes. I had thought it was weight-related and even hit a trucker scale on the way beck from 4Peaks to see if I was especially heavy (4400 pounds, btw). I wasn't. Perhaps I was stopping with only partial vacuum boost or even power boost free. Hoping the power booster on the brake was not the cause, I continued down the path of parts I had on hand. My hose was original, and while there was a little cracking at the vacuum-pump end, it looked pretty good. Still.. you can't tell if a hose is failing by looking at it. Glad I replaced it.

Replace the N75
no EGR, no ASV
Last "inexpensive" thing to look at is the N75. I put quotes around it because it is still $70US. I suppose the vacuum ball or the little grey/white check valve could be the issue and these are fairly inexpensive. If you are still getting the p1550 after all the replacements above and the N75, you may have an issue with the wastegate actuator, or your brake booster. Remember the booster failure on Oliver, the MGB? For reference, here are the links for the finding and the fixing posts. 

Replacing the N75 is usually as easy as replacing the hoses. 3 hoses and a 2-pin plug-on-a-cable connect to it. It is held to the firewall with a couple 10mm bolts. I ordered both the hose kit and the brake booster line as well as a N75 when I attacked this problem. Since my engine is a first-year ALH, the 2-pin plug is different from most others, so the N75 on-market does not direct swap in. The plug needs to be re-wired or the pins pushed out of the old / into the new. I left the N75 in my supply heap and just did the lines. I figured that if I need to cut some wires or play with the pins, I want to be sure that it will actually solve a problem, rather than just create work. I had to remove the air intake to get to the vacuum lines so I cleaned the air filter while it was in-hand.

Test Drive
With the vacuum lines replaced and simplified, I was ready to see if the stammering issue had resolved. Prior to doing this work, I was still driving Hapy around as my "daily" driver (quoted because with the pandemic I don't actually drive everyday. Maybe I should say my "weekly" driver), and I was still getting sporadic stammering issues. So, I figured if I could just drive to my favorite burrito place (Taqueria El Gordo) without a stammer, I'd have solved the problem, and gotten dinner. I say that because it is just far enough away for the stammering to appear. Even if it didn't solve, I would still have a killer burrito. It was on a drive to Gordo's that I could easily re-create the stammer problem within a short trip, so I figured it was a decent test-track.

What's that saying about "the best laid plans"? Well, instead of going to the burrito place, Boo and I drove right past it and out to Cornelius (west of Hillsboro) to see some live music. Hapy suffered no stammering, and he had plenty of power. I didn't really put my foot into it, but he popped off the stop lines well. At no point on the drive there and back did he stammer, nor lay down smoke. I am calling this solved: failing vacuum lines. 

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