Time is Money

My Chrysler minivan got a little rusty over the winter. This vehicle is too old to be worth much, but still practical and useful. It is a great vehicle to make the weekly dump run, go to Home Depot and to run errands with. It is also fantastic in the snow with the all-wheel drive system. With these duties, and with two teenage boys in the house it makes sense to keep it, and I can’t justify replacing it.

The lift gate is really too rusty to feasibly repair. A new lift gate is unjustifiably expensive. At the salvage yard I was told a decent used lift gate would be $275, and unless I got lucky and found a silver one, I would still have to paint it.

I found a van with a totally rust free lift gate, but it had a large dent in it. I asked how much they wanted for this one and was given a price of $50.

I had to buy paint to fix the rocker panels, one quarter panel and the front fender anyway. With a couple hours of work, the dent was removed and the lift gate is ready for paint. A couple hours of work saved me over $200.


I Just Can’t Stop!

Let’s face it. Old cars have lousy brakes. Model T Fords only have brakes on the rear wheels, and even those do not work very well. To be fair, the Model T seldom goes over 30 miles an hour.

In the 1950’s and through the 1960’s, cars got bigger and much more powerful. As cars were getting heavier and faster, most still had single circuit drum brakes, many without power assist. Safety standards allowed single circuit brakes through the 1967 model year in the United States. If any brake line or hose ruptured, you had no brakes. If you have an older car with questionable brakes, and you enjoy driving it, you may want to consider upgrading the brakes.

lousy brakesThere are many aftermarket suppliers offering kits to upgrade brakes. Often, the parts were manufactured for later models of similar vehicles, and the parts easily bolt on earlier vehicles.

I believe if you actually drive and enjoy your car, simply upgrading to a dual circuit brake system is an important upgrade. This usually requires simply changing the master cylinder and adding a hard line or two. You may have to also add a proportioning valve. Often, this modification can also include adding power brakes by adding a vacuum booster servo.

Adding front disk brakes is another upgrade to consider. This can also be done after upgrading the master cylinder to a duel circuit system. Adding front disk brakes may involve changing the spindles. There are many kits available with all of the hardware needed for an out of the box bolt on installation.

I recently purchased a new, duel circuit master cylinder kit for the 1959 Corvette. This car is fun to drive, but just can’t stop. This kit is designed to also work with a front disk conversion kit, if I ever decide to go that route.

If you are considering improving the brakes on your car, check parts suppliers catalogues and on line forums to see what is available for improving your brakes.

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



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

1954 Dodge Power Wagon

1954 Dodge Power WagonIn the fall of 2006 I acquired a 1954 Dodge Power Wagon truck while out driving the back roads of Vermont, route 109 to be exact. A rusty old truck next to the road caught my eye. The owner happened to be mowing his lawn so I stopped . I must have been blinded by the Rust Flu for I could not see how much work this truck really needed. I seemed to miss the broken frame and the fact that two cylinder walls were cracked. The head to the 230 ci motor was resting on the front seat. Someone had cut the last two inches off the bed with a torch. Inhabitants plagued the cab like a condo running amuck, five mouse nests, two bees nest and a dead snake, biohazard site for sure. The nests rotted out the wiper cowl area and lower doors. This old wood truck had its share of running into objects, bed sides bowed out no doubt from being overloaded. Previous owners must have been amateurs at throwing wood and used the back of the cab as a backboard. The Rust Flu was hard at work, swaying any rational thought, letting passion and desire overrun common sense. Gazing googly eyed into pitted headlight buckets. Trying to justify the legitimacy of restoration or delegate the vehicle to mere parts car status.

Why a Power Wagon? Just a work truck, a tractor with a cab, born out of the World War II WC trucks. My interest in vehicles isn’t just the flow of the lines, blending of panels, 50 shades of gray, horsepower, and chrome bumpers, its the history of the vehicle, stories, development and researching parts manuals and shop manuals. This truck was legendary for its toughness and durability like the men who used it. From combat to farms both environments demanding, it answered the call. Restoration started with disassembly, the endless labeling & bagging. The parts list continued to grow. While tracking down parts, I met some great people and contacts, this is the other joy of our hobby. The down side is the endless sandblasting and expense. Many restorations fail at this point and keeping the spark and drive alive can be tough. I stayed involved by attending rallies and online forums, gaining knowledge I needed for the restoration. Each vehicle has its unique quirks, you know what I mean. Before the Shelburne show I had only driven a Power Wagon once before, an M37 military equivalent, it had a synchromesh transmission and mine doesn’t. It left an impression of crude but purpose built machine, rugged and overbuilt. I was hooked. Hooked enough to endure 10 years worth of, on and off again restoration effort. I kept pecking away at it. Locating a good frame, salvageable block and a lot of bed pieces. A tough process for a vehicle that the aftermarket reproduction companies tend to ignore because there isn’t a healthy profit in it. I was use to Mustangs, parts available anytime, anywhere and reasonably priced,…. Down to every nut and bolt. I found Power Wagons have a true and devoted following. Make a few connections and used parts and advice can be found. So I set monthly goals, little tasks and kept working at it. March of 2015 I had the bed done, April wiring and May the brakes. The Shelburne Show was the maiden voyage with the truck, still not complete, but I attained the goal. I do all my own work except for a few select things, I’ll be the first to admit “jack of all trades master of none”. It’s a battle when everything is twice as heavy and damaged. The old truck was well received and many nice comments. People stopped to tell stories of their Dodge experiences. Timber handlers, farmers, uncles, dads and Veterans all had something to say about a Power Wagon, invoking memories of the past. Listening to the stories only added to the event. Now, if I could only manage more than 35 mph, or as I like to say” I can go anywhere in the world at 30MPH……… VIVA LA POWERWAGON…

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

My Tool Boxes – Dave’s Garage

toolboxThis month, I am talking about my tool box, or rather, my tool boxes. I have three tool boxes, lined up to each other side by side. On the farthest right side I have my first tool box. It is an inexpensive Craftsman tool box that I have had since I was a young teenager. For years this sat next to my work bench. Whatever did not fit in this box or the drawers of my work bench was hung up on the garage walls. This tool box now holds tools that I seldom use. These tools include things like my air conditioning tools, brake tools, and engine rebuilding tools. Some tools sit in this tool box for a year or more with no use.

The tool box in the middle is a better grade Craftsman tool box that was a hand-me-down from my father-in-law. This tool box holds tools like hammers, files, my 3/4″ socket set, clamps, pliers, drill bits, tin snips, my tap and die set and measuring equipment.

The tool box on the far left is a professional grade stainless steel toolbox. This tool box came from Costco about 15 years ago. This tool box has the tools I use the most, tools like wrenches, ratchets, spring compressors, pullers, dwell meter, tune up tools, and test equipment. The tools that are used the most are in the upper drawers, with lesser used tools in the drawers below. I have mounted badges from cars long gone to my tool box as a way to personalize it.

I am rather partial to quality hand tools. These are the tools that are part of the physical connection between us and our car hobby. The wrenches we hold in our hand to work on our car are a tangible connection to our vehicle, something we spend a great deal of time physically holding in our hands.

wrenchI purchased my first set of fully polished wrenches almost 20 years ago. These wrenches are very comfortable to hold, and very rewarding to use. The box end of the wrench does not simply grab the corners of nuts and bolts, but, rather also grabs them on the flats too. In addition to being very comfortable to use, these wrenches grip fasteners very well, greatly reducing the possibility of the wrench slipping and stripping the head of the fastener. I have been told that Snap-on pioneered and patented this idea, but the patents have expired. The box end of these wrenches is very small, allowing them to fit in to tight places. These wrenches are also very light weight, making them much easier to use. When I finish with a job, I always wipe my tools down with a rag before I put them away. Traditional drop forged satin finished wrenches are very hard to keep clean. Fully polished wrenches come clean with a quick wipe. Sometimes it is necessary to give them a quick wipe with a rag dipped in Kerosene. Either way, they come clean easily.

Having the right wrench is important. Sometimes only a short “stubby” wrench will fit; other times an off set wrench will do the trick. Sometimes there is no room for a socket wrench to fit, but a ratchet wrench will fit just fine. Working on tubing is almost impossible without a quality flare wrench. Soft fittings made out of aluminum or brass are very easy to strip. All of my SAE wrenches have their own drawer, as do all of my Metric and BSF (Whitworth) wrenches.

car mechanics toolboxNo toolbox should be without sockets too. I have both 6 point and 12 point sockets, in both standard and deep socket. I have these socket sets in Metric, SAE and BSF (British Whitworth). I have these sockets in 1/4″, 3/8″ and 1/2″. All of my 1/4″ sockets have their own drawer, as do my 3/8″, 1/2″ and 3/4″ sockets.

I also have an assortment of ratchets and extensions too. Wobble extensions are a necessity for hard to reach nuts and bolts. I have some dedicated pipes, or “cheater bars” too. I have a two foot pipe in my 1/2″ socket drawer, and a 5′ pipe next to the tool box.

Most of my hand tools are in cradles, so in addition to keeping them well organized I can pick them up and carry them over to whatever I am working on. This is very handy with both wrenches and sockets.

Most of my hand tools are Craftsman “professional” tools I have purchased significantly marked down on sale at Sears. Most of my BSF tools were made in India, they are very high quality but also relatively inexpensive. The tools I use less frequently are very inexpensive. I can’t justify (or afford) top quality tools that I only use a couple of times a year. My A/C vacuum pump is a $10 Harbor Freight pump. I bought a carbon pile battery load tester from Harbor Freight about 10 years ago. It looks a lot like the $500 Snap-On tool, but it only cost $30 with a coupon. It probably does not work as well as the Snap-on, but for the few times a year I use it works quite well.

auto mechanics toolboxI have an assortment of specialty tools that I have purchased from auto parts stores, these were usually tools that I needed to finish a project.

The most important part of tool ownership is taking care of them. They can not work if they can’t be found easily. If they are not properly taken care of, they will not perform for you when you need them. If I need a hand in the shop, I can ask someone to get a tool for me. I know right where it is, and can give quick instructions to someone to retrieve it for me.

I never use a cheater pipe on a high quality ratchet. I have standard drop forged Craftsman ratchets for those jobs. If it breaks, it gets fixed or replaced for free. If it gets a ding in it, it won’t ruin my day. I never hit a high quality wrench with a hammer, I have a Harbor Freight set I use when I need to whack a wrench with a hammer.

I spend a lot of time with my tools, and enjoy using them. If properly taken care of, your tools will take good care of you and your projects.

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