Thursday, December 26, 2013

Some 'Splainin'

An oldie, but a goodie
Indeed, the rebuild has begun. The case has been mostly emptied, and soon it will be time to start the tedious process of taking apart, cleaning, and putting back together every section you see out on the table down below. After my glorious Festivus victory at Ye Olde Battle of Torque Converter, everything came out pretty much like the book said it would, so that was a relief. Some things were reluctant to move, since bolt threads can get pretty set in their ways after a few decades, but a little WD-40, as usual, provided the necessary persuasion.
this is a weird, bird's eye, wide-angle shot, but you get the idea.

This is the first time the transmission has been opened up since it failed, and I’m pleased to be able to provide a definitive diagnosis, as follows, for all the symptoms that have been observed, both by Worth and myself. 

The transmission started out its failure with a screeching sound when in operation, which turned out to be its death throes. It then failed entirely, and did not respond at all when the shifter was moved into gear – it was like the transmission and wheels were unaware of the presence of the running engine.

Oddly enough, I had a dream, before I even got the transmission out, that the problem was in the torque converter, and that a new one would cost $91. Why? Who knows. But, strange to tell, that’s almost exactly what a replacement will cost, and even if I hadn’t chosen to cut it apart, it would have needed replacement anyway. Alert readers will remember my long struggle to remove the converter, which was royally stuck in place. The root issue was as described by a user in yet another forum I visited…

“…it looks like they overheated the Torque Converter. What happened then is that the fluid in the converter became really hot and caused the inner pump gear to grow and seize. The converter hub is either distorted and wrapped around the step on the ground sleeve and/or is distorted enough that it won't pull out through the bushing. It will take 2000-4000 lbs to pull it out. You'll need a really solid bar and some jack screws. The pump, torque converter, and most likely the ground sleeve are ruined.”

Once I got the torque converter and pump out, I could see that the hub on the end of the torque converter that connects to the pump just behind it, had indeed warped. It got deformed so badly that two large pieces broke off of it (photo 1 below), and the rest curled back and hooked around the bushing (photo 2 below), making the torque converter impossible to remove. 

that piece of metal in my hand, and another like it, used to help drive the pump, and likely snapped off when the pump gear overheated and seized.

slightly below center, the warped and jagged thing around the shaft
The torque converter could still spin freely with the engine, but the pump - the transmission’s heart - was now not being turned. This means that there was no fluid pressure or circulation, which I observed in another entry a while back. When these things are lacking, then you are having a bad problem and you will not go to space today.

Symptoms: screeching, then an eerie silence and immobility.

Diagnosis: no transmission fluid pressure, due to a terminal overheating failure of the pump gear and converter hub, which in turn was likely due to a fluid leak.

Treatment: new torque converter and pump, as part of a complete rebuild.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Obligatory Christmas Post

On the twelfth day of Christmas, the Eagle gave to me:

12 pushrods pushing...

11 tiny rust spots...

10-inch wide rims (well, almost)...

9 starter gear teeth...

8 steel clutch plates...

7 ignition wires...

6 pistons pumping...


Four-wheel drive...

Three ash trays...

Two different keys...

And a sketchy OEM bumper jack.

Monday, December 23, 2013

It's a Festivus miracle!

So I procured an angle grinder and some metal cut-off wheels and went at it with all I had. There we were... me and the transmission... locked in mortal combat. The air filled with millions of sparks, which - fun fact - are actually little white-hot bits of metal, and when they land all over your arms because you're wearing short sleeves in December (because Arizona), you end up with countless tiny burns all over. So now you know.

That Swedish guy found that his torque converter was stuck because of some bearing or something down in the center of it. I finally got into the middle of it, aaaaanddddd.... still stuck:

Advantage: transmission. So whatever was stuck was way in the back. 

It was getting dark, so I had to put down my weapon for the weekend. But with renewed strength, I courageously returned to the field of battle today after work, and finally, what should have been the easiest part of this project was done.

As Rigby would say, check out THIS!

Yeah, there's a little square of steel around the input shaft still, but that appears to be part of something that goes back into the pump, so it shouldn't be a problem at this point, since the pump needs to come out and be replaced also.

Off to the side, the dragon lay slain in pieces on yonder back patio, forsooth. The deed is done, and the peasant village is saved.

That dusty sludge is transmission fluid dragon's blood mixed with steel dust and probably disintegrated bits of several cutting wheels. Tomorrow, the rebuild starts.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Man vs. Machine

There’s an old saying that goes, “when all you have is a power drill, everything looks like a torque converter.”

No, that’s not quite right… is it? Oh well, close enough. The sparseness of recent updates is due to one thing. When I got the transmission out of the Eagle, I was expecting to have to be extra careful with the torque converter, to make sure it didn’t accidentally slide off of the input shaft and hit something, like a vital organ or foot or whatever. This is a common enough concern in “the biz” that some wholesale parts suppliers actually sell little metal brackets to hold the thing in place while the transmission is being removed.

Source: Full disclosure: I currently work for these people.

It was ironic, therefore, when I went to remove said torque converter, and it came out about 1 cm before saying “clunk” and stopping. It was stuck. I pulled harder. Stuck. I rotated and tugged and wiggled it, but no dice. Tried to pry it out with a crowbar. Didn’t budge. Took a cue from an online forum and brought over a large friend with a second crowbar. Nothing. The same large friend put a strap behind the converter and pulled hard enough to lift the 115-lb transmission into the air several times. Haha, nope!

At this point I got a little desperate. Maybe I’ll just drill the thing to pieces to remove it. I was planning on replacing the 30-year-old non-repairable part anyway. So I got out my drill and biggest drill bit, picked a spot, and went for it. It took a long time to get through what appears to be about ¼” of solid steel. So long, in fact, that I abandoned this line of attack and tried to drill some holes right near the input shaft, to see if I could unstick what was stuck. Long story short, I blunted several drill bits, got iron filings everywhere, and ruined 2 chisels in the process, and the torque converter still won. The transmission’s been out for almost three weeks, and all I’ve done is clean it.

Just... pathetic, really.
Defeated, I went back to the forums. After a diligent search, I literally found some Swedish guy whose stuck torque converter experience matched mine to a T, right down to the amount of movement that it had on the shaft. His solution was not fundamentally different from mine, but was far better executed. He cut the torque converter to pieces with an angle grinder, and even had pictures showing the (successful) process.

I’m pretty sure that stuff like this was what we were all so excited about in the 90’s with this new internet thing (remember the “Do you… Yahoo?” commercial where the old fisherman uses the internet to find a better fishing bait?). I took a short break from taking the “information superhighway” for granted, that day. Also, it’s a good thing Scandinavians learn English.

New post to come, once I’ve secured an angle grinder.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Saturday, November 30, 2013

"Do You Have A Trouble With Your Transmission?"

Ever since the Eagle first showed up on my radar, I basically knew the transmission would need to be rebuilt. Everything has led up to this, to finally being able to remove said transmission from the post it has occupied for lo, these many years, even since the beginning of time, 1984.

the cavernous void left by the transfer case, and the output shaft of the transmission as it awaits removal.

If you read the last post about removing the transfer case, pretty much duplicate that but for the transmission, and add in that it took a lot longer and I had to get some wobble extensions, and a u-joint to replace the one I broke.
a very, very dirty but finally-removed transmission. with the foot again for scale. 
 When I finally emerged from under the car, I was covered almost from the neck down with something very much like what you see all over the transmission in the above photo. Lydia had a good laugh, and I would have too if I hadn't been so tired.

The rebuild manual says that this thing has to be spotless before you even think about starting the rebuild, or especially before you even think about thinking about getting into the valve body.
a nice close-up of some of the cleaning that will need to happen.
I'm pretty eager to get started, since I gather that transmission work is the most glamorous of the automotive specialties:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The One Where The Eagle Loses Some Weight

It turns out that the parts stores don't loan out air tools. So I picked up a cheap one, thinking that now all my wildest dreams would come true. Problem was, the air ratchet, while it was more maneuverable, didn't have nearly enough torque to get the last two nuts off of the adapter housing. It also rounded off one of them pretty badly, because the lever kept getting pressed unavoidably by a nearby part. Air ratchet FAIL.

The above-mentioned adapter housing is the part near the top of the photo, where you can see a few of the bolts holding it on.

The rest is the transfer case. You can see my size 11 shoe near the bottom for scale. This thing is properly huge. (The transfer case, not my foot.)

At long last, I have slain the beast. 
Getting it detached from the transmission and out safely (yes, all digits are unscathed) was... harder than it probably needed to be. After realizing that the last two nuts were definitely not coming off of the adapter housing while it was on the car, I decided to take it off along with the transfer case. The adapter housing attaches to the back of the transmission with 6 bolts, none of which, luckily, were terminally stuck.
Once those were off, I inched the transfer case back little by little on its precarious press-board platform, supported by the questionable hydraulic jack setup from two entries ago. It got hung up on a couple of things, including the exhaust system and the transmission output shaft. But finally, after probably a half-hour struggle, it was out.

So Close, Yet So Far

This is the center cross-member that supports the transmission and transfer case from underneath. The transmission is now held up by a scissor jack and a block of wood. Not to be different from its nearby parts, it also had copious amounts of old mud on it, which we see me scraping off here in a photo taken by Lydia.

This had to be taken off so that I could get to the nuts that hold the transfer case to the studs on the transmission adapter housing. In other words, that's the separation point where I'm detaching the transfer case. 
There are 6 nuts, 4 of which came off without much drama. Two of them are higher up, and can't be reached with any regular wrench. Believe me, I tried. I tried so hard that I snapped my only U-joint in half in the process. That was the moment when I knew I was done for the evening.
So the next step will be to see if I can borrow an air socket from a parts store, since that will fit in the space and not need to be turned by hand, which there is no room for.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Prepping for Surgery

The Eagle’s transfer case is going to have to come out before the transmission does, it alone being roughly the size of a Volkswagen. For that I procured a “universal” jack adapter from AutoZone, figuring that since that’s where I got my jack, the adapter should be a perfect fit.

Well, the fit was less than perfect, but still serviceable, and the bolt that holds the top part of the adapter on appears to be made of cooked linguine, based on how easily it bends. A new one might be in order, but I’ll probably try to use it once to see how it works.

Boom. Check out all its majesty.

I’ve got the straps around the transfer case and I’m just about ready to attempt to lower it after I get the bolts undone. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Seen On The Road

News about the Eagle this week is slim, in preparation for next week which will be much more significant. Everything is now detached from the transmission and transfer case, including the flywheel and even the dipstick tube. Soon I'll be obtaining some equipment that will help me lower them out, but for now, a few car-related sights from my wanderings.

This happened, at the intersection of Dobson and Guadalupe in west Mesa:

... and this was in downtown Phoenix:

Obviously, the bumper sticker will be a necessary accessory for the Eagle once it's roadworthy. Maybe a Mr. Fusion as well. Or at least an EFI conversion... maybe.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Few More Baby Steps

Last weekend the token hour or two of working on the Eagle was productive, although not quite as much as I might have hoped. The throttle linkage, gearshift linkage, torque converter inspection cover, and neutral start switch are disconnected now, although I had to break one of the linkage retainers, since there was no other way to do it. A replacement should be easy to come by when needed.

I was also able to disconnect one of the cooling lines from the transmission. Transmission fluid gets circulated through the radiator in most cars, which is something many people are not aware of. There’s a pressure line to the radiator, and a return line back from it. One of them came off easily, but the other appears to want to stay where it is at all costs.

I guess I should say that it will unscrew, but the connector that screws onto the hole on the transmission is fused to the line itself. Even the magic elixir that is WD-40 could not loosen it. I looked on the forum for wisdom, which confirmed my suspicion that I’d just have to twist off the connector and let it snap the line, and get a new line later. This will involve getting a length of line at the store and then custom-bending it, but at least it’s pretty cheap.

Once I get that line off, then mark the alignment of the torque converter to the flexplate, then finally we can start talking about unbolting the actual transmission itself. This will be an adventure because I hit a snag in removing the exhaust pipe that may or may not be solvable, so I may have to work with it in place anyway.

So yes, that’s more information than you ever wanted to know, and no pictures yet, since nothing I’ve done recently is conducive to being photographed. Here’s an updated parts table with more stuff on it, though. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Jedi Craves Not These Things

I'll just leave this here...

P.S. The article itself isn't bad either. The guy is pretty much the Dave Barry of cars.

A Change of Change of Plans

When I couldn’t figure how to remove the Eagle’s exhaust pipe, I decided to take a different approach, and just leave it there and try to work around it. Then I looked up a couple of exhaust system diagrams on the internet which educated and emboldened me, and led me to two conclusions:

- I’ll most likely be replacing the whole exhaust system downstream from the manifold. The owner who pulled the catalytic converter (or someone) apparently did some other modifications involving bad welding and other unfortunate things. His report that a new converter could be dropped right in was a tad misleading, as far as I can tell.
- Therefore, the pipe that crosses under the transmission will be coming out before the trans does.

Accordingly, I set to work last Friday undoing the bolts that hold that pipe in. I only got about halfway through the process, thanks to the predictably copious amounts of rust that are present everywhere on the exhaust system. As you know, water acts as something of a catalyst for the oxidation of iron, and hot water vapor is a major component of car exhaust. Add 29 years of exhaust to steel pipes and you get stuff like this:

Much WD-40 and even more elbow grease took the better part of an hour to undo half a dozen bolts.
The rustier ones positively screamed as they were coming off, and one took so much effort that I pulled a muscle in my arm. Overall, the affair was rather, uh, a-hem… *exhausting*. But the story is not over. With some luck, the next post will show the exhaust pipe out and the transfer case ready for removal to begin.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

More Disassembly; Parts Get Their Own Table

Progress marched on, or rather baby-stepped a little further this weekend. After perusing the exhaust system and finding it modified beyond my ability to easily remove it (Thanks, Obama!), I decided I would probably just end up having to work with it in place, which I’ve read is possible. We’ll see.

But the transmission/transfer case situation is a bit closer to being able to be removed. On Saturday, I pulled the transmission pan, which is the only way to drain the fluid (I plan to change that as part of the rebuild). Whereas clean, healthy transmission fluid is a deep cherry red, the stuff that came out of the Eagle was… not. The color was somewhere between crude oil and squid ink. The sludge and debris that I found in the pan were roughly the color of interstellar space. 

The pan. It's so dark, it's reflective. The stuff that looks like little bubbles at the top and right is actually bits of debris.

The smell was what Ralph Wiggum would describe as “like burning”. Quoth the factory service manual: “If the fluid is badly discolored, smells burned, contains metal or friction material particles and transmission problems were experienced, the transmission may require an overhaul." So it's pretty official now.

This is the transmission with the pan off. That really dirty square-ish thing is the filter.
Another component that has to be removed, in order to remove the transmission, is the starter motor. Lemme tell ya something about starter motors: they don’t make ‘em like they used to. This is a good and bad thing. A bad thing, because the Eagle's starter motor is truly enormous, and weighs not less than 20 lbs. I guess it has to be, to handle the 800+ amps that the battery is rated at...

Here it is, covered in primordial ooze like everything else. For scale, my hand, from my wrist to the end of my middle finger, is about 7.5"
…a good thing, because once I got most of the mud off, the AMC tag and part of the serial number were visible, which means that this thing has been there since I was 8 months old, and still works great. Now it’s the newest addition to the newly christened Parts Table.
yep, the Parts Table

Friday, October 11, 2013

This is Your Birthday Song; It Isn't Very Long

It's barely visible on the tag, but the Eagle is one year older, and wiser too, this month. Not sure if you had ever seen this, Worth, but it looks like your twin was born as a car, back in "OCT 1984". 

Hopefully I can get it together and post some real project news next time.

Altima Interlude

Today we take an unscheduled break from the Eagle saga to talk about a different project, that was never properly recorded. A less extensive one, but in some ways a more significant one, even so.

Around Christmas time in 1999, I was in the market for my first car. It started, as it always did back then, with the obtaining of a paper-and-ink copy (right?) of Auto Trader magazine, and ended in the driveway of a house in Temecula, CA. There was a dude named Ruben, he wrote us a bogus bill of sale to skirt a few Golden State tax laws, the money changed hands, and so did … the Altima.

Fast-forward almost 11 years, and the Altima had seen it all. Endless commutes to and from high school, college, and everywhere in between. Serving as not only my first car, but that of all my siblings, the Altima was put through its paces and then some. It had stayed in California while I went to Arizona, but fate brought us back together in August of 2010.

After years of abuse, alternating weather extremes, minor collisions, and the relentless march of mileage, the Altima had one foot in the grave, but still managed to reluctantly cough to life when you turned the key. Three years later, and thanks to many man-hours and numerous replacement parts, the Altima has a new lease on life. This new life, though, is likely to be shorter than the first. A few days ago, the odometer clicked over to 179,000 miles, and though the car runs far better than it did at 160K, the big two-hundred is not far off.

The Altima is on the cusp of its twilight years. It’s not hard to see why. A few examples… It’s burning a quart of oil every 1,000 miles; its junkyard bumper is held on with zip ties, right next to its bent-up junkyard fender and junkyard headlight; there are mysterious rattles and vibrations that come and go, and will probably never be fixed. It turns 19 next month, and has already led a long, hard life. Like many fellow retirees, it will probably never leave the Valley of the Sun again, even in death… which I don’t think will happen soon (at least not before the Eagle can take its place), but I’ll be here to report it when it does. 

There is some reason to think that it may have been trying to leave this world for some time. There was the time last year when it started voiding its coolant all over the road via a bad water pump bearing, in the middle of the summer. Then several months later, a front tire developed a high spot which over a short time caused some of the suspension and steering components to be shaken to pieces. In the last six weeks, there have been two minor collisions. One was from an ill-advised left turn, and the second from another driver inexplicably backing up into the rear end in a nearly-empty parking lot.

I say “inexplicably” but I think we all know what’s going on. It’s tired of life, and it’s trying to end it. Even my young son can see the writing on the wall; "Dad, I think this car is giving up on you," he said yesterday. Sometimes it draws other cars into its feeble suicide plots, but nothing seems to work. But I try to look at it this way: if you don’t feel you’re succeeding at life, failing at dying is the next best thing, right?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Transfer Case Update

Delving a little deeper now into the Eagle’s drivetrain woes…

The false neutral thing (unsurprisingly) did not turn out to be the problem, at least not the main problem. When I got underneath the car and found the lever that changes the transfer case from 2-wheel drive to 4-wheel drive, you may remember that I had hoped to find it accidentally between the two settings, necessitating only a turn to one direction or the other to restore wheel movement.

Not only was this not the case, but the lever refused to move out of whatever position it is in. I pushed, pulled, pounded, and otherwise tried to force that lever to move until I had busted three knuckles and exhausted all hope. This leads me to suspect that there are big problems not only in the transmission, as I previously knew, but also in the transfer case. So the time has come to remove both of them.

For a car, this is like removing its liver and a kidney. We’re talking major surgery. I’ll most likely take the transfer case to a transmission shop and say, “Give it to me straight, doc.” If they say it needs to be replaced, I have some potential sources for that. This will also be the easier of the two to remove. To get it out, you have to remove the skid plate (already out), drive shafts (already out), speedometer cable (also out), the vacuum actuator (which switches it between 2WD and 4WD, partially out), and then it should unbolt from the transmission and be able to be lowered out.
After I took off the skid plate I took a picture to show the proliferation of greasy mud that comes from off-roading a leaking car. That cable near the top with the one clean spot is the speedometer cable. Behind it is the front drive shaft, and below that you can see at least an inch of mud covering the horizontal brace and transmission mount. Those yellow and green things are vacuum lines.

Here is the transfer case now with both shafts and the speedo gear removed. It was secured above a brake line out of the frame, but the cable still made it into the top of the photo.
Then comes the transmission. That process will involve draining the fluid and then removing the following: dipstick and tube, starter motor, most of the exhaust system, the throttle and gearshift linkages, and a few other assorted items before it can be unbolted from the engine block. Once it’s out, the plan is still to undertake a rebuild myself, notwithstanding the laughs I often get when I tell people this. It will take longer, but at 1/8 the price of having someone else do it, the appeal of going that route is undeniable.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Making the Wheels "Turn, Turn, Turn"

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven,” but you don’t have to be a Bible scholar or a fan of The Byrds to know that getting the Eagle’s engine running was a time to celebrate. It was an important practical and symbolic step in what is sure to be a lengthy journey. But now it’s serious times. The euphoria of hearing that old straight-six cough, then scream, then roar for the first time in ages, has passed, and now we gotz to get down to bid-niss once again.

Everything between the engine and the wheels is still an open question. Over the last few days I raised the car on jackstands so that the wheels could spin freely (not an easy feat, considering the high ground clearance) and performed the factory-prescribed transmission diagnostic procedure. Outcome: regardless of what gear the transmission is in, the engine and wheels both seem unaware of its presence. 
broken transmission? That's jacked up, yo!

I hoped that this was because the transmission fluid was a little low, so I added enough to get it to the Full line on the dipstick. Put it into gear again and… nothing. Not only that, the new fluid was all that showed up on the dipstick, meaning that it wasn’t circulating in the transmission. No bueno.

Yes, I knew that the car was immobile when I picked it up, but you always hold out hope that the easy solution works first. And I have one more easy solution to try. If the transfer case is in what’s known as a “false neutral” position, this might, MIGHT, explain the problem. Fixing it is a matter of turning one wrench in the short term and replacing 2 vacuum hoses in the long term.

In the (likely) event that that doesn’t work, I’ll have to accept the verdict of the small-town mechanic who has already said: complete transmission rebuild. On the bright side, this means many more pictures and entries for your viewing and reading enjoyment, probably for many weeks to come. It's an exacting and tedious process, with sensitive tolerances, and if you fail to put just one part back in the right place, you could easily have serious problems.
... is pretty much what I'm trying to say.