Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Cowling the Hapy Radiator

Brief post today. Before I begin, you'll notice that the advertisements are gone. I never made a penny on having them there, and I think we get bombarded with too much advertisement anyway, so now we will all enjoy a less cluttered, advertisement-free experience. On to the new radiator fan shroud...

Fan Shroud or Cowling
as pulled from shipping box
Modern cars and many older cars, have something on the rear side of the radiator surrounding the fan. This shroud or cowling helps pull air through the radiator when the fan is on. Since auto makers don't spend a penny where they need not, I have come to the conclusion that the shroud helps keep temperatures down. Initially, I thought it was to protect fingers when the fan snapped on, but I've since learned from reading articles that these shrouds do help pull air through the radiator and can reduce temperatures by up to 40%.

Hapy Rad Background
Since I did the engine swap on Hapy, he had been running without a tailored shroud. I put a cowling of sorts around the outer edge, but that was mostly to help keep the waste hot air from re-circulating into the radiator intake. I'm not sure how well that worked, but let's assume it worked okay. I had 2 fans on the bottom, with the intent to pull air through the radiator, but it is entirely possible that lots of air leaked around the edges of the fan, greatly reducing their cooling capability. So, I went to eBarf looking for an aftermarket shroud, in hopes of finding something that could bolt onto the new Mishimoto radiator. While I could have fabricated one, if I could find one inexpensive enough, I'd go with a bolt-on.

Found
front p-side corner
The radiator size I have is from a Jetta3, and fortunately, there are many of these still on the road, creating a market for things like an aftermarket shroud. I had to try a few sources, though, as the supply is drying up, or those who manufacture and import them have been carefully managing their inventory due to the new import tariffs. Anyway, I found a seller and $90US on eBarf later, I have a direct-replacement shroud with fans.

Install
The mounting holes lined up perfectly with the mount holes on the Mishimoto radiator. This made the install crazy easy. I cut the cable-ties (zip-ties) which held on the old fans, unplugged the wires and set them aside. I cut the plastic bag off the new shroud and slid it between the radiator and the metal strap which holds the sides together (see the bottom picture). I removed the 10mm bolts which held the radiator to the support frame, fit the radiator mounting tabs into place and re-threaded the bolts into their respective holes. Once the wires were plugged back in (black to ground, blue to switched 12V from the relay), the install was complete. I flipped the fan switch on the dash to confirm everything was good (both fans spinning, and both in the right direction).

I have set the old fans aside, planning to reuse one of
them for the MGB. With the new cowling and fans, I hope the days of watching my temperature gauge are over. We could have a few nice days ahead, but rains are pretty much upon us now, so the likelihood of getting a hardy test before spring is unlikely. Regardless, I expect that it is no worse than it was. If so, I can easily revert back, but that would be quite a surprise.

With the conclusion of this effort, Hapy is back "in the bag": covered with the BusDepot bus cover for the winter. It is always a sad day when we cover him up, knowing that the summer didn't quite have as many camping or festival adventures as we wished. I sincerely hope that I can get him uncovered and out for drives early enough next season to shake out the issues so we can have an adventure-filled summer.

That's it for today. For my US readers, Hapy Election Day. Whatever your politics, please express them at the polls. One day, I hope, we can return to discussing political opinions as rational people without raising voices, alarms, or threats. Yes, my non-US friends, it has become that dire here. Thanks for following along-

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

MGB alignment

In a rare moment of peaceful reflection, I realized that when I rebuilt the front end of the MGB, I failed to perform an alignment. Today's brief post is about how to do that.

Caster, Camber and Toe
On modern cars, a front end alignment involves tweaking three different adjustments. Caster is the rotational pitch the front wheel revolves on. This is hard to put into words, but picture the front wheel on a shopping cart and how it wobbles when you get a "bad" one. Your front wheel can have the same effect, caused by the castor being off. Camber is what the tuners and drifters use for either visual effect or performance. Camber speaks to how much the top of the tires tilt away from or towards the car. Toe references how much the front or rear of the tire is closer to the center line of the car. Of the three, only Toe is adjustable on an MGB.

Frozen Nut
Like so many parts on the old bus, when I got under the MGB to loosen the lock nut on the tie rods, both nuts were frozen in-place. I applied heavy amounts of WD40 Rust Release Penetrant to break them free, but they remained stuck after soaking overnight. I continued to spray that stuff for a total of 4 days (2 applications a-day). They wouldn't budge. Grrr.. fun with rust. So, I thought this would be a great opportunity to compare various penetrating oils. I dug around my garage and found that I had Tool Box Buddy (by Lucas Oil) and the classic PB Blaster in addition to the WD40 penetrant. Experiment time!

I switched to the Tool Box Buddy. From the start, the Tool Box Buddy acted differently. The WD40 spray would land on the tie-rod threads, but mostly just drip off onto the ground. I had to spray quite a bit on there to feel like it was getting under the nut at all. In contrast, I could watch the Tool Box Buddy wick under the nut when I sprayed it on, and far less dripped onto the ground. Once I saw that, I figured the WD40 product just wasn't as well made for the task. I wanted the experiment to be fair, though so for as close a comparison as I could make, I followed the same pattern of spraying some on twice a day: morning and night. I realize that it is possible that there could have been some residual benefit from the WD40, but considering how immobile the nuts were before switching, I don't think there was much. After 4 applications of the Tool Box Buddy, I tried to move the nuts. They still wouldn't budge, or more accurately, no matter how firm a grip I put on the tie-rod, it would still move in the grips when I put pressure on the nut. So I went a different way.

I hit the neighborhood Ace Hardware and got 2 9/16" fine-thread nuts ($0.85US each). I completely loosened the clamp holding the rubber boots and then lifted the front wheels off the ground. I then turned the tie-rod until it separated from the tie-rod end, and threaded the 2 new nuts on the end. I snugged the 2 nuts together, locking the outer nut from moving inward. I put a 7/8" socket on the outer nut, clicked in a breaker bar for torque and then started working on the frozen locknut with my 7/8" spanner. With a little more encouragement from the Tool Box Buddy, the nut loosened up. I continued to apply Tool Box Buddy on the area where the nut had been frozen, while moving the nut over the area again and again. Finally, the grooves were clear of whatever was causing the issue. Once cleared, I removed the old nuts and threaded the 2 new ones on. While I could have re-used the original nuts, I figured they would probably seize again. To reduce that probability with the new nuts and the tie-rod ends, I slathered copper anti-seize on the threads before re-assembling.

How to Measure Toe
With the lock nuts threaded back a few threads, you're ready to adjust. First, you need to know where your current state is. The car needs to be on the ground with the wheels pointing as straight-forward as you can manage. The steering wheel should be pretty much straight as well, but it's most important that the tires are pointing as forward as possible. Unless you have a high-riding car, you will probably have body and other parts between the mid-points of your tires. So, you can't just measure between the 9:00 and 3:00 positions like we did on the bus. We need some crafty thinking.

So, grab a Carpenter's Square, some blue painters tape and a pen. You will be making 4 tape/pen marks. For each tire, set the carpenter's square against the inside of the front-most bit of rim and the rear-most bit of rim, with the other end flat on the floor. To make sure my square was pointing at the right angle, I put a broom handle against the tires and aligned the ends of the square parallel to the handle. Put a spot of tape under the end of the square on the floor so you have an inch or so on either side (left-to-right) of the end of the carpenter's square. Then, mark on the tape with a pen where the edge of the square sits on the tape. Repeat until you have 4 pieces of tape, each with a pen mark on them, to indicate where the square end was. Next, measure between the front pair and the rear pair of lines. Write those numbers down. Add them together and divide by 2. The result is the number you should have if you want no toe-in, no toe-out. Some cars are supposed to run that way. The MGB is more like the VW bus in that it needs a slight toe-in to handle best. For the MGB, the rear measurement should be 1/16 of an inch larger. On my MGB, the front was a full inch larger, so I had some pigeon-toe happening.

Adjust Toe
Since the tie-rods on the MGB are ahead of the axles, I needed to shorten my rods. This is done by threading the rod more deeply into the rod ends through rotating rods. With each rotation, the rods will move a little bit, but recognize that for each fraction of an inch the front moves, the rear moves as well, so move it a little and then repeat the carpenter's square measure method a few times. Because the carpenter square method is a little crude, expecting to get to within 1/16 of an inch is improbable. My goal was to get it as close as I could.

Test Drive
My prior test drive was interrupted by spongy brakes, which persist, but not as much as before. Maybe the air is working it's way out. The steering on that drive was not as crisp as I wanted, which is what prompted my considering the alignment, and had me remember that I never did it after all the front end work. Like any test after alignment, it is best to start with very slow driving, in your driveway, expanding the distance and speed slowly. I followed that pattern just as I did with the old bus. Now, with the front end aligned, and all the other front end work completed (refurbished front beam with all new bushings, new front shocks, new tie-rod ends, cleaned and re-greased steering..) I can really feel how this little car was designed to feel. Highly responsive steering, but there's some pitch or body-roll in the corners. Before I think about the sway bar, I need to replace the tires. The roll could simply be from the tire sidewall starting to fail, and these tires were old when I bought the rims.

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

MGB Exhaust Re-Do (Part 2)

Picking up where I left off, we have the MGB front end on jack-stands and the old exhaust sitting in a heap in the driveway. Today's post will be about getting the new exhaust installed. Recall, it is a ceramic-coated stainless steel Bell system. I left the packing plastic bags on the pipes as I handled them to protect the finish, removing the plastic as I installed them.

Setting The Scene
exhaust hammer example
from streettechmag.com
With break time over, we set to trying to install the new exhaust. The Bell system has 5 pieces: the header, a straight-ish pipe, the center resonator, another straight-ish pipe with a support bracket attached and then the tail muffler. They go on in that order. The hardest part, like with any car, is getting the header to fit around all of the various other things in the engine bay. I watch car shows on Velocity and some of those installs require hammering on the pipes to get them to fit. That would really suck. Spend all that money for a "bolt on" set of pipes and then have to dent the snot out of them to fit an otherwise stock engine and compartment. Doesn't seem right, but does explain the custom fabrications they do on some of those Velocity shows. Even then, it's usually because they're slamming a huge non-stock engine into a classic-ish car. For a built-for-stock engine, hammering dents into the pipes shouldn't be necessary. Anyway...

From Below?
For the MGB, this saga starts with getting the front end way up in the air. We had a good 18" of clearance and still couldn't feed the header up from below. Some internet posts I've read indicate this is super easy, but I suspect anyone who installed that way had a lift or a pit. We have neither so we switched to going in from above. That meant removing the bonnet.

From Above
attached for fitting the rest
of the pipes
The bonnet is held to the hinges with 2 bolts per side, but remove the hood prop first. Once the prop is off, one person holds the hood still from the front while another person (K2 in this case) loosens all the bolts, and removes one from each side. At this point, it would be wise to put a shop towel or something soft under each rear corner of the hood. Then, remove a final bolt from one hinge. Balance the hood on your shoulder and let it slide down onto the towel. Repeat with the other side and then each person grabs a side of the hood and walk it off the front. For fun, we set it (on pads) on top of the 280ZX hood. The MGB hood looks like a toy hood compared to the Zed hood. The MGB hood is at least 6 inches smaller all the way around.

center-mount bracket
With the hood removed, you next loosen the driver side engine mount. The two nuts which hold the engine to the mount are the easiest to get to, and present the least necessary to separate the engine from the frame rail. With nuts safely stowed, place a wood block on a floor jack and slide it under the driver-side of the oil pan / engine block. Carefully lift the engine from below (setting the block of wood so the oil pan and other parts are not damaged) an inch or so. Once you feel considerable resistance to the lift, stop lifting. Now, have your helper fit a pry bar between the engine mount and the engine and then apply pressure to shift the engine slightly towards the passenger side. The engine will more roll anti-clockwise than slide left-to-right, but this creates enough space. Hold the header vertically, with the head-tips pointing across the top of the engine. Slide the header as far down into the largest space you can go before rotating the header so the head-tips point up and away from the firewall. On this particular header, there are pinch-welds along the sides of the collector. These pinch welds wanted to hang up on pretty much everything on the way down. With some gentle and some not-to-gentle persuasion, the header pushed past the space between the block, the steering column and the frame allowing us to wiggle it into the right spot near the head. At this point, the pry-bar leverage can be released and the floor jack released, letting engine rest back on the mount. We had to wrestle it a little bit, but it settled. Our header ended up with a couple minor scuffs, but no scratches.

To get everything else to align, K2 bolted the header onto the head. K2 was done for the day at this point, and the rest of the install was not going to be as straightforward, so I cut him loose.

Body Brackets
header from below
While K2 attached the header to the head for fitment / alignment, my focus was on the 2 mounting brackets. The center mount reuses the original body mount holes with a new steel and rubber mount that simply threaded in with new bolts (in the kit). The rear mount also reuses the original body mount holes. If yours are still in great condition, you could reuse them. With the body brackets on, I could start lining up the pipes, and get a feel for what went where.

The fourth pipe (second straight-ish) had a bracket that was a simple flat bar wrapped around the underside of the pipe with a round hole at each end. The center-mount kit provided a bolt, 4 large flat washers, 2 plastic sleeves, a bit of metal flashing with holes and some small nuts and bolts. There were no instructions, but you could tell that the bolt went through the holes in the flat bar. A flat washer went between the flat bar and anything else that touched it. Between the ends of the flat bar, on the bolt, went the plastic sleeves and the nut went on the end. Neat. With some careful bending of the flat bar with my channel-lock pliers, I was able to get the operation together. The bit of metal flashing was to wrap around the plastic sleeves and then bolt to the center-mount bracket I had just attached to the car.
second straight-ish pipe mounted

To get the fourth pipe and centermount to align and fit, all of the pipes between that mount and the header need to be in place. Start with getting the pipes in the rough spot you expect them to be. A straight-ish pipe (one that has a gentle bend or two) has those bends for a reason. Align them with the path of the original pipes. Once set in the right location, fit a pipe clamp between the pipes and then slide them together, wiggling the fit so they stay together and are in the right alignment. With careful use of a rubber mallet, I was then able to drive the various pipes together. Remember to set a pipe clamp at each junction before you start pounding things together or you won't have a way of clamping things together.

Rear Muffler
The final hurdle was figuring out the rear muffler mount. The old mount was a real hack job where a prior owner had taken a u-bolt that roughly fit the original body mount and threaded a nut on each end. So bad, but I really shouldn't judge. The original mount was almost German in it's over engineered solution. To the bracket is attached 2 rubber mounts pointing away from the exhaust pipe. To these rubber mounts, a hexagon bracket (with one leg removed) is attached, with the missing leg on the bottom. The missing leg has a pair of holes, one at each end, for attaching a pair of semi-circular clamps. These clamps hold the pipe in place. Unfortunately, they are sized such that if you put them on without any spacers (not included) they will either pinch the exhaust pipe because you tightened them too much or the lower clamp will fall off because you didn't tighten them enough... because you didn't want to pinch the pipe. To remedy, I found a pair of oversized nuts that would slip on, acting as spacers, so I could tighten everything down without pinching the pipe.

Header to Head
see the gap?
Once I had it all assembled front to back, I moved from back to front, tightening the mounts and pipe clamps. Once snug, I shifted to the very front to consider the mating of the manifolds to the head. The MGB came with a few types of exhaust, with 2 particular versions for the models before emissions standards became so tight (in 77) that the exhaust manifold needed to be redesigned. These 2 types have a different thickness of the material through which you send bolts to attach it to the head. The older one (#12H709) is thicker than the newer one (#12H3911). This is important because the intake and exhaust share studs and corresponding nuts. If the thickness of one manifold is not a match for the other, there is not a uniform amount of torque on the various manifolds, creating leaks. This applies to pretty much any combination of intake and exhaust, unless you stay completely original stock. Since the prior owner had replaced the dual carbs on my MGB with a side-draft Mikoni carb, and hacked together a home-grown exhaust, I was going to have to deal with this regardless.

When the header was attached for fitting the other pipes, I didn't look very closely. It didn't matter. With a closer look, you can see the washers were not sitting flush. Adding insult, only two of the thickness differences for the 4 shared studs were the same. To remedy, I grabbed some fender washers of varying thickness, and cut them in half (across the hole) to use as spacers. To hold the spacer in place during install, I used a very thin smear of the copper gasket maker I used on the header gasket. This plan worked great. In about 30 minutes I had spacers in place, and the header torqued down with washers sitting flush.

gap gone
Testing
All of this, nearly 2 full days of effort, lead up to the test fire. Of course, I had to re-assemble the air cleaner, and the hood is still off, but after verifying everything was back together, it was ready. I had been trickle-charging the battery, too, so I was pretty confident it was going to start right up. Fortunately, it did. It sounds great. It has a nice deep tone without being too loud. The biggest difference, I think, is that all of the growl sound comes from the rear of the car now. It must have had leaks before. With all of the rust, that's not a surprise. I wound the engine up to 3000RPM to get a sense of how it will sound on a power pull and it sounds pretty awesome. With the top down, the garage doors open and the rev counter around 3k, I still hit 90+ dB. So, it is no quieter... in the garage with the doors open. On the road, it is quieter in the seat, but I don't have dB numbers to prove it. Just my ears.

That's it for today. I had started reading about how to do automotive interiors (trimming) in preparation for doing the seats and cards on the MGB. I have parts on-order to complete the trunk and woofer box as well. Once those are complete "major operations" will have completed and I will be shifting focus onto the Zed... and then back to Hapy. Thanks, as always, for following along-

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

MGB Exhaust Re-Do (Part 1)

Earlier this year, I described the slap-together exhaust solution I did to get the car through Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) testing. I had a head-to-tail system waiting to get installed since before US Independence Day that had been sitting in the garage walkway, just waiting to get stepped on. Today's post covers the rip-out of the old exhaust and some explanation of the new Bell exhaust.

Mild, Stainless and Coatings
I should probably start by pointing out that I purchased a stainless steel exhaust and then had it high-temp ceramic coated in flat black. I arrived at this combination after listening to various exhaust systems available for the stock MGB through YouTube videos. I knew exhaust paint is temporary, and that it eventually chips and scratches to reveal the metal underneath. I wanted a system that didn't exist anymore: Peco. a mild steel exhaust, but then ceramic coated. Ceramic coating can scratch off too, but it is much harder to do and the finish is much hardier than paint. Especially if the people applying it know what they're doing, and prepare the surface correctly.

Bell system with center "bomb"
Since the Bell system was built on the same jig as the Peco, but out of stainless steel, I held to my plan. I thought it would cost more, but since the original Peco mild-steel systems are disappearing from inventory, they are really quite expensive now. The image to the right, here, is similar to what I bought. The sole difference is the system I got has a larger center resonator (third pipe down).

I have read that stainless exhausts, while they have an initial higher register note mixed into the lower overall sound, that higher pitch goes away as soot lines the insides of the pipes. So, when I selected my powder-coater, I selected a company that coated the insides of all of the pipes as well as multiple coats on the outside so the exhaust would have that ripened sound from the moment of install. The inner coat also serves an additional purpose of providing a slickery smooth surface so soot will not build up over time. Last, this ceramic coating has some kind of thermal barrier as well so less heat will transfer through the pipe walls, sending it out the tailpipe instead. This should help keep the cabin cooler in the summer.

Old Manifold Off First
The existing (not original) system was welded in from the exhaust manifold through to where I had soup-canned on a muffler. Yes, I used a soup can (See MGB Muffled) to connect a recycled muffler to the rusty pipes to get through DEQ without attracting attention. It worked, but as one would assume, the integrity of a soup can is no match for the stresses of an exhaust system, and it split apart at some point shortly after that. With all the other action this Summer, I didn't really have time to do the full exhaust replacement, or I'd not have the convertible to play with while the weather was nice. Well, the weather turned to cold and rain early this year, so with an uncharacteristically empty autumn Saturday, I grabbed K2 and set to it. First things first: get the front end as high in the air as you can (safely) on jack stands and make sure it does not budge when you shake the car.

old system sans catalytic converter
K2 got the fun job of removing the exhaust manifold from the head while I worked on the other end, figuring we would meet in the middle. I had just replaced the manifold gasket, so I knew that process well enough to give directions from underneath. There are 2 bolts, one on each end, and the other have nuts holding onto 4 studs. All are 1/2" but there is not sufficient room for a socket for most of the nuts, so K2 worked them free with an old-skool combination spanner.

Just as a point of reflection, he was using the Sears Craftsman wrenches that I got for Christmas when I was his age. 30 years later, they have hardly aged. RIP, Sears; it is truly ironic that you, a company rooted in catalog mail-order, met its demise due to Amazon, an internet-order company. You were the one rare store where product quality remained relatively high while prices stayed reasonable. Sears never felt cheap (like Target does), and you offered practically anything a shopper might need other than food. The store closest to me is closing, bringing our 30+ year relationship to an end. Sadness.

Anyway... with the nuts and bolts off, K2 carefully slid the intake and exhaust manifolds off of the head, taking care not to disturb the gasket. The gasket still looked new and the copper sealant between the gasket and the head looked like I had just put it on. Honestly, since I'd only driven the car a couple of miles since I did it, I'm not sure the gasket and sealant ever got all the way up to temperature. So, yeah, that gasket is basically new.

Tail End Removal Next
Meanwhile, I was working on the other end. I noticed the split in the soup can, and figured that the tail-end would just come apart with a good yank once the tail mount was removed. I gave the muffler a hardy tug and it came right off. With a clatter I tossed the muffler into the driveway exclaiming "the first of the exhaust is off". Once K2 had the manifolds clear of the head, we figured out that the pipe needed to be cut to get free. I grabbed the angle grinder (and gloves and a face-shield. Safety First!) and cut the pipe just aft of the collector (and in front of the catalytic converter). With the mid-section now free, it rested on the garage floor. It soon joined the muffler in the sprinkling drizzle on the driveway. K2 was now able to pull the manifold free up through the open bonnet and set it on the rust pile in the driveway.

look at that non-transition
With the old system in pieces, we were able to take a better look at the custom exhaust manifold. The center pipe, which carries 50% of the load was no larger than the other 2 pipes, and had such a horrible flow to it that there was soot collected at the entry point. The soot was so thick, I could barely get my index finger in the hole without touching soot all the way around. The pipe had a 80* or sharper angle at the mate-point with the flange (check the picture to the right). Such bad flow. Just addressing that alone will improve the exhaust flow and behavior of half of the cylinders.

Tossing the rusty bits to the driveway, we chose to take a break. I quickly cut the catalytic converter free from the other debris, and slid it under the 280ZX for later use.

This post got super long once I wrote about the install. So, I'm stopping here and will continue in the next post. Thanks for following along-


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Drag Link and Tie Rods

At the beginning of the Summer, I had this great idea of getting the alignment done on the bus before festival/camping seasons started. I realized I hadn't posted on that odyssey, so, since I just did the last little bit of fixing, I'll cover the whole thing today.

Mis-Aligning
Like I said, I started with the simple goal of having my alignment set. I had been describing driving the bus as a "full body experience", requiring the dexterity of a kit drummer to keep it on the road and motoring along. The biggest issue has been the degree of play in the steering wheel. I figured maybe the alignment was a good place to start. These old buses have a special way of setting camber requiring a thin 36mm wrench on what is called the "eccentric bushing". This bushing is integrated into the ball joint, but off-center, allowing for the camber to adjust as you move the wrench side to side. These bushings scare off many alignment shops, which I find almost amusing. They have these fancy computers to get things dialed in perfectly, but lack a 36mm wrench. Whatever. I did find a place here locally that would do it: HM Motorsports. They are a spin-off business from the local VW dealer, so they have the VW smart-guys plus the high end computer stuff. They were able to tell me that the camber was good, but one of my tie rods was bent, so they couldn't do a full alignment without replacing it. They asked me for $400US to replace that arm. Uhh... no thanks, but they did charge me the full $90US for the alignment anyway. I guess they tried, but they probably should not have once they saw the bent arm. In fairness, I should have noticed that at some point over the last 15 years myself and not taken it to them before replacing it.

Tie Rods
JBugs image of a tie rod
I ordered a pair of tie rods from Discount Import, and had T pick them up for me while he was there getting parts for Nemo (the A4). They charged me $35US each. The replacement was fairly easy. I started with getting the wheels as straight front-to-back as I could, centering the steering. Then, I replaced an entire arm, one at a time. The arm runs from the swing lever to the steering knuckle across the rear of the front beam. Each end of the tie rod has a 90* "end" on it that allows for controlled rotational movement. If the end can move at all any other way, it's bad. Since one of my rods was bent, I replaced the whole assembly, ends and all.

Rods Out
The ends are nutted down with castle nuts which are held in-place with cotter pins. The cotter pins may have rusted into place on yours, requiring more coaxing than mine did. Even as original parts, I was able to bend the pins back and push them out. Then the nut comes off. Last, the end needs to be separated from the knuckle or swing lever. This usually requires a pickle fork and a hammer, which will destroy the rubber boot on the tie rod end, so be sure to plan accordingly. I was able to free the tie rods by hammering away on the pickle fork. The passenger side released from the swing lever with just a couple whacks. In contrast, the driver-side steering knuckle took many many more. I have read of some needing to apply heat with a torch to get these to separate, so be prepared. Once removed, I cleaned up the holes with some WD-40 and a rag. Then, I scrubbed them with some sandpaper to make sure there weren't any sharp edges left around the holes from my removal efforts.

Rods In
Nicked from Interweb,
shows swing-lever end
and steering dampener
Oftentimes, the supplier will sell/send you two adjustable rods. This may be correct for some cars, but for the old bus, one of them is supposed to be fixed length. Discount Import only carries the adjustable rod, so the opportunity to do this wrong goes up. I followed this process for the not-bent side: measure the old rod from end to end on the top side (opposite where the threaded bolt comes out). I then adjusted the replacement arm to that same length, and then tweaked it until it dropped right into the holes. For the bent arm, this process wasn't effective. Measuring a bent arm wasn't going to get the exact length, so instead I matched it to the not-bent arm on the other side. Rather than touch the steering wheel or the tires, I adjusted the arm until it dropped into the holes. With the arms in-place, I could do a ShadeTree front alignment. Replacing the arms took less than an hour, so even at my "my free time is worth $50 an hour" rough math, I saved over $350 doing it myself versus having HM Motorsports do it.

Steering Dampener
Jbugs again
Before I put in the new rods, I took the opportunity to replace the steering dampener. This is a small shock-absorber that helps cushion the driving experience at the wheel from sudden jarring affects of road hazards. Consider how much the steering wheel hops when you hit a pothole. For a car with a working front-end, it's not too bad. If your steering dampener is shot, the steering wheel gets a mind of it's own for a second. That's dangerous at any speed. In the bus, with the higher center of gravity, it's downright scary. I highly recommend replacing yours if you have no idea how old it is. I got mine when I got the tie rods for $30US. It's held on with 2 bolts (17mm, if I remember right), like a shock absorber, and it is actually pretty easy to get at when the tie rods are off.

ShadeTree Front Alignment
With the steering dampener and tie rods refreshed, I was ready to get the alignment roughed in for a test drive. All cars are a little different, so the measurement below may not work on yours, but it worked on the bus.  Measure the distance between the front-most part of your front tires (looking at the front left tire, at 9 o'clock). Now compare that to the distance between the rear-most part of your front tires. The measurement from the front should be between 0" and 1/4" smaller than the measurement from the rear. The varying length depends on your tire size; I'm running stock diameter, so this works. Ultimately, this effort should be sufficient to get you to the alignment shop. This is not an ideal permanent setting.

PartsPlace.com image
If you have just one adjustable tie-rod, the adjustment is more straightforward. Since I had two, I adjusted both sides one turn at a time until I hit the 1/4 inch number. Based on how the arms adjusted, I used to have no-toe or a slight toe-out. In my experience, the steering becomes less predictable with toe-out, so I'm good with a slight toe-in. I test drove the bus first slowly in the driveway, then into the dead-end street and finally around the block. The steering held much more firmly over bumps and when the street was level, and there were no bumps, it held a straight line with my hands off the wheel. There was still 3-4 inches of play at the wheel, though, when I did want to change direction.

Drag Linking
To resolve the remaining play at the wheel, I asked Boo to sit in the driver seat and turn the wheel left to right while I laid-hands on various parts of the steering system. I could see the steering coupler turn, and feel the arm move, but the drag link didn't move right away. It had a significant delay, and made a clunk noise when she changed direction from right to left (not left to right, which was weird). I rested my hands on the swing lever to see if it had any up/down movement. I couldn't feel any, so that lever and the pivot pin should be fine, unless my novice hands couldn't feel well. Other than the steering box, the swing lever was all that was left if replacing the drag link didn't fix the steering play. I resolved to replace the drag link, and bought one at Discount Import ($50US). If they had had a swing lever kit, I would have bought one since the 90 minute round trip can eat up a day if you need to do it more than once.

old drag link,
broken pickle fork
The drag link removes just like a tie-rod: pull the cotter pins, remove the castle nut, and apply force with a pickle fork to pop each end free. The drag link removes and installs from the front with the non-adjustable end pointing to the rear. I broke my pickle fork as you can see in the picture to the right. I guess the Harbor Freight fork isn't made very well.

Similar to the tie-rod, you want the replacement to be the exact same length as the old one. In the PartsPlace.com image above, you can see an adjustment lock-nut on the right end. I placed my old and new side by side to get the length correct. Take care as you pass that rear "end" through the hole in the support so you don't damage or tear the rubber boot. I left the plastic shipping cover (visible in the picture) on the end during pass-thru so it wouldn't get damaged. To get the end to fit into the swing lever, I put a socket extension onto the bolt and used that extra torque to position the bolt to easily fit onto the hole. The front end slid right in without any extra fiddling, so I knew I had the length right. If you aren't so fortunate, repeat the measure and fit steps otherwise your steering will not align properly. Last, I threaded and torqued on the nuts, inserted the cotter pins and closed up the belly pan.

Test Drive
This final test drive was quite different. The steering is genuinely responsive, with less than an inch of steering wheel movement before the bus starts changing direction. When combined with the steering dampener, it drives like a completely different vehicle. I know I should take it to have the alignment done, but honestly, I probably won't. It handles so well, holds center during acceleration and braking. Since the caster and camber were within spec before I started replacing parts, and the parts I replaced have no bearing on those settings, I may let it ride as it is.

So, Hapy is fully operational again... just in time for winter. I have plans to address rust this winter, after I complete the interior of the MGB. And, of course, there's the 280ZX that neither C nor I have given much attention to. Clearly, I have lots of content waiting to be generated.

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

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Let's See

Not much car content in this one. This is really more of a diary note for my own sake.

Let's See
When approaching a decision about whether to do something or not, most people come at it in one of two ways: we either start with the question of "why not" or the question of "why". Starting with Why can often immediately create a sense of negativity, like, in a snarky tone "why would you do that"? Immediately, you're defending the position, and you hadn't even decided if you're doing to do it or not. Asking "why not" can avoid that defensive knee-jerk, but it can also drum up all kinds of fears and irrational could-almost-never-happen scenarios that push the idea to the curb. Or, it could create a sense of lack of responsibility where you can go ahead and do whatever without any rationalization applied. Neither of those introductory questions bring me to a place where I would actually try the next step.

Maybe for you, dear reader, one of these questions works well. I know, eventually, I have to get into the "how" questions, but I have found that I need to create the mental or emotional space to let an idea rattle around. Boo has introduced me to the simple door opening phrase "Let's See". This creates a supportive basket to find out what the next steps would be and start weighing pro's, con's, costs and risks without the emotional baggage of a "why" or "why not". This is not the same thing as "We'll See", a classic parent response when the kids have figured out that "maybe" means "no, but I don't want to get into it with you about it now". It was using the "Let's See" approach that found us in a rental house 5 years ago that we thought we had no shot in getting because of how many families were looking at it. It was using the "Let's See" approach that led me to buying the house next door to that rental on a handshake at the kitchen table with the owner. So far, so good.

The Year of T
In June of 2017, T returned from University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) after freshman year. His grades weren't good, his interest and focus on school had left him. He decided that he didn't want to go back in the Fall, and would live with me and Boo full time. While I was concerned about his emotions and possibilities for the future, I embraced "Let's See". We got a room set up, helped him get comfortable with some music production equipment (he bought it all, we just made the space) and got out of the way. By November, he was taking classes at Portland Community College (PCC). By March, he had applied to go to the University of Oregon music program. He didn't know if he was going to get in, but after the campus tour and meeting with the music school staff, it almost seemed like a dream that couldn't come true. "Let's See". He got into the university and the school of music. Then came the questions of housing.

And Then It Happened
We were sitting in the den one night that spring; Boo and I were talking about what potential futures could hold, like we do. One of us, I don't remember who, asked whether we could buy a house in Eugene for T to live in (and one day become a potential retirement location since Eugene is a pretty awesome small city with a fantastic music scene). To anyone else, that sounds a little nutty, but we answered with "Let's See". The first step is see what you qualify for. Okay, can that get you something in that real estate market that is livable? It can? So, how about covering the mortgage and making the housing experience more fun if T has some friends live with him. Turns out, T is a pretty amazing guy and has some deep trusting friendships who are on-the-ball types, working on bachelor degrees in Eugene. Hmm.. this might actually work. So, next you find a real estate agent who can vibe your way, and then you make a bunch of trips to the target town. I think we made 6 trips. After a couple of almost-rights, complete with offers, we found a house that will meet everyone's needs, within the price target we and the students can afford. "Let's See" strikes again.

Left Nest
T wanted to get to Eugene well before school started so he could find employment, set up the house and get used to living before school added additional scheduling and restrictions. We rented the smallest UHaul above the cargo van and moved him down over Labor Day weekend. He drove away from our Beaverton home in the recently repaired A4 (Nemo) to start his new life in Eugene Labor Day afternoon.

Asking "why" or "why not" doesn't get you out of a current place into something completely new. They welcome a cerebral journey at best, leaving you exactly where you were, but fatigued from the mental effort. All pain, no gain. Stating "Let's See" invites you to take the first step, see what you can learn, and evaluate whether the next step will teach you more. You're not planning; you're doing. You're not rationalizing the totality of an idea before you've had a chance to test parts of it. "Let's See" creates a way to live life in an Agile way, forging new ideas and trying them out. Naysayers be damned, this approach works. Just ask T the next time you're in Eugene.

That's it for today. I'll get back to the bus/car content here soon.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A4 Puzzles

Today's post covers the pitfalls of simply swapping out parts hoping you find the thing that doesn't work along the way.... by way of describing how we got T's A4 running again. You may remember my mentioning the purchase in this post from April.

First, I should explain how his A4 got it's name: Nemo. It is named after the orange fish cartoon character because the B5 A4 had the big driver outside mirror and the tiny passenger side mirror - just like Nemo and his little fin.

Coolant Leaks
It all started with a persistent issue with the Nemo's cooling system. This model, known as the "B5", has many of the same engineering ideas that the TDI engine in Hapy and Flash possess. There's the hard-to-reach plastic outlet flange with a coolant temperature sensor in it. It has the thermostat stashed under a plastic housing. Either or both of these can fail during an overheat. In Nemo's case, both failed. So, we replaced them. T had filled the engine with tap water (to save his wallet and the environment from leaking coolant) and took a test drive around the neighborhood. He drove until the thermostat opened up and then drove it back up onto the ramps to check for leaks and to drain and fill the cooling system when it cooled off... and then it wouldn't start again.

We discovered that the coolant temperature sensor wasn't good (Check Engine Light throwing a coolant temperature code), so we replaced it. That sensor was bad out of the box (thanks Napa!), discovered through a check engine light code and the temperature on the dashboard showing over 150*F first thing in the morning after sitting in the driveway all night. That needle shouldn't have moved.  So, we got another one from the only-on-the-east-side Discount Auto Parts. With that replacement, we no longer had a check engine light and the temperature needle was appropriately sitting on the peg when we first turn the key to run. Perfect. Except it still wouldn't start.

Could It Be Fuel?
First, T thought it was fuel-related, so he started with the fuel filter. These are half hidden around the fuel tank, so you need to partially lower the tank to get to the filter. Fun. Because they are so hard to get to, they're not replaced regularly enough, so this looked like a pretty likely issue. Even with the filter replaced, though, it wouldn't start. We did notice that the fuel pump wasn't as loud, so that filter probably needed a change. Next, we tried to check the fuel pressure with a tool borrowed from AutoZone. Unfortunately,the A4 1.8 Turbo engine fuel rail does not have a facility for testing the fuel pressure, but we were able to produce a stream of fuel at the injector rail once we disconnected the fuel line. So, the pump was pushing fuel, just we couldn't tell at what pressure. At this point, T elected to buy a new fuel pump as a precaution and replace the injectors. The pump hasn't been replaced yet at this point, but we're still not running. We could smell fuel during the start attempts, so we started thinking maybe it wasn't fuel... maybe it was spark.

Could it Be Spark?
We started with the basics: are any of the fuses related to engine control blown? No, none of them are blown, and they were all the right amperage for the fuse-box numbered spot based on the owners manual. How about the spark plugs? Ew, they looked gross, so we replaced them with a set of Bosch, the same manufacturer of the plugs we pulled. I know spark plugs are a religious thing. I tend to get plugs from manufacturers that are from the same country-of-origin as the car, so Bosch for German, NGK for Japanese, Champion for US... it's worked so far. I'm sure there's a "right" way, but with all the religious fighting, the "right" way has been lost in the noise. Anyway, new plugs didn't do it.

So, we tested the coil packs. At this point, one of T's friends was over, and he found a site on his phone that detailed the correct resistance range between the various pins on the coil packs. All packs were within the right range. If I learn the site we used, I'll post it on here.

Then, I found a mention on the Audizine site that the crank position sensor (CPS) can fail, but not trigger a check engine light. When this happens, the engine won't start because the computer doesn't know when to send a fire signal to the corresponding coil pack. Makes sense. So, I ordered an OEM one from AutohausAZ. The removal of one of these is a bear if you don't remove the oil filter first. With the oil filter out of the way, it's easy with a small Allen wrench. With it in the way, it can come off, but getting a wrist in there with an Allen key can test your patience. The new CPS didn't make a difference though. After our experience with the bad-in-box coolant temperature sensor, I was not convinced the CPS swap was a success.

We pressed on. The Audizine posts also described simply re-setting the ECU by removing a cable from the battery. Yeah, that didn't work, but I discovered that the ECU on this A4 is not the original, which implies that maybe the PO chipped the car and didn't share that. Or, maybe, he had a similar issue, fried his ECU and bought a junkyard ECU. That's not a bad thing, necessarily. It's just one more variable.

Ultimately, the issue was a bad ground for the bar that runs along the coil packs. In this particular A4, there was a separate ground wire run from the negative post to 2 bolts, one on each end of a metal bar. Over time, they had loosened up. Once they were tightened down, the car fired right up. To be fair, the coil packs are now throwing codes, so they will need to be replaced, but the car runs again.

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