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.