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.