Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Closing Up Shop

This exchange happened yesterday between me and my 6-year-old son:

Me: Can you believe the Eagle is all gone?
Him: (in an incredulous tone) Yeah... somebody wanted it!

Yes, it's true. It finally happened. All that's left of the Eagle is this:

A license plate and a sold notice are my souvenirs from a year of wrenching, pushing, pounding, and otherwise forcing the Eagle back onto the road as a viable daily driver. It got to the point where I had done all I could for and with the Eagle, and it began to feel an insistent pull toward new horizons. So, it's busted outta this joint. Skipped town. Peaced out. Now it belongs to a kid about an hour south of here, for whom the Eagle will be one heck of a first car. 

The garage will be a little emptier now, since the car I've replaced the Eagle with is only 2/3 its size at most. Some of the tools might gather a little more dust, and the garage floor might gather a little less transmission fluid.

In an odd twist of fate, our 4-wheel drive friend had one last hurrah yesterday before moseying on down an empty desert highway. We in the Valley of the Sun got most of a year's worth of rain in the wee hours of Monday morning. Never in this town's history has more rain fallen in Phoenix in a single day. You can read about it and see some pictures here. Those flooded streets look pretty intimidating, but then again, AMC Eagles rush in where subcompacts fear to tread. A major intersection covered in a foot of standing water? Easy. Residential streets with water all the way up to people's garage doors? Bring it on. It's hard to beat splashing through a temporary curb-to-curb lake while all the other cars sit paralyzed at the water's edge. 

It was a great last day for us, and with that, the saga ends. The Eagle has landed, and now, the Eagle has flown.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The End of An Era

Well kids, the time has come. Nobody wanted the Eagle, but I needed some money, so I put the Altima up for sale yesterday. Already, I have three potential buyers, so this is going way better than last time.

I've been mentally preparing myself for this event for a while. The Altima, you see, was my first car. And at the time, I was a Californian. Put the two together, and you have a sacred rite of passage, more significant than anything else that happens in youth. Even if you live in a place that isn't saturated with car culture, even if the stoichiometric ratio is not in your DNA, your first car is something special. It's fun. It's freedom. It's enough responsibility to make you feel serious, mature, important, maybe for the very first time.

That's what I got on December 17, 1999, and again almost exactly 4 years ago, in this form...

Here we have the good side:

The not-so-good side:

and the final score, within a few miles or so:

The Altima has been the catalyst for a long list of "good old days". All my friends from high school, and many friends from college rode in it, all over 4 western states. From the beach, to the mountains, to the desert, it's carried musical equipment, groceries, things it was never meant to carry, and at one time, all my earthly possessions. It's lived in every state I've lived in. The albums of all my favorite bands have been played to death on those speakers. Every girl I've ever loved has sat in that passenger seat, sometimes late at night. 

Many of the ups and downs of my youth and young adulthood played out with this car in the background, or even the foreground.

So it's no wonder that our friend is tired. It's time for it to drive off into the sunset. More than that, even, it has become the casualty of pragmatism. It's worth more to me as cash than as transportation. Obviously you can't put a price on memories, but the memories will be there just the same either way. 

Ah yes, the memories. The time when me, Leslie, and her friend Becky who was visiting from North Carolina, stole a wooden pallet and ran it down to the beach in the back seat for a bonfire. The time when Joey ran full speed into the corner of the open passenger door and burst a blood vessel in his arm (still sorry about that one, man). The seminary carpools. The drag racing (the folly of youth). The late-night toilet-papering missions. The back-and-forth trips to Orange County, to the Salt Lake airport, to rock shows, to Guitar Center. The breakdowns, the repairs. The minor collisions, the repairs. So many, many repairs. 

It seems likely that I'll sell it tomorrow. If I don't, it shouldn't be long after that. So, Altima, the point is... me and all of those people I mentioned, whether they know it or not, bid you a fond farewell.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

"My Car Broke Down in Arizona / Had to Ride the Bus Again"*

I guess I didn't get around to writing the next day, but in the time since I last posted, the cooling system has been performing admirably, given its age and design. Gone are the days of the rumbling, boiling coolant, it seems. The needle on the temperature gauge is significantly farther down than before, in a wide range of (hot) driving conditions. Using cruise control on the freeway seems to help matters as well.

But the adventures continue, of course. A couple weeks ago, I was driving down the U.S. 60 toward the interchange with the 101, when the Eagle's engine abruptly lost power and stopped responding to throttle inputs. The power steering and brakes still worked, though, so it was clear the engine was still running. I brought the car into the shade on a shoulder under an overpass, and contemplated being stranded even briefly in the heat, and the cost of a tow. As I did so, the engine stalled completely. I sat there for a few seconds, then turned the key, and the engine started up right away and was fine-ish after that, and I got home without incident.

That experience, coupled with some other previously-observed symptoms, led me to believe that not enough gas was getting to the carburetor, in a way consistent with a clogged fuel filter. I had never changed it, so that made plenty of sense.

After putting on a new filter, though, the problems worsened, in the other direction. So much gas was being poured down the intake's gullet that the engine bogged and bucked, and acrid smoke poured out of the exhaust pipe - though, notably, it didn't stall. But even by 1985 standards, this was unacceptable. After fiddling and futzing with the carburetor, and seeing less improvement than I wanted, I decided to pull the carb and put it through the complete adjustment regimen as prescribed by the factory service manual.

Friday night I took it off and partially apart, and did the adjustments (some had been way off... my bad) and then put it back on. There was immediate improvement but now I have to fine-tune the Fast Idle and Curb Idle screws, but that's not too hard. The best part was that there was yet another fantastic Arizona sunset waiting for me after I finished the job. Phone photos don't nearly do it justice. In a huge, flat valley, the sky goes on forever, and the summer monsoon, even when it's not throwing lightning around, gives you evening scenes like this:

*for the uninitiated: the post title is a Five Iron Frenzy lyric. Yeah, you've probably never heard of them, so...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What's Cooler... Than Bein' Cool?

Ice cold. Which is the exact opposite of the weather in June in the Phoenix area. Sure, you've heard the urban legends about melted asphalt, and frying an egg on the sidewalk (neither of which is true, by the way), but even more horrifying is the actual proven fact that an AMC Eagle can overheat in such conditions. Yes, I still have the Eagle. It clings to me like a scared child, and I can't help but feel sorry for it and give it food and shelter.

Several times in the past few weeks, the following scenario has played out...

After driving from downtown Gilbert to the north end of Tempe, I pull into a parking spot at work, nervously eyeing the coolant temperature gauge on the dashboard. After I shut down the engine, I wait about 15 seconds, and I start to hear a low, gentle rumbling sound from under the hood. The coolant is boiling. Bubbles of water vapor are surging into the coolant reservoir, from the connecting hose at the top of the radiator. No steam comes out from underneath the hood, but the message is clear: you're really pushing it, dude. 

In a perfect world, I would be able to drive a moderate distance on the freeway during the hottest part of the day, during the hottest part of the year, in the hottest metropolitan area in the country, with the air conditioning on full blast, in a 30-year-old car, without the engine overheating. Is that too much to ask? I for one have refused to take "yes" for an answer.

I tried modifying the fuel mixture. It helped a little, but not enough. I put in a brand new thermostat. It helped a little, but not enough. I know that radiator was made to handle some pretty serious heat, so something's not quite right. Then there are all the other classic cars (of which there are a lot in this town) that you see driving around, apparently shrugging off the heat like it ain't no thang.

So on Monday it was, as always, time to consult The Internet. Inspired by some posts on enthusiast forums, I realized that there are probably all kinds of rust and mineral deposits in the radiator from when the car sat idle for months and months. That, and just the fact of having so many gosh-danged miles on it, and being so old... you get the idea. And all of that inibits the flow of coolant and probably heat transfer as well. I read about a heavy-duty liquid rust remover you can get at Home Depot, and I ventured forth to procure some.

Last night I made a solution of said rust remover and ran it through the radiator a couple times, letting it sit for a while in both instances. I also washed the outside with it, including the millions of thin copper fins running between the coolant passages. This was with the radiator out of the car, of course. 

After a very thorough rinsing with water this afternoon, the radiator is back in the car, with all the coolant, and all the hoses hooked up. Based on preliminary observations from a small road test, it looks like the radiator is dissipating heat a little better than before. Tomorrow will be the real test, though.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

The Eagle has been reluctant to leave the nest, it seems.

I've put in on Craigslist, Cars.com, and the AMC Eagle enthusiast forum, and I've received a grand total of 5 replies. 3 from obvious scam artists, 1 from a possible scam artist who wanted $200 to sell it for me, and 1 from a guy who wanted to trade for a lowered Buick Roadmaster in poor condition. No offers, no test drives. This is my first time selling a car, but I thought I'd see a little more action by now. So... I think if this continues, I might have to sell the Altima instead. It's a bit more of a known quantity in the used car world, you could say, and people might respond better to it.

And the Eagle's been improving a little, too. The cruise control now works, all of a sudden. Its primitive cooling system was mildly overheating on the really hot days last week, and a couple of tweaks, including leaning out the fuel mixture, seem to have worked to solve that problem as well. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Fly Away, Eagle! Fly Away And Be Free!

FOR SALE: 1985 AMC Eagle 4-door 4WD Station Wagon, base model. 156,xxx mi.

- 2WD/4WD Select Drive system
- Automatic transmission
- 256 c.i. (4.2L) straight-6 engine
- Roof rack
- AM/FM, power brakes, power steering
- Passes Arizona emissions, has new current AZ registration
- Clear title

Recent work:
- newly rebuilt transmission (less than 1K miles), including new torque converter, front pump, and cooling lines
- newly rebuilt carburetor
- new tires and stock-size wheels
- new front driver's side CV axle
- new lift supports on rear hatch
- new front brake pads and rotors
- new driver's seat belt
- new U-joints on drive shafts, rear shaft professionally serviced and balanced
- new spark plugs and ignition wires
- new catalytic converter and tailpipe
- new shock absorbers
- new battery

Also of note:
- heater works
- factory A/C blows cold. Has been professionally retrofitted to run newer, widely available R134a refrigerant.
- recent professional wheel alignment
- virtually rust-free, with zero frame rust
- INCLUDED: copy of original factory service manual AND engine and transmission overhaul manual

I have spent the last 9 months restoring this vehicle to full functionality from non-running condition. It's a great car to work on yourself, since it was built before the days of complex engine computers. Mechanical parts are cheap and easy to get, and require no special tools. Great as a daily driver, weekend 4-wheeler for the desert or mountains, or all of the above! If a Jeep and a station wagon got together and had a baby, this Eagle would be it. Has and will continue to turn heads and make friends in unexpected places.

Minor flaws: There's a slow ATF leak (just check and top off every so often), and some small tears in the driver's seat upholstery. Paint job is aging but serviceable. Otherwise, it's in good shape and ready to fly!

$4500, or make me an offer on this American classic.

email: adam.hill131@gmail.com
text or call: 480-318-0142

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Final 3

Repairs, that is. The last three things I'm doing to/for the Eagle before... gulp... putting it on the market. I've vacillated back and forth about what to do, but it's become clear that with both me and Lydia having reduced hours at work for the summer, we simply have to have the money.

So, the last three repairs are going to be:
1) Alignment
2) Fix the Select Drive system, which allows the driver to change between 2WD and 4WD, while the car is moving, using a switch on the dashboard.
3) Put in new lift supports for the rear hatch. Using a broken ski pole to hold it up won't look too good when trying to sell the thing.

This one was the easiest but most expensive repair, at $50. I put new wheels and tires on the car, as you may recall, and a new CV axle on the drivers side, so the alignment was way out of spec. It doesn't affect driving very much, but this probably falls under the category of a "the right thing to do" repair because of the effect on tire service life and possibly handling. I went down to the place I always go for alignment on Saturday morning, and sat in the waiting area watching their TV. There was a cheesy kids' show on the Jesus channel, then they changed it to the news, and then the car was done, and that was that.

Select Drive system
This repair was much more bewildering, and as with many things I've found on this car, I'd love to know the story behind it. Long story short(er), the system is operated by routing engine vacuum to an actuator on the transfer case, which moves a lever, which moves a fork inside the transfer case to the 2WD or the 4WD position. The vacuum lines have to be uncompromised in order for it to work right. After I fixed the actuator, I thought the system would work normally, and was surprised when it didn't.

I followed the vacuum lines from the actuator to the engine, and found that they had been cut off, and were hanging loosely on the passenger side of the engine bay. After a while, I found corresponding vacuum lines on the driver's side. They should have been connected all the way through, and why they were as I found them is a mystery. But, no matter. Some new rubber vacuum hose to bridge the gap, and then everything would work, right?

Well, not so much. With the car up on jack stands to let the wheels spin freely, the select drive switch still didn't do anything. Blargh.

By this time I was worried that I might not be able to fix it, or that doing so would be more trouble than it was worth. I took a break at that point and came back to it on Monday morning, since I had the day off. I dug a little deeper to find the source of the vacuum pressure that was supposed to be being routed to the switch, and from there to the actuator. For some bizarre reason, the place on the engine where the system gets its vacuum from was modified and plugged up in various ways with reducers and such, and so by the time that the vacuum pressure got into the actuator lines, there was hardly any left.

Lucky for me, it was as simple as hooking things up a little more directly, to get greatly increased vacuum pressure into the lines. A couple of tests confirmed that it was now fixed, much to my relief. That system alone is where a significant portion of the car's value is. The question of why it was intentionally disabled is still beyond me.

Lift Supports
On the day when I decided once and for all to sell the Eagle, I ordered the parts from my good friend Rock Auto. They came yesterday, and I put them on less than 10 minutes. They work great, so I do believe that, well... we're nearly done here.

The next entry most likely will be a For Sale announcement with the same text I'll be posting in other areas of the internet, and pictures too, to make up for the lack of pictures lately in these posts.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

One Headlight

The Wallflowers were one of the great bands of the 1990s. The 1st-generation Nissan Altima was one of the... mediocre cars of the 1990s. Today, they have something in common. The Wallflowers' first and probably biggest hit was "One Headlight", and that's what the Altima now has.

You might think it's because the bulb burned out. But oh no. Not this car. I noticed a few weeks ago that the driver's side headlight was getting dim I didn't think much of it until the other day, when I decided to spring for a new set of bulbs. Well, I went to connect the new one on the driver's side, and found that the electrical connector had somehow gotten so hot that it melted. So that explains the dimness and the fact that now, it won't work at all. At least the one on the other side is fine.

So it's to the point that there are parts wearing out on this thing that were never even meant to be replaced. Now that the Eagle is nearly done, the Altima is clearly releasing all its pent-up frustration at being sidelined all that time. Luckily though, it was a quiet time for repairs while I was working on the Eagle. But if it's not one thing, it's the other, I guess. I'll have to hit the junkyard this weekend for another connector. And maybe a few more odds and ends that you can't get any other way.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Hard Starting and the Dead Batteries...

...would be a great name for a rock band. Like one of those British ones in the same vein as The Clash. Or maybe more like an Alice Cooper or Iron Maiden* type thing. Who knows.

Either way, the facts were these:
  • During the Eagle's week-long tenure as a daily driver (see last post), I noticed that the starter wasn't cranking the engine with the same gusto as it used to do.
  • I took it to Auto Zone, where the battery was warrantied, and had them test it. It tested bad.
  • They didn't carry a replacement, but the location a few miles away did.
  • I went there and got the fully-covered replacement.
  • Somewhat worryingly, the new one is rated at a couple hundred amps lower than the old one.
  • Turns out that they don't even make the old kind anymore.
  • The new one doesn't quite fit exactly, but it's close enough for government work.
  • The alternator tested good, so why the battery failed is a mystery. Could it be from that one time when it sat outside for months?
And now, a pleasant surprise.

The 4WD actuator came off the transfer case months ago when I was working on the drivetrain. The plunger that changes the drive selector was stuck, and wasn't moving for love or money. I thought it would have to be replaced.
Evidently, though, I was just using the wrong motivation. Some PB Blaster made it a little mobile, and a good soaking in soapy warm water helped even more. What happened, not surprisingly, was that the mechanism had gotten full of sandy, nasty grit, and so the moving parts were frozen. After rinsing out the inside of the actuator lots of times, I think I got all the grit out, and the plunger now moves freely. This SHOULD mean that it will operate properly on the car. Time will tell.

*  "Iron Maiden?? Excellent!!" - Bill and Ted

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Altima Pitches Another Fit

Since last Labor Day weekend, the Altima has only enjoyed a few moments in the garage, and then only when it was being worked on. For a while it sat in the driveway, but now that the Eagle is de facto transitioning into a daily driver, the Altima has been relegated to the cold (hot), lonely world of street-parked cars. With no shelter from the sun, wind, dust, or bird poop, it decided to make another play for attention. Kind of a childish move. Just sayin'.

Last Monday night, me and the boy went to put gas in it, and when I got to the pump, I noticed that the brake lights were on even after I got out of the car. I fiddled with the pedal and when I couldn't hear the click of the brake light switch, it was pretty clear that the switch was stuck in the "on" position, and therefore had gone the way of all the earth.
Time of death: 8:07 p.m., 182,950 miles.

The car is effectively crippled until I put in a replacement switch - probably this weekend - since the lights will drain the battery when the car is parked, and cause a confusing safety hazard during driving.

The brake lights were on all the way back home from the gas station, where I unhooked the negative battery cable. This is the car equivalent of Time Out, and it's the kind of attention you get when you misbehave. You can drive again when you have a new switch, but this kind of behavior is unacceptable, young man.


UPDATE: The brake light switch itself was fine. It was the little rubber button that pushes the switch's pin, that had broken into several pieces and fallen out onto the floor. Solution: swap in the other rubber button from the cruise control switch. Glue the broken pieces back together, and use that one for the cruise control switch. Return previously purchased part. Spend no money :)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Call Me The Exterminator, 'Cause I'm Working The Bugs Out


I think I've more or less got the carb where I want it, short of having an under-hood tachometer available. But that hasn't stopped the Eagle from misbehaving a wee bit since then.

Friday morning I decided I would do an all-day test. This consists of:
Take the boy to school-> drive several miles to my internship in downtown Gilbert-> drive from there to north Tempe for my regular job-> drive home.

I hit the gas pedal once to set the choke, and turned the key. It acted like it was starting real quick like, but it didn't, and then when it did start, it didn't want to stay running. I re-started it in the driveway, once I got out of the garage, and it was a little better, but it stalled once on the way to the school.

When I got to my internship, I popped the hood and fiddled with some things a little, and it didn't seem to help. I turned it off and on again, and it was very slightly better. I thought that maybe it had hit some old gas in the tank and that's why it was running rough (yeah, I don't know), so I left early from the internship to go to the gas station.

When I got to the car, it started fine and was like, "what, me worry?" just like a couple days before. I put some gas in it, and it was still fine, maybe even better.

So fast forward a little, and I'm on the freeway going to work. I notice that the engine is running a little hotter than I like, on the higher end of the green zone. I turned off the A/C and exited the freeway but it still kept rising. Never quite got out of the green zone, but still a little unsettling.

I took the freeway home from work on Friday, but it stayed a lot cooler than before. Then, when I took the freeway to work today again, the engine heated up in exactly the same way as before. Time to visit the store for a coolant additive, because this is no way to go into the Arizona summer.

On Saturday I spent an hour or so removing tons and tons of dog hair from the trunk bed and the carpet on the back of the back seat. I also used a bottle of automotive carpet cleaner back there to get rid of what were probably pet stains of various colors and sizes. Same thing for the upholstery on the seats, but with a little less success. I also washed and ArmorAll-ed the rubber floor mats, so the interior is really starting to shape up. The only bad part of the cleaning is that it has liberated some pet smells so I'll have to hit the Febreze pretty hard this evening so it won't smell so much. Some time this week I'll try to get the rest of the stains out of the seat upholstery and clean the leather (or whatever it is) as well.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

No, Seriously, It's Really Fixed This Time

After the carburetor was back in, and completely hooked up, it was time for the testing and tuning phase of the operation. Whereas before I had to tune the idle speed pretty high to have just a chance to avoid stalling, now it idles at a reasonable speed and gives no sign of stalling.

After a first road test, a little tuning, and a second, longer road test, the engine still hadn't stalled even once. I broke out the carb cleaner, sprayed it all around the carb, and the vacuum hose connections all over the engine. No identifiable change in idle speed. Not only that, but the engine runs smoother and actually quieter (yay!) than it has until now. I tried all the things that used to make the engine stall - gradual braking, braking to a stop or for speed bumps, hard steering while braking at low speeds, letting off the gas suddenly after prolonged higher RPMs while parked, doing any of the above with the A/C on full - and no stalling. Not even a threat of it, where the engine lugs and the voltage light comes on briefly and you have to jab the gas pedal in the nick of time.

Coming back from the second road test after the rebuild, my expression was something like this:

It might sound like no big deal, but this is, to use an over-used expression, a "game changer". Especially if the fuel economy improves as much as I beleive it will, now that there are no identifiable vacuum leaks. Of course, this doesn't really help my decision about which car to sell, but it does mean that there's a greater likelihood that either choice would be equally viable. Here's my updated "to do" list:

  • Cure the stalling problem
  • 4-wheel alignment
  • flush brake fluid
  • interior cleaning
  • new gas springs for rear hatch
  • replace 4WD actuator
  • new under-hood insulation
  • fix cruise control
  • new paint job
  • new audio system

Sunday, May 4, 2014

In Which My Saturday Goes On A High-Carb Diet

Longtime readers may remember way back to when I first got the Eagle, and how I gave the transmission every chance to not need a total rebuild. In the end it was for naught. The die was cast, and the rebuilt transmission has worked great.

Well, it came time to have that same sort of epiphany about the carburetor. This one took a little while, since it had technically been rebuilt not long ago, and so I ruled that out as being necessary at first.

In the end, a low-tech but foolproof test for vacuum leaks pushed me off the fence. When I sprayed carburetor cleaner around the base of the carb while the engine was running, the telltale change in engine speed was very obvious. The thing was leaking vacuum like a sieve. And leaking gasoline fumes when it was parked.

All of that was soon explained when I finally broke down, got another rebuild kit, and pulled the thing out on Saturday. This is the complicated contraption that uses some witchcraft known as the Venturi effect to mix gas and air for combustion:

It turns out that a carburetor is highly complicated for something that is usually thought of as a single part. This is the instruction sheet.

From this close-up you can see how many tiny little things go into the process.

This carb has basically 3 main layers which you can see on the table here. I used the same "bag-and-tag" parts tracking method from the transmission rebuild, and it was successful once again.

So it had been rebuilt recently, like I said. Thing is, whoever did it either had very little experience or cared very little about what they were doing. I found two huge red flags, either one of which could have explained the stalling problem on its own.
First, the "layer" on the left side, the throttle body, wasn't tightened down to the rest of the carb. It just sort of hung loosely, and the attaching screws were at least 2 or 3 full turns away from being tight. 
Also, an essential part on the back, called the stepper motor (#50 on the parts diagram, middle right), was attached tightly, but incorrectly. The prong that's number 54 in the diagram was bent away to the side of where it should have been. 

With those problems fixed, and all the new gaskets and parts put on, I put the carb back together. Putting it back on the car was complicated slightly when I dropped one of the attaching nuts into the intake manifold (Protip: don't do that). But it wasn't too far in and I managed to gingerly fish it out and reattach the carb and all its vacuum hoses and such. 

Then, the big moment came as I cranked the engine and waited for it to fire. It took a little while, probably because the end of the fuel line and the carb were empty and had to be primed. It finally caught on, and already the engine sounded better. I looked down into the carb to make sure everything looked right. I noticed that it looked to be using less gas than it did previously. It may be the case that if it's running so much leaner that you can SEE the difference, it must have been pretty bad off before. 

Bonus: the garage no longer smells like gasoline fumes.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Don't Feed the Carburetor After Midnight

I know, I know. I said I was going to sell it and here I am about to talk about another repair I'm doing on it, as if I'm going to keep it for a while.

The truth is, I keep going back and forth on it, and I have no idea what I'm going to do, except probably rebuild the carburetor this weekend.

Yes, I know, I know. I said it had stopped stalling after I fixed the vacuum hoses. It was true... for a while. But the mysterious stalling gremlin has returned. It's still better than it was before the new hoses, but it appears that the mechanic was not as full of it as I thought. And it's easy to find an el cheapo rebuild kit. If that doesn't work... well... then I'm stumped.

I got the rebuild kit last night. I started undoing things from the carburetor and got it about 1/3 of the way torn down, and by then it was clear to me that it's been rebuilt recently. All the gaskets looked good, and the replaceable parts that I could see were obviously new. ::sigh:: I'm considering not doing the rebuild after all. I'm reminded that the engine ran great when I had fixed a vacuum leak. Could it be that the now-increased vacuum has caused another leak to develop in a weak spot, that's not in the carb itself? Is it a matter of tuning the carb some more?

Returned the rebuild kit, got the carb put back together, but I must have borked something in the process. Cold starts take way too long, and the stalling is as bad as ever.
Not looking good.

Normally the choke is not adjustable, but I slightly broke the part that keeps it in one place. So now it's adjustable. I tweaked it a little and a cold start didn't take as long, but it's idling a little too fast so more fine tuning will be needed.

Guess I might as well post this now. Maybe I'll get something flammable and test for vacuum leaks this weekend.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Straight Is The Gate

To the untrained eye, this may look like an ordinary, straight-gated automatic transmission shift lever.

But it's not the one that the Eagle came (to me) with. At least not entirely. The metal lever and the handle came from an assembly that arrived from Pennsylvania on Wednesday.

See, when I got the car, there was this liiiiiitle tiny huge problem with the shifter. Basically, imagine you're in your car, about to move the gear lever. You probably need to push the button in with your thumb to unhook the thing so you can move it, right? That's so it doesn't move around by accident. Well, when I got the car, this mechanism was probably long since broken, so the lever just kind of clicked back and forth through the gears (or more accurately, the detents) by just gently pushing the lever forward or back.

This means that it if got kicked or bumped somehow, it could easily move, say, into Reverse while the car was driving down the road. You don't need to be a mechanic to surmise that if that happened, it would be a Bad Thing. Not to mention that it could nullify all the work you just did to rebuild the transmission.

So in what will be one of the Eagle's last significant repairs under my watch,* I Frankensteined the lever and handle from the new shifter assembly into the one that was already in the car.
The end result is what you see above. The gear lever now works properly, and there were plenty of leftovers:

*As I described in a post on Oppo, I may be sending the Eagle off into the sunset soon. Let us observe a moment of silence.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Heat Is On

It's not summer yet, but you wouldn't know it in the Sonoran Desert. Our summer starts in mid-to-late April and ends some time around the week of Halloween. So it may seem that I picked an odd time to fix the Eagle's heater.

But, of course, the irony is that the heater is an integral part of the cooling system, that had been bypassed because of a heater core leak. Last weekend I de-bypassed it, as part of a larger pre-summer cooling system service.

I also drained and refilled the coolant and used a wire wheel to clean up the business end of the coolant temperature sensor. I threw some stop-leak in as well, and so far the cooling system works as it should, the heater makes heat (and I haven't seen any evidence of leakage), and the temperature gauge on the dashboard is more functional than before.

So that's cool. Speaking of which, it's time to turn my attention again to the air conditioner. When I got the Eagle, I was concerned that the A/C was running R-12, the refrigerant of choice in the bad old days. This is because of both the age of the car and this sticker on the compressor:

It's expensive and hard to find today, and supposedly it's bad for the environment, but it's less prone to leaks, and has more cooling potential.

I could also tell that some of the fluorescent-dyed refrigerant had leaked...

and that the system wasn't cooling as well as it should. Before anyone suggests it, "A/C delete" is not an option. While you (most likely) won't die without A/C in this town, you'll wish you did.

And it's a moot point anyway, because after some research and a look at the hardware on the system, it turns out after all that it runs R134a (YAY!), which is being phased out in the EU but is still the only game in town on this side of the pond. I already had a can of it, so I added some on Monday night to get the system's operating pressure where it should be. So far, so good.

  • Reinstall starter and brace
  • Put in the transfer case
  • New transmission fluid cooler line to replace the one I had to break
  • Fix speedometer
  • New u-joints for the driveshafts
  • A new driver’s side CV axle in the front
  • Install new exhaust components
  • Change oil and brake fluid
  • New driver's seat belt ($$)
  • New (stock) rims and tires ($$)
  • New shift indicator cable (which keeps the gearshift from moving accidentally)
  • Service the front and rear differentials
  • New gas springs for rear hatch
  • Insurance, operation permit, emissions, title, registration
  • Flush coolant and repair heater core with some stop-leak and a prayer
  • Fix whatever makes the A/C compressor scream when it’s on
  • De-grease the engine bay
  • 4-wheel alignment
  • New under-hood insulation
  • Interior detailing 
  • New paint job. Desperately needed. ($$$$)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Pimpin' Ain't Easy

Well, folks, it just goes to show that you should never unquestioningly trust a repair shop. We all know this, but I'm not usually as flabbergasted about it as I am today.

To fix the Eagle's stalling problem, the shop by my house wanted to put in a new carburetor for over $700. They didn't even mention or address something I found on Wednesday, namely three broken and rotted vacuum hoses. I saw them and thought, hey, maybe that's what the stalling issue has been all along. Maybe it's not the carburetor, which I heard was rebuilt not that long ago anyway.

I went down to the O'reilly and got two feet of hose, from different area codes... just kidding. Same area code. With the new hoses, the car hasn't stalled since, even when the engine was cool, even in the places where it ALWAYS stalled. I don't have to do my special anti-stalling braking technique anymore, I don't have to turn off the A/C when coming to a red light anymore, none of that stuff.

The cost of the hose? $0.84. EIGHTY. FOUR. CENTS. No Benjamins. Not even any Washingtons, unless you count quarters. Some cheap hose, right there, playa.

Two feet of this stuff, plus tax:

This could turn into a rant if I'm not careful. Instead, let's put a positive spin on it, and be grateful for auto parts stores, and that the Eagle is a little safer today than it was on Tuesday.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Long-Awaited Day

I took the Eagle in to get an emissions re-test today. Using half the old gas and filling up with new gas right before the test seems to have done the trick, because it passed!! Carbon monoxide was almost nil, and hydrocarbons were down more than 1000 parts per million from last time. So you know what that means....

And checkout the watermark on the title. Arizona knows what's up.

Not only got the title, but also the plate... so it's officially a real car now. 

And there was much rejoicing.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

"Get Your Motor Runnin'... Head Out On The Highway"

I've been feeling reluctant to post much lately, for two reasons. One is that most of what I'm doing now with the Eagle is just driving it around to use up the old gas to try to pass emissions. So that doesn't lend itself to a lot of photogenic moments, and we all know that the internet loves - no - demands pictures. 

The other is that the things I am actually doing besides driving it are pretty small right now. I had a duplicate key made. I finally washed the thing. I tightened a drivebelt so I could use the A/C without it screaming. Okay, I was pretty jazzed about that second one, to be honest, since it's supposed to be 95 degrees here on Monday. Amazingly, it works just fine. 

In my exuberance at this discovery, I decided to cross another thing off my list and de-grease the engine bay. It went all right, but not great, although it is somewhat cleaner than before. And, well, there was that thing about how I took it on the freeway for the first time this morning. The good news is that it can get up to about 70 mph without exploding in fiery death. The bad news is that when you have only 3 forward gear ratios, the RPMs get a liiitle high at that point, and holy Hannah does the gas mileage suffer when that happens. I've never seen a fuel gauge move that much on such a short trip. I went less than 25 miles, and the needle moved at least 10%. And remember, that tank is muy grande.

  • Reinstall starter and brace
  • Put in the transfer case
  • New transmission fluid cooler line to replace the one I had to break
  • Fix speedometer
  • New u-joints for the driveshafts
  • A new driver’s side CV axle in the front
  • Install new exhaust components
  • Change oil and brake fluid
  • New driver's seat belt ($$)
  • New (stock) rims and tires ($$)
  • New shift indicator cable (which keeps the gearshift from moving accidentally)
  • Service the front and rear differentials
  • New gas springs for rear hatch
  • Insurance, operation permit, emissions, title, registration
  • Flush coolant and repair heater core with some stop-leak and a prayer
  • Fix whatever makes the A/C compressor scream when it’s on
  • De-grease the engine bay
  • 4-wheel alignment
  • Probably a new carburetor ($$)
  • New under-hood insulation
  • Interior detailing 
  • New paint job. Desperately needed. ($$$$)

Friday, April 4, 2014

America's Favorite Game Show: Tune That Carb!

I wrote the following earlier this week:

"On Monday, I drove to and from work in the Eagle. It went okay, but it stalled often. So in an attempt to remedy that, I took a self-taught crash course in carburetor tuning on Monday night, and a little bit on Tuesday morning before work. Lots of trial and error have lead me to two conclusions:

- the fuel mixture was too lean, probably because of the large drop in elevation since the carb was tuned last

- even in making the mixture more rich and thereby increasing the speed and smoothness of the idle, some stalling still happens, and the exhaust smells... wrong.

I'm sure some degree of both of these problems is at least partly due to a lot of the gas being pretty old and reluctant to burn. The only real cure for this is driving the car everywhere I go, i.e. using it in favor of the Altima for a while. When most of the old gas is flushed out and replaced with new gas, I have high hopes that I'll be able to get the thing to run reliably. Ironically, the large capacity of the tank actually presents a challenge in this case."

I've now got the carb tuned to where the engine pretty much doesn't stall as long as it's warmed up. I've also secured the exhaust system better so it doesn't make a sickening metallic thump every time there's an imperfection in the road. I'll probably spring for at least one new belt this weekend so I can use the A/C without it screaming.

Boring update is boring.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Morning Rush Hour Road Test, On Side Streets

There were many stalls
when I drove to work today.
But I got here fine.

I come to a light
the color of which is red.
The dashboard lights up.

Steering is GM.
Typically overboosted.
Time for alignment.

Ah, the lunchtime walk.
I went to check on the car.
Not leaking!... that much.

New driver's seatbelt.
Installed Saturday evening.
It works. I am pleased.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Takin' It To The Streets

Well, a second 3-day permit made it a legal Eagle and I picked it up from the shop Friday morning. I understand a little better what the shop meant about the rear brakes. They don't lock up, they just randomly apply and grind along for a while until they give up.

When I picked it up it ran... somehow worse than before. The engine idled very roughly and shook the car like it was about to fall to pieces. This was... disconcerting, since I had just paid for a diagnostic to look into just such driveability issues. At length I came to the conclusion that I should replace the spark plugs and see what that did for the idle. In the process of putting in 6 new plugs of my controversial preferred brand, I broke one of the ignition wires. That meant a new wireset had to go on too. With the new ignition components, idling felt significantly better, and the engine is slightly less apt to stall now. That, plus an 18" tailpipe extension, and I was ready for the Cone of Shame (the state emissions test).

The car got some confused looks in the service lane, and during the under-hood inspection I heard a "what's that?" at least once, referring to something in the engine.

Then the Cone of Shame went on the tailpipe, and Shame it was:

Of course, the Shame could be worse. You see that everything passes except hydrocarbons, which failed spectacularly. However, the guy I talked to there all but told me that this is probably due to old gasoline in the tank. It happens a lot with cars that have been sitting a long time. The gas gets old and doesn't want to burn, leaving unburned hydrocarbons in the exhaust. So as soon as I can get the right gubmint permit, I'll be running it around town, trying to burn off the old gas for a while, then trying the test again with fresh gas. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Cone of Shame

When we last left off, the Eagle was at a nearby shop, just to get its carburetor tuned to increase the chance of it passing a state emissions test, or "passing smog" as they say where I'm from.

Of course, you never know what's going to come to light when a fresh set of eyes starts looking at the internals of an old car. The phone call that came on Wednesday had some news that I did not expect. The guy told me that while they adjusted the carburetion, there were some bushings and gaskets on the thing that were problematic and most likely contributing to the stalling issue. Also, the rear brakes were, and I quote, "persnickety", in that they would sometimes lock up under relatively little braking pressure. Apart from that, the new exhaust pipe isn't sticking far enough out the back for the emissions test people to put the big cone thing* on it, that collects the exhaust gas.

There were a couple other little things that I'm not worried about right now, but what they recommended for the carburetor was total replacement with a re-manufactured unit, for the mere cost of upwards of $700. This is a reasonable price for professional work, but I could do the exact same thing myself for about $300, or if I'm feeling like a (frugal) glutton for punishment, I could pick up a rebuild kit for ~$20.

So the game plan for now is this: Forget about the carb and the brakes for the time being, and get a bolt-on exhaust tip that will stick out far enough to be able to test the emissions. If it passes, which seems possible, then I can register it. This buys me a ton of time to fix the brakes and carburetor at my leisure. If it doesn't pass, then I can get a 30-day permit, which buys me at least enough time to redo the carburetor, and I don't have to stress about using 3-day permits anymore, of which you can only use 3 in a year.

No pictures this time, 'cause, y'know, it's in the shop. Getting it back this afternoon though.

* "I do not like the cone of shame."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Once (and future?) Rally Champ

The road test that you see the beginning of in the last post went pretty well, considering. It stalled twice near the beginning but thereafter went about its business uneventfully. I'm sure the stalling has something to do with the engine not having been run very much in the last year, and that even when the carburetor was tuned, it was tuned for a much higher elevation (about 5000 feet, vs. about 1200 feet where I live). Also the high-octane gas is probably not helping either. But, the transmission shifted through all 3 forward gear ratios, which is exactly what I had hoped to get out of this first test.

The Eagle's at a shop right now, having the carb diagnosed and hopefully made happy. I picked the closest place to my house, but even that 2.5-minute trip was a white-knuckle ride. It was rush hour, and the car stalled twice, both times as I was stopped, waiting to turn. Even in neutral, I had to feather the throttle to keep it going. Once there, it took a while for the guy to understand that I don't expect an A+ emissions performance right away, just to be able to get to the test facility safely. Once that was made clear, things were a bit more relaxed and we got to talking about how cool a car it is, and how they used to rally these things back in the day, and so forth. So there's that.

In the meantime, enjoy some as-yet-unpublished photos of the fix-up process, up to now.

the factory service manual in its usual spot on the fender

The transmission's underside, mostly reassembled after the rebuild
These next three were for reference, so that I could put things back together correctly.

probably from draining the transmission before removal

a not-great image of the pile of mud I scraped off the starter motor

a view of the just-removed transmission
supporting the transmission after the transfer case was removed

mid-way through cleaning the transmission

Monday, March 24, 2014

"I Got My New Shoes On And Suddenly Everything's Right"

As James May would say: GOOD NEWS!

It's not the Dacia Sandero, but it is the Eagle. And it's on its own feet again. 

I put the rear drive shaft back in and tested it, and it worked perfectly. The exhaust is all the way in and clamped together, and (temporarily) hung with 16-gauge mechanic's wire. I serviced the rear differential and wired the transfer case selector (also temporarily) in 2WD. Stock-sized wheels and tires are on. It's been another busy weekend, and the Eagle now rests on the ground instead of jack stands. 

Sunday night we had some dinner guests over, and right after they left, I nervously climbed into the driver's seat and fired up the engine. Then... well, here's a video for those who may not have seen it yet.

  • Reinstall starter and brace
  • Put in the transfer case
  • New transmission fluid cooler line to replace the one I had to break
  • Fix speedometer
  • New u-joints for the driveshafts
  • A new driver’s side CV axle in the front
  • Install new exhaust components
  • Change oil and brake fluid
  • Some new seat belts ($$)
  • New (stock) rims and tires ($$)
  • New shift indicator cable (which keeps the gearshift from moving accidentally)
  • Service the front and rear differentials
  • New gas springs for rear hatch
  • Insurance, operation permit, emissions, title, registration
  • Flush coolant and repair heater core with some stop-leak and a prayer
  • Fix whatever makes the A/C compressor scream when it’s on
  • De-grease the engine bay
  • New under-hood insulation
  • Interior detailing 
  • New paint job. Desperately needed. ($$$$)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sad Panda

Alert readers will recall that I said there was a problem in the drive train last time. You may also remember that I mentioned that the new U-joints were almost as hard to install as the old ones were to remove. Well, either something happened during installation, or the bearing caps were just a little too big, or something else like that, but when the new joints were in place on the rear drive shaft, they could be moved back and forth only with difficulty, and one was almost impossible to move by hand, even though they came with the bearings pre-lubed, and I fully greased the joint before installation.

When the car is in gear, this causes a disconcerting creaking sound to vibrate through the whole shaft, and the stiffness makes it so that even with the car on jack stands, it won't go above 15 mph at idle without binding up and sort of bucking, in time with the rotation of the shaft.

Le sigh.

So the rear drive shaft had to come out again. For the first time in this project, I decided to seek professional help. I left early on Thursday with the drive shaft in my trunk to take it to a specialist shop on my way to work. When I put it on the counter, the lady told me I had put the U-joints in bass-ackwards, for one thing, (so much for trying to follow the picture on the box) but that wouldn't have caused the problem, and that I'd get a call a little later.

Even the shop was "not sure what happened" but they said nothing was bent, which was a relief. Even so, the U-joints needed to be replaced, and they recommended a balancing as well. Probably a good idea, since I doubt it's been done since the thing was manufactured. I picked it up after work Friday. Painted and everything, so that was cool.

Meanwhile, on Thursday afternoon I found out that the front drive shaft is rubbing on the front exhaust pipe. I'll probably just ditch that shaft for a while since I won't be using 4WD for the time being.

HOWEVER. I expect to be able to share some good news next time. Until then...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Right 'Round, Like a Record, Baby

Rapid progress sometimes comes at the expense of fatigue. That's pretty much where I am as I write this, on Saturday afternoon. Due to the infusion of cash from our tax refund, I've been able to get some of the last of the necessary parts for getting the Eagle on the road again. Add that to the fact that I got off of work early on Friday and that I'm eager to get most of this done before it gets hot, and you have many many hours of work, crammed into one weekend. 

If you don't know, the area where I live has basically two seasons: Summer; and Summer's Comin'. Right now Summer's Comin' is winding down, and by the end of April it will be miserable weather to do major repairs in. So I worked at a fever pitch last Friday and Saturday. I finished putting the new CV halfshaft on at about 11 pm on Friday. Lots of WD-40 and PB Blaster were used, and no bolts were broken. Huzzah.

once again, old vs. new

Earlier that evening, I put in the new u-joints. They did go in a little easier than the old ones came out, but not by much. I also only smelled weed a little bit this time.

You'll note the grease fittings on the shafts and u-joints. I got to add "using a grease gun" to my automotive resume, right under "screwing up the nozzle of a grease gun" and "fixing the nozzle of a grease gun".

Saturday I hooked up both drive shafts. I tried to fix the speedometer but it doesn't seem to want to be fixed. I may have to have a shop look at it.

Next was the muffler. It fits with the tailpipe and intermediate pipe just fine. The intermediate pipe didn't want to fit in the cat, as previously mentioned, so I ground down the outside of it enough so that it could be forced in. Good enough. I stuck the muffler onto the back of that and supported it with jack stands.

Then, I could wait no longer.

It was... the big moment. The next test of the drivetrain. Could the transmission work under light load, and - *gasp* - turn the wheels??? Well, let's just say...

Also I managed to fix the speedo. Turns out the gear was in upside down. Rookie mistake.
But... there's another problem in the drive train. Which I'll talk about next time.

  • Reinstall starter and brace
  • Put in the transfer case
  • New transmission fluid cooler line to replace the one I had to break
  • Fix speedometer
  • New u-joints for the driveshafts
  • A new driver’s side CV axle in the front
  • Install new exhaust components (halfway done)
  • Change oil and brake fluid
  • Some new seat belts ($$)
  • New (stock) rims and tires ($$)
  • New shift indicator cable (which keeps the gearshift from moving accidentally)
  • Service the front and rear differentials
  • New gas springs for rear hatch
  • Insurance, emissions, title, registration
  • Flush coolant and repair heater core with some stop-leak and a prayer
  • Fix whatever makes the A/C compressor scream when it’s on
  • De-grease the engine bay
  • New under-hood insulation
  • Interior detailing 
  • New paint job. Desperately needed. ($$$$)