Monday, July 30, 2007

Worn-out Balls

We picked up the old truck from the shop on Friday. It went in for a few minor things and the suspicion of something major, and indeed, came back to us with new belts, new oil and filter, two sets of upper and lower ball joints, new tie rod ends, a new tire, and an alignment. Ouch. I do have to say though, it does drive about $1100 better than it did before. No more hopping around in random directions, clunking on turns, and squealing in cool weather. Hopefully, it has many more mulch and stone loads to haul, trail maintenance trips to take into the woods, and commutes on salty roads to make.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

He's Back

My friend Rocky returned last evening for some fun. Sue and I were just wrapping up an episode on the Law and Order channel and were thinking about heading off to bed when I heard a skittering noise to my right. I looked to see nothing. A few seconds later, something caught my eye to the left. I turned to see another flying squirrel running along the top of the other couch.

While I have a primal fear of bats for some reason and become incapacitated when they're flying around my head, I'm better at handling flying squirrels. It's probably because they're so darn cute. We launched into action.

"Do we have a net of any sort?" Nope. "How about using the blanket as a net?" "Oh, how about a box from the basement?"

We pulled the doors to the parlor closed to at least contain him to one room and I went and grabbed a box and a garbage bag. I realized quickly that the garbage bag would be pretty useless but I was grasping for ideas. Our best plan was to shoo him into the box and then quickly close it up. In hindsight, I realize we were not considering the fact that a flying squirrel's reflexes are roughly 8x10^9 times faster than ours.

Sue grabbed a broom and the dust mop to serve as pokers and we went to work. We got him pinned in one corner and Sue held the box down with the open end towards Rocky as I shooed him in that direction. Just as it looked like he was going to run into the box, he launched straight up in the air, over the open end and directly towards Sue's face. I've never heard her scream like that before. Imagine the squirrel's experience. Two massive beasts a thousand times bigger than you chase you around while one screams bloody murder and the other laughs uproariously. Terrifying, no doubt.

We basically chased him from corner to corner to corner for about half an hour, trying to get him into a box. I cut a small squirrel hole in another box hoping he'd run into it thinking it was a great hiding place. No dice. They're smarter than you might think. Sue became convinced that throwing a blanket on him like a net would be a great idea. We worked him back into a corner, she got ready, and I flushed him out. She threw down the blanket and we quickly secured the edges. Unfortunately, she'd also captured a gallon jug that had water in it from the ironing we were doing earlier. We slowly smoothed out the blanket, being careful not to step on it and checking for any moving lumps. We got it down to only the area around the covered jug and then slowly worked the blanket up and over the jug. No lumps, no movement. No squirrel. The entire time we'd been carefully working on the blanket, Rocky was sitting on top of the couch behind us watching. Apparently, flying squirrels also have the power of teleportation.

I got the bright idea to open the window and remove the screen. If we could just get him to climb up and out the window... right, no problem. We spent several minutes with him hiding in a corner behind a speaker and us moving some furniture out of the room and overturning other furniture so he couldn't hide underneath it. We stacked pillows under the window to give him something to climb on. We then chased him around for a few minutes with no good results. We removed the pillows and propped up the screen as a ramp for him to run up and out. More chasing. Nope. Every so often, he'd duck down into a three-sided picture frame we have on a table and we'd try to trap him in it with the broom. He was too quick and smart for that too. We'd get close and he'd leap up and out. It was obvious that he was well aware of when he was about to be cornered, and he was more willing to run straight at us towards open space than to duck and cover. At one point, Sue was holding the screen horizontally and he jumped onto it and ran right towards her hands. Screen and squirrel were jettisoned into the air, one crashing down, the other gliding gently to the corner of the room.

After a few more minutes, I was shooing him off a table with a broom and he jumped onto the bristles. I swung him towards the window, but he leapt off midway and flew across the room between us. So close. Finally, after a total of forty-five minutes of squirrel chasing, he leapt onto the broom again. With Sue jumping around and screaming "Throw it out the window! Throw the whole broom out the window!", I finally got him poked out the window and he disappeared into the night.

We snapped a couple photos of the aftermath and of one of the warriors displaying her weapons, and then put all the furniture back in place. All in all, it was very entertaining, but not the most relaxing evening I've ever had. It might be time to invest in a fishing net or two.

Toyota Corolla Brakes

Sue's 1998 Toyota Corolla has recently been showing evidence of a brake problem. There has been some pulsating in the pedal recently indicating a "warped" rotor. That's in quotes because warping of rotors as commonly understood is actually a myth. There are many ways that a rotor can become uneven due to pad deposits, uneven wear, etc. but actual warping due to overheating or splashing puddles isn't the real cause. Occasionally, the pads have not been releasing properly from the rotor and causing the rotor and wheel to heat up considerably. So here's a quick how-to for cleaning and/or replacing your disc brake pads and/or rotor. Though this is for a Corolla, the basic idea works for most disc brake setups.

Break the wheel nuts loose.

Jack up the car and place it on a jack stand with the stand under a secure part of the car capable of taking the pressure. Don't depend on the jack alone.

Remove the wheel and set it aside.

With a 12mm socket, remove the two bolts holding the caliper on the caliper carrier. These are the bolts that screw into the slide pins covered by the rubber accordion boots. You might need a breaker bar and some PB Blaster squirted on the rust to get them free.

Slide the caliper off (this may take some working back and forth leveraging with a screwdriver) and hang it from the suspension on a wire so there's no pressure on the rubber brake line.

With a 17mm socket, remove the two bolts holding the caliper carrier on. Again, you will probably need a breaker bar for leverage. Remove the caliper carrier completely. The brake pads are held by tabs in the thin metal sliders.

The rotor should just pull off the hub. There's nothing holding it on except for possible rust, so whack it from behind or screw bolts into the two little holes provided for forcing it off.
Clean rust flakes out of the rotor vanes with a pipe brush or similar tool and set it aside.

Admire your handiwork. You've successfully unbolted as much as you have to. Time to clean and reassemble.

Remove the pads from the carrier and clean everything with a wire brush. Don't brush the surface of the pads, but clean all the rough rust off everything else. There are thin metal plates on the back of the pads - for anti-squeal, I think. Keep track of them if they fall off and put them back on when reassembling.

Carefully pull the slide pins out of the rubber boots on the carrier without damaging the boots and without letting rust fall into the boots. Brush rust off the outer ends of the pins and apply silicone caliper grease to the pins before reinserting them. They should slide nicely after re-greasing.

Brush out the pad sliders. Grease them with the silicone grease, and put some on the pad tabs and put a coating on the back of the pads. Do not get grease on the surface of the pads. If you do, wipe it off with a clean rag without smearing it around. Put the pads back in the sliders, leaving enough space between them to slide it back over the rotor.

Brush rust off the caliper, taking care not to tear the rubber seal around the caliper piston. Apply some silicone spray to the seal to give it some moisture. In my case, there is a tiny tear in the boot, so that may very well be the cause of the sticky brake since water and dirt can get in around the piston and cause it to not return properly.

Put a block of wood over the piston and use a large C-clamp to push the piston back in a couple millimeters. You'll need to push it back in farther if you're replacing worn pads with new ones. If you are pressing it farther, check your brake fluid reservoir and siphon some fluid out with a turkey baster if it looks like it's going to overflow when you press the caliper in. Brake fluid takes paint off quickly so you don't want it spilling.

Smear anti-seize grease (e.g. copper grease) on the hub surface so the rotor won't stick and put the rotor back on. Slide the caliper carrier with the pads in it over the rotor and put the bolts back in, tightening them properly. Slide the caliper over the carrier and pads and put those bolts back in. Make sure the slide pins are turned so they fit properly.

Replace the wheel and lower the car. Pump the brake pedal gently a few times until it firms up. It may take a few pumps before the piston is back into position. Start the car and enjoy your new or re-greased brakes!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Syracuse Nationals

This is what 2000 HP looks like.

I attended the Syracuse Nationals car show over the weekend out at the Fairgrounds. Jeez louise there were a lot of cars. We strolled for about eight hours to take them all in.

I couldn't really pick out a favorite, but this one caught my eye because it was the only one that was obviously tweeked with turbos. The owner put the charged air pipe back through the passenger compartment to an intercooler in the back seat, where it's hooked to an ice tank in the trunk for cooling. It's capable of about 35psi, but he normally runs around 25psi which makes about 2000HP.

The amount of time, work, and above all, money that has been put into the cars there is very impressive. From beautiful bone stock to the most outrageous custom beasts, you could find it all at this show.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Same Color Illusion

Are square A and B the same color? They are. Are too.

That's a very cool illusion taken from the Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Don't believe your eyes.

Friday, July 06, 2007

On the Road Again

I'm finally done with the latest phase of repairs and upgrades to the S4. It's been two solid weeks of greasy fingers and though it was fun and satisfying, there were enough frustrating moments to quell any urges to become a professional mechanic.

Over the winter I took advantage of some year-end sales and amassed a pile of aftermarket upgrades in my attic. The stack included new high-efficiency, all-metal intercoolers, a stainless bipipe, new diverter valves, and a cat-back exhaust. I also had an accessory belt tensioner left over from when I was going to replace the belt but ended up having the dealer do it during a warranteed timing belt replacement.

I learned a lesson a couple weeks ago about not trying to charge a dying battery with the alternator. After the battery was replaced, the volt meter (thank goodness the car has one rather than just an idiot light) was registering just over the minimum 12 volts, about 2 volts shy of where it should be. I picked up a remanufactured Bosch alternator at the local parts store.

Supposedly, all of the upgrades and the alternator replacement I had planned can be done without taking the front of the car off. However, since I've done it before and it's really not that big of a deal, I did it this time to give myself more room and make things much easier. It took me about fifteen hours the first time I did it, but this time, with checklist in hand, it took about three. In the process though, I dropped the front bumper assembly and snapped the air temp sensor bracket into pieces and broke a headlight washer hose connector. A trip to the dealer for a $5 bracket and generous amounts of superglue fixed those two problems respectively.

On paper, replacing the alternator is very simple. Just unclip the charge wire, unscrew the grounding cable, unscrew the three mounting bolts, pull it out, and reverse the procedure with the new one. In reality, it's a tight area in there and unscrewing the grounding wire is all blind work with your hand and a wrench jammed up in behind the thing. The tolerances on the mounts are super-tight, so I literally had to shave off some of the aluminum on the new alternator mount to create just enough of a beveled edge to get it started enough so I could pound it the rest of the way in with some high-tech tools (a piece of wood and big hammer). I wanted to take the least amount of metal off as possible of course, so it was a trial-and-error process of shaving off a tenth of a millimeter and trying to put it in. Each try took about ten minutes of squeezing, turning, wrenching and pounding then reversing to get it back out when it didn't work. About eight hours from when I popped the hood, the new alternator was in place.

While the alternator was out, I took the time to clean up the area that had been sprayed over time by the cam seal oil leak I had fixed under warranty. A clean bike is a fast bike, so I figure a clean engine is a fast engine, right? Plus, it just looks nicer having things shiny instead of covered with black sludge.

I popped in the new belt tensioner. That took about four minutes and required nothing more than a hex wrench. After the toil over the alternator, it was nice to do something very simple.

With the required repair done, it was time for the fun part: upgrades. The upgrades are basically all preventive measures to beef up the after-turbo part of the air intake system. Especially if I decide to put in a chip and ask more out of the turbos, I want to know I've done what I can to make it as easy as possible on them. The bipipe and diverters help prevent leaks which would cause the turbos to work too hard, and the high efficiency intercoolers that cool the pressurized air more also help decrease the load on the turbos.

I pulled off the old intercoolers and had a bit of a surprise. About a tablespoon of oil spilled out of the left intercooler and surrounding hoses. The photo shows the new intercooler in place with the old, oily one behind on the floor. Some research helped alleviate my panic about a turbo seal about to blow. "Blow-by" gasses that blow by the piston seals are re-circulated into the air intake via the PCV valve to help cut emissions of nasty gases into the atmosphere. The gases pick up little bits of oil as they pass through the crankcase and that oily air empties into the Y-pipe intake. The oil dribbles down the left side, through the left turbo, and ends up collecting in the left intercooler. Some S4 owners, especially those who track their cars and demand a lot from their engines, install a catch can between the crankcase and the PCV valve to collect that oil. I put that project as a possibility on my "to do" list for the future.

The stock rubber boot over the throttle body is notorious for tears at higher pressures, so I replaced it with a stainless metal bipipe from APR. The installation was pretty easy, though I did have to shave some off the diverter valve hoses to get the pipe to fit without hitting a wiring harness and to get the diverters to sit low enough to clear the engine cover. Still, the boost sensor sits high enough to interfere with the cover, so I'm leaving it off for now.

When you're heavy on the boost, and then let off the gas to shift or slow down, there's suddenly a build-up of pressure between the turbos and the closed butterfly valve in the throttle body. The diverter valves are then triggered by the vacuum system to divert that extra boost back into the pre-turbo air intake. I replaced the stock diverters (model 710A) with new, more robust diverters from the Audi TT (model 710N). As a point of interest, the short little fabric-covered vacuum hose on the driver's side diverter in the photo costs $41 to get a replacement from the dealer. I'm glad I didn't need a replacement. That seems like too much for a little rubber hose. Must be that German engineering, eh?

With bits around the throttle body assembled, I worked back down and started putting in the new intercoolers. The larger intercoolers required some cutting of sheet metal and plastic bits. Pulling out the Dremel, I took a deep breath, and started cutting.

When you start cutting pieces of your car off, it's a scary moment, let me tell you. Forget about "measure twice, cut once." Try "measure five times, check for other items in the way that you don't want to cut about three times, phone your mom and donate some money to charity to build up some good karma, then cut once." The intercoolers were a tight install, and I had to drill a couple new holes in the right fiberglass intake shroud and cut a bit of the left horn mount before everything was back together.

Last but not least. I pressed on the new snub engine mount. Again, easier said than done. I applied quite a bit of silicone lube and it took lots of pressing and wiggling to get that sucker on. Good thing I've been lifting a little recently. The mount is larger and tougher than the stock version, and is supposed to decrease and improve the play in the engine/transmission linkage.

I reassembled the front of the car. Reconnected the headlights, turn signals, horns, fog lights, headlight washers, air temp sensor, electric fan drive, air conditioner condenser, radiator, coolant temp sensor, condenser wire, and hood release cable. It took a couple hours to get all that stuff back together.

I replaced the coolant with G12+, refilled the windshield washer reservoir, and decided to change the oil while I was at it. I emptied the oil pan and then broke my rubber strap tool trying to get the filter off. Sigh. One last insult. The next day, I went to Sears and picked up the best damn filter wrench in the universe. That sucker made short work of the filter and it was off in no time.

I came close to putting the cat-back exhaust on, but after looking under the car, decided that I was too close to wrenching burnout. I put that project off for later, and might consider having a pro with a lift do it. My jack stands are fine, but it's still gonna be a bee-atch laying under there wrenching rusty bolts under close tolerances. It's an easy and not to costly job for a pro, and it's not a complicated job I'm worried about someone screwing up.

I started up the car, turned the heat on full, and warmed her up to coolant operating temperature to circulate it well and get all the air out. Then I tightened the snub mount bracket and took off for a test drive.

Sweet. None of these upgrades was supposed to make any big differences, but my seat-of-the-pants performance meter told me something was different. The shifting definitely seems tighter with less "thunking" from the transmission between lower gears. I swear the boost gauge is showing an extra psi or two of boost - up to about eight to nine from seven to eight - but it seems like it shouldn't be because the computer is still only asking for the stock amount.

In any case, everything seems very quick and solid, just a hint moreso than before and there are no obviously hissing leaks, no dentist drill turbo noises, no dripping oil, etc. She's good to go and back on the road.