Plan B

Several years ago I began getting a check engine light on my Subaru Outback. The code was being caused because the emissions self check determined there were unturned hydrocarbons, venting directly from the gas tank to the atmosphere, not through the char-coal canister as designed. This is often referred to as “the gas cap code”.

The light came on more frequently until several months ago when it remained lit all the time. A couple of weeks ago I pulled in to a gas station. The pump island was not level. The driver’s side of the car was several inches lower than the right side. As I topped off the tank I smelled gas, and saw gas dripping down from the tank. Ugh!

I put the car on the lift and found gas seeping from a plastic valve on the top of the tank. Now, Subaru was kind enough to put an access panel in the floor, under the rear seat, to access the fuel pump. They were also kind enough to place an access cover over the fuel sending unit. Servicing these two items is quite easy, and does not require dropping the tank. Unfortunately, there is no way to access this plastic valve without dropping the tank. The two access covers are very far from this plastic valve.

To remove the gas tank on this car, first the drive shaft, rear axle, rear suspension and the exhaust system needs to be removed. Then, the tank can be lowered. When pricing parts, I discovered the gas tank straps are no longer available from Subaru, and not yet available in the aftermarket.

I had a hard time justifying the time and expense to perform this task on a 14 year old car with 247,000 miles on it. If there was only a way to ac-cess the valve from inside the car, if only…

subaru gas tank removalWell, it took less than a minute to cut a hole in the floor with my saws-all. After the valve was replaced it took about ten minutes to weld the metal back the way it was. Interestingly, it looks like the valve failed because something dissolved the plastic, I believe it was ethanol. This was also a good time to coat the area with a liberal thick coat of Fluid Film.

With the valve replaced the threat of gas vapors was gravely reduced it was safe to weld. I was more than a little on edge welding so close to the gas tank. I placed a piece of sheet metal between the tank and the floor. I had two fire extinguishers and water on hand, just in case.

Yea, this was a hack job, but a very well done hack job.


Please email all inquiries to: Dave
or snail mail
32 Turkey Hill Road
Richmond VT 05477

A Universal Problem – Dave’s Garage

Many automobile manufacturers have been making drive shaft universal joints as a non- serviceable item. These universal joints are also sealed, with no grease fittings or provisions to grease the joint. When the joint eventually fails, (due to lack of lubrication) the entire drive shaft has to be replaced. These universal joints are held in the yokes with stakes, punched in with a press at the factory, and are therefore referred to as “staked in” U-joints. Ford, Chrysler, GM, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, Jaguar and BMW all have models utilizing staked in universal joints. The Mazda Miata and virtually all Subarus have those joints.

I recently noticed a vibration in my Subaru Outback. When I removed the driveshaft between the transmission and the rear axle both universal joints were binding, with rust powder falling out of the trunnion. Subaru has been using staked in universal joints for years. Subaru does not offer a replacement joint. According to Subaru, the drive shaft is not serviceable, and when a carrier bearing or a universal joint fails, the entire drive shaft assembly needs to be replaced. The cost for a replacement drive shaft is roughly $850. I was not about to purchase an $850 driveshaft because a $30 universal joint failed. Outside of the joints the driveshaft still looked new, no rust anywhere.

Once again, Google is my friend. I found a driveshaft shop that makes replacement universal joints for staked in universal joint drive shafts. This replacement universal joint has an internal snap ring designed to work with this type of drive shaft yoke.

I ordered two joints. The original joints were easily pressed out with my press. Once there was moderate pressure on the trunnion cap, bang! They popped right out.

Installing the new joints was slightly tricky. I had to dress the trunnion cap mating surface in the yoke with a half round file to remove the burrs from the previous staked in joints. I also needed to dress the inner face of the yoke to make a nice flat surface for the new snap rings to go. Once assembled, I needed to tweak the caps a tad to make the joint flex easily. Slight persuasion with a ball peen hammer was required to seat the trunnion caps with the internal snap rings. Once everything was done, there was no binding or free play in the joints. Before I installed the drive shaft I applied grease with the grease gun until I could see fresh grease oozing out of all four trunnion caps. Here is one of the old joints. Notice the burrs on the bearing surface.


Please email all inquiries to: Dave
or snail mail
32 Turkey Hill Road
Richmond VT 05477

The Parts Car – Dave’s Garage

Several years ago the price of scrap steel went up. Way up. As a result of this rise in scrap prices, many salvage yards crushed and scrapped much of their inventory. This was not a good thing for those of us with older cars.

Recently, scrap prices have dropped, dramatically. This is good news for consumers of used parts for older vehicles. Salvage yards are less inclined to scrap inventory, and older cars taken off the road are less desirable for scrappers. A recent search on Craigslist led to the discovery of many available parts cars, all at reasonable prices.

For older cars, Gates Salvage in Hardwick has piles and miles of cars. For more recent cars, local pick-n-pull yards or Craigslist probably have the car you are looking for.

Purchasing parts cars can be quite valuable during restorations, and for maintaining an older daily driver. I recently purchased several Saab 900 parts cars. Parts for Saabs are becoming hard to get. It is very handy to have whole parts cars available when parts are needed. Often a whole parts car can be had for the cost of one replacement part.

I have had many parts cars over the years. I usually end up selling parts I don’t need to other enthusiasts, often recouping the initial cost of the car. Once the car has been picked of useful parts, it goes to the scrap yard.

The only down side to having parts cars is storage. It is hard to justify valuable garage space for a junk car. A lack of adequate storage could be a problem. Ideally a parts car should be located in a garage, barn shed or in an outside area where the vehicle is not visible. Your parts car is an eyesore for your neighbors. Many municipalities have ordinances prohibiting possession of unregistered vehicles on the property. With a few tarps, a parts car looks the same as a woodpile.


Please email all inquiries to: Dave
or snail mail
32 Turkey Hill Road
Richmond VT 05477

Making non-ethanol gas out of ethanol gas (E10) – Dave’s Garage

Dave was super busy this month so the staff at Wheel Tracks decided to go with a story that Wendell Nobel mentioned about making non-ethanol gas out of ethanol gas (E10). The hope is that members will not try the process but instead will more thoroughly understand this ethanol problem that we have.

Wendell Noble tells a story of an article he read of someone in the Northeast Kingdom removing ethanol from his gas for his chainsaw use. The gent simply adds water to five gallons of the dreaded E10 gas. The water speeds the separation of the ethanol and settles to the bottom of the gas can. The gent then siphoned off the non-ethanol gas on the top. He uses the “stuff” on the bottom, the water and ethanol mix, to wash his windows! (who wodda guessed). Here is a more detailed process taken from an internet story……

How to make your own ethanol-free gasoline… Ethanol is the scourge of owners of old cars, motorcycles, boats, and many other gasoline-operated vehicles and implements. E10 (10% ethanol) is pretty much the only available gasoline in most of the country now, with a few stations offering ethanol-free gas. And E15 (15% ethanol) is coming soon, recently approved by the EPA for 2001 and newer cars – even though the car manufacturers don’t want it. You can thank the ethanol lobby for that.

What’s the problem with ethanol? The biggest problem is phase separation. Like brake fluid, ethanol is hygroscopic, which means it bonds very easily to water. If there is moisture in the air (which there always is), the moisture bonds with the ethanol. The combination of water and ethanol is heavier than gasoline, so it falls to the bottom of the gas tank, where the pickup is. Let it sit for any length of time, particularly with a partially-full gas tank (because the air space left will contain moisture, and will expand and contract with heat, sucking in more moisture-laden air), and your tank will have a layer of water/ethanol mixture on the bottom. This is called phase separation. Guess what gets sucked into your engine the next time you start it? The water/ethanol mixture will burn in your engine, but it will burn much leaner and hotter, with the potential for serious engine damage as a result. Ethanol is particularly corrosive to plastics, rubber, aluminum and fiberglass when compared to straight gasoline.

So what is the solution? Well, you can check out the web site http://pure-gas.org to try to find a gas station near you that sells ethanol-free gas. Hint: many boat marinas sell ethanol-free gas, because with the added moisture in a boating environment, E10 plays havoc with boat engines. How do you remove the ethanol from E10? It’s quite simple, actually – just add water! Remember, ethanol bonds strongly to water. All you need to do is add some water to the gasoline, agitate to make sure it mixes well, then let it sit for a few minutes. The water will bond with the ethanol, and it will phase-separate out, falling to the bottom of the container. So how much water do you add? It depends on a few things, including the actual concentration of ethanol (which will vary – it’s seldom exactly 10%), and ambient temperature. Dave’s testing shows that the optimal amount of water is 2% by volume of the E10. That’s 2.56 oz per gallon, or 12.8 ounces for a five-gallon gas can. Remember that extra water will simply separate out, so two cups (16 ounces) of water in a five-gallon gas can is safe. You should use distilled water only, to avoid leaving behind any minerals or other additives that your engine may not like (does fluoride keep your carburetors clean?).

Please folks, Wheel Tracks suggests that you do not try this procedure.
Isn’t it amazing the lengths folks have gone to operate their gas engines without E10?

One wonders if you line up twenty politicians in a row and ask why we have ethanol in our gas, what ridiculous answers we would hear.


Please email all inquiries to: Dave
or snail mail
32 Turkey Hill Road
Richmond VT 05477

1928 Hupmobile – Dave’s Garage

Dear Dave, I have a ’28 Hupmobile that is not coming out of it’s winter cocoon too well!

It has gas, I have spark, & I believe we’ve got air, but maybe you can help me figure out what I can do to make it run. I have charged the battery. When I depress the starter toe switch it engages the starter & occasionally it “catches” and runs and then sputters out. My Hup manual says to bring a car that’s sat idle for a while back to life, it is recommended to put 2 tablespoons of oil down each cylinder (take plug out, pour oil in, put plug back on), this will create vacuum so carb can suck gas from the vacuum system (which worked like a charm last year). And it worked ok for a little while this year, but after it burns out the oil, the car doesn’t stay running.

I tried spraying starter fluid down the throat of the carb….it worked for a little duration, but didn’t stay running. When I gave it more gas to get the idle up, it would sputter and die. I checked to see if we’re getting gas from the tank, I did this by disconnecting the hose that comes off the vacuum canister on the firewall. With the spigot open, we get plenty of gas out of the canister. I also unscrewed the strainer plug (this car has a Stromberg sf-2 carb) off the top of the carb to see if we had gas there, oh, we’ve got plenty of gas there…..Could it be the float is sticking or is stuck or is sunk in the carb?

So I’m at a loss. There seems to be a screw on the bottom of the carb….perhaps I can unscrew that to release all the gas in the carb & it will move the internal debris so the float might work better? Or should I just remove the whole carburetor and carefully take it apart, clean all the bits and pieces and reassemble it? Any insights would be helpful.

Respectfully, Chris Chartier

 

Chris,

It sounds like you have done enough trouble shooting to trace the problem to the carburetor. You are getting fuel, you are getting spark, and you have enough compression to start the engine.

It is very common for a carburetor to be gummed up after being in storage. You could also have a float issue. The float could either be sunken or stuck. The needle valve could also be sticking. The first thing I would check is the float level. You can easily tell if the float has a hole in it. It will not rise to the top of the float bowl, and when shaken you can hear and feel gas in it. If the float has a hole in it, you can also remove it and usually see gasoline weeping out of a crack or a hole. If you find a crack or a hole, and the float is brass, you can temporarily fix it with J.B Weld, or carefully solder it with a soldering iron to make it function until you get a new float.

If the needle valve is sticking, the float will float, but the needle valve will not shut off. This will cause the carb to flood out.

If everything checks out with the float and the needle valve, I would suspect the main jet next. If the jet has any gum, varnish or debris in it, it will not allow the fuel to atomize and the engine will not run. It is common to find small particles in the bottom of the float bowl, and often in the jet too. I would remove the jet and visually inspect it. Clean the jet and the bottom of the float bowl out really well with carburetor cleaner, then blow the jet out with compressed air.

You may need to obtain a gasket set or a carb rebuild kit to clean the carburetor and get it to function well again.


Please email all inquiries to: Dave
or snail mail
32 Turkey Hill Road
Richmond VT 05477

Spring Dust-Off Check – Dave’s Garage

Recently I hosted the New England M.G. “T” Register spring meet in Saratoga Springs New York. We had M.G. cars driving from all over the north east to the event. Three M.G.s broke down at the event, and our technical inspection found many serious safety problems needing immediate attention. One M.G. T.C. had a pinion failure in the rear axle. Another T.C. had a water pump failure. Two T.D.s had charging problems, resulting in flat batteries and dead cars. One T.D. had a broken trunion at the King pin in the front suspension. This could have broken causing the wheel to fall off. Several cars had bare, un-fused hot wires dangerously close to grounding and shorting out. Interestingly, these cars also lacked a battery cut off switch or fire extinguishers. Several cars had dried out gaskets causing gasoline leaks at the carburetors, right next to the hot exhaust manifolds. This made me realize the importance of a methodical inspection before taking an antique car on a several hundred mile trip, or out of the garage in the spring for another season of joy rides.

The first check, before starting the engine, is a brake and fluid check. This includes the differential, transmission, and engine oil, brake fluid and coolant. While under the hood check belts and hoses, and the water pump. Check radiator hoses for buldging and cracking.

A good inspection of the front suspension and steering components is also a good idea. This includes wheel bearings, tie rod ends, drag links, ball joints and steering joints. When were the wheel bearings last re-packed? When was the front end last greased? A check of the drive shaft, spring mounts and rear suspension is also a good idea. Check all brake hoses. How old is the brake fluid? If it is not silicon dot 5 fluid, less than three years old, or you don’t know, change it. Look at the tires for cracks in the tread and side walls, bulges in the side walls and the early signs of tread separation. Lastly, check the general wiring, battery, battery cables, and make sure the battery is securely anchored in the vehicle.

This check goes for trailers, too. Our portable lift blew a tire on the way home. When I inspected the trailer at the event, I questioned the integrity of the tires. One blew less than 24 hours later.

If you do drive on a long trip, ask your club members what spare parts to carry. Should you bring a set of plugs? Cap and rotor? Water pump? Fan belt? Voltage regulator? carb kit? Points and condenser? All handy things to have when you really need them.

Before driving the vehicle, always give the brake pedal a good stomp to ensure the brakes are functional. A half hour spent checking out the car would well avoid the unpleasant cell phone call from the side of a hot road, and the hassle of a 200 mile flat bed towing.


Please email all inquiries to: Dave
or snail mail
32 Turkey Hill Road
Richmond VT 05477

Fender Unbender – Dave’s Garage

subaru fender benderRecently my wife was driving the kids to school in the Subaru when the truck in front of her stopped. She didn’t. The impact smashed the left headlight assembly, and bent the hood, fender and radiator support. The headlight also contains the directional and running lamp. The hood was bent enough to separate the skin from the frame.

I estimated the damage would be about $1,500 if I took it to a body shop. I have a thousand dollar deductible, so this repair would cost me at least $500.

I also knew a new headlamp assembly, new hood, new fender and fresh paint would not match the rest of the car. The car is a 2002 with 234,000 miles on it. The shiny new headlight would not match the one on the right side, the paint would not match and the finish would not have the same “patina” as the rest of the car. The quote for a used hood from the salvage yard was $50, and the fender was $35. Unfortunately, they did not have any red ones.

A new headlamp assembly from Subaru is about $350. One from a salvage yard was $35. I bent the metal behind the headlamp assembly back in to shape, and used a hammer and dolly on the fender to achieve a good fit with the new headlamp. I pulled the hood frame back in to shape, and hammered the hood skin back to shape. I wire brushed the metal until it was clean, then I epoxy primed the bare metal. I hammered the hood skin back over the frame and finished hammering the shape until the fit was satisfactory.

I will continue to look for a used hood and fender. If I can not find them used, I will put a light skim coat of body filler on the fender and hood, and repaint them. I will have to clear-coat the entire hood and fender. Unfortunately, the price of the primer, sealer, red paint, reducer, hardener, and clear-coat will be more than the used panels, and I know the paint won’t match. In the meantime, the car is roadworthy again, and I have only spent $35.


Please email all inquiries to: Dave
or snail mail
32 Turkey Hill Road
Richmond VT 05477

 

Cabin Air Filter – Dave’s Garage

Most cars sold today have a cabin air filter, usually located behind the glovebox in the dashboard. This will filter dust, pollen and dirt entering the Heating, Air Conditioning and Ventilation System.

cabin air filterI recently noticed the airflow on my Subaru’s heater was weak on one of the many below zero mornings. I remembered this car had a cabin air filter, and I know I have never replaced it. The owners manual states the filter should be replaced annually, or every 15 thousand miles, depending on the conditions the car is driven in. This car has 230,000 miles on it, and this was the factory cabin filter, I had never changed it. I live on a very dusty dirt road, so I should theoretically be changing the filter more often.

The filter was inexpensive enough, and in stock at my local friendly auto parts store. When I took the old filter out, I was not surprised to find the filter was quite dirty. I was surprised to find a great deal of dirt and pine needles sandwiched between the A/C evaporator and the filter. I pulled out about a cup of dirt, and a handful of pine needles.

I used a vacuum cleaner to vacuum out the HVAC box, and a paint brush to get all the dirt off the A/C evaporator. I turned the heater fan on high to blow out any remaining dust, dirt and debris.

I was very impressed with the improvement in the airflow with the new filter. The volume of air going through the cars vents was noticeably higher.

The heater works much better now.

Cabin air filters in cars are a relatively new phenomenon. As cars have become more and more maintenance free, it is a bit unusual to have something new to remember to maintain. If the new filter does not include a sticker to log the date and the mileage of the replacement, it is a good idea to log this information on a piece of masking tape and place it somewhere on the car as a maintenance reminder.


Please email all inquiries to: Dave
or snail mail
32 Turkey Hill Road
Richmond VT 05477

Aah, I’ve Found the Problem, I Think – Dave’s Garage

Have you ever tried to fix something, had that Eureka! Moment and found a problem that would explain why it did not work, then fixed the problem only to find out that was not the problem after all? You put it back together, confident you finally fixed it, only to see the same problem return. Sure, it worked better, but it still has a problem. Ugh!

I was noticing that my tractor was occasionally not running correctly. I thought I heard the tell tale sound of a head gasket leak several times. I checked the torque of the heads, and sure enough, some of the head bolts were slightly tighter than finger tight. I re-torqued the head bolts and the noise was gone. This, I thought, may explain why the tractor did not always run well under a load. I confidently used the tractor thinking the problem was gone. The noise was gone, and it did run better, but, the same problem of stumbling under a load returned.

In a modern engine, the on board diagnostic computer will pinpoint problems. With a scan tool, a technician can read trouble codes, live data from sensors and use software to direct them to the specific problem. With older equipment, problem solving requires some real problem solving skills.

An internal combustion engine needs compression, fuel and spark to run. As simple as it sounds, there is plenty that can go wrong and cause poor performance.

I went back to trying to diagnose the problem with my tractor. I checked the compression, and it was exactly what it should be for an engine in good mechanical condition.

I suspected the condenser was the problem. After a recent snow storm I tried to snow blow the driveway with the tractor. It stumbled and had very little power. I checked the carburetor and found it was in need of a cleaning. The condition of the carburetor was enough to justify the poor performance of the tractor. While I had the carburetor apart I also pulled the points and condenser and inspected them. The points were very pitted and corroded. I was actually a bit surprised the engine could run with the points as corroded as they were. The condenser did not have the right resistance, so it too was faulty.

When the tune up was done the tractor ran much better, had more power and idled smoothly. The carburetor, points and the con-denser each could have caused the poor performance of the engine. So, what was the main problem? I will never know.

Editor’s notes… Funny the subject of tractors comes up. The one I have had for 16 years recently had a starter problem. After tearing it apart and experimenting several times I went back to it’s home where I bought it in Canada for some advice. When that advice didn’t work out I visited an American dealer for advice… and two more tear-downs later, still no go. I have given up and a re-manufactured unit is on it’s way from mid-west, USA. By now I don’t care if I know the problem, I just want to cut wood and remove a foot of driveway snow. Your right Dave… Ugh!


Please email all inquiries to: Dave
or snail mail
32 Turkey Hill Road
Richmond VT 05477

Frozen Piston Rings – Dave’s Garage

A little over a year my Chrysler minivan burned an exhaust valve. While diagnosing the problem, I did a compression check. All the cylinders had roughly 175 psi of compression, except cylinder six which had zero.

After replacing the burned valve, I checked the compression again, and found this cylinder only had about 70 psi. The engine had an uneven idle and a bit of a skip under acceleration. I decided to leave it for a while and see what happened.

I checked the compression again last weekend, and it was still only 70 psi. Remembering that there was no appreciable wear on the cylinder walls, I realized that the cause of the low compression was either broken rings, or frozen rings.

I knew the fix for broken rings would involve a tear down of the engine. Knowing that Marvel Mystery Oil is the “go to” fix for a frozen engine, I decided to try something that may fix frozen rings that would not involve tearing the engine down. I poured a mixture of 50% Marvel Mystery Oil and 50% Acetone through the spark plug hole, and left it overnight. The next morning I turned the engine over a few times to expel the fluid, then I checked the compression. To my relief, the compression was up to 150 psi. This is still lower than the other cylinders, but more than double what it was. The rough idle and skip are gone. I will drive the van for a few weeks and check the compression again.

This fix is much cheaper, faster and easier than removing the head, dropping the oil pan and removing the piston to mechanically free up the rings.

A 50/50 mix of ATF and Acetone is still my go to concoction for freeing up frozen hardware. The fluid is much thinner than conven-tional penetrating oil. I am still amazed at how well this works, and I almost feel like I am somehow cheating. It works so much better than anything else I’ve used, and it is much, much cheaper too.

Because Acetone is a solvent, this concoction needs to be kept in a sealed metal container. I have a metal oil can with a screw on cap on the end of the flexible tube.


Please email all inquiries to: Dave
or snail mail
32 Turkey Hill Road
Richmond VT 05477