The 2020 Golden Wrench Award

Dave’s Garage is giving space this month to the 2020 Golden Wrench Award Recipients. Congratulations to you all. 

The Vermont Automobile Enthusiasts 

Golden Wrench Award 

May 29, 2020 

(Address & student name……..) 

Congratulations! You have been selected to receive VAE’s Golden Wrench Award. We have found you best exemplify the qualities of the positive attitude toward learning and a drive to succeed in a career in automotive technology or any career that you choose. 

The Vermont Automobile Enthusiasts is an antique and classic car club dedicated to the preservation, protection, promotion and appreciation of automobile history and technology. The VAE is based in Vermont with members from ten States, Canada, Europe and China. 

Your award has come from our belief in the importance of education and continued learning. You are part of a very special group of Vermont high school juniors. You are one of sixteen outstanding students being recognized this Spring, from each of Vermont’s sixteen career centers. Our hope is that recognizing you in your junior year, will energize you to use your last year as a senior, to focus on your future. We have learned of your demonstrative skills in automotive technology and believe you can be successful in any career that you choose. 

We have decided to inform you about winning the award now, but because of the current situation with Covid19, we will not be able to present the award to you until school is back in session, in the Fall. Please notify us of any changes in your residence or status that we will need to know, in order to make certain you receive your award. 

The VAE has been given the great opportunity to work with the Mac Tool Corporation which allows you to enter their Student Discount Program that qualifies you to a 50% to 60% discount as long as you are a student. All you need to do is apply online at Mac Tools and the discount is yours. The $685.00 of Mac Tools that are being presented to you today is the result of this program. 

Beginning this year, we have added a small scholarship to the Golden Wrench Award. It consist of $500 which you may use should you continue your education at an appropriate secondary educational institute. Let us know when you have proof of acceptance to any field of study, from an accredited institution and we will release the funds to you. We hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to continue your education. 

Your award today includes: 

  • The recognition of the VAE and your school staff for your accomplishments 
  • $685.00 of Mac tools and our VAE Golden Wrench Award Trophy 
  • The book by Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, “ The Physics of NASCAR” 
  • A one year membership in the VAE that includes our monthly newsletter “Wheel Tracks” 
  • A $500 scholarship when you are accepted in any secondary education. 
  • Our Blessing to you and your future… Good Luck to you (student name). 

Ed Hilbert 
Ed Hilbert, Chairman, VAE Education/Outreach Committee 

Exhausted

When I pulled the Subaru in to take the winter tires off and wash the undercarriage I heard the unmistakable sound of a muffler leak. I was a bit surprised, as the car is only 5 years old. 

I looked at the muffler, and it looked like it was in good shape, until I saw the weld where the inlet pipe enters the front of the muffler. The weld was rusted through, but the muffler itself was fine. Replacement mufflers from Subaru are very expensive. Aftermarket mufflers only seem to last two or three years. I have had great difficulty having the “lifetime warranty” honored with premium aftermarket mufflers. Even quality aftermarket mufflers do not last as long as factory ones. Many mufflers are replaced due to rusted welds and flanges. 

I have replaced rusted flanges and joints, and repaired rusty welds and had the muffler last longer, than a replacement after-market muffler would have lasted. 

I just couldn’t replace a muffler that was still in such good condition, so I cleaned up the area with the broken weld, and re-welded it. Now, let’s see how long this repair lasts… 

I have always had a fear of fires

When the cars go in to the garage for the winter, I have always believed they should be drivable and ready to be driven out quickly if there is a fire. I leave battery tenders on lead acid batteries (but not gel cell batteries, they have no static discharge) and always disconnect the batteries to prevent an electrical fire. I always make sure the snow is removed from the garage doors, so there is a quick easy exit. 

garage fire

Unfortunately, the events of two weeks ago taught me some things about garage fire safety. I will share what I learned.  

First, the fire department did a fantastic job, and saved a great deal of the contents of the building. Only two cars were totally destroyed. The firemen tried to drive the cars out of the building when they responded. As luck would have it, the cars at the doors were cars with push button or foot pedal starters. Firemen are too young to understand this. They pulled the battery tenders, connected the batteries and turned the key… obviously the cars did not start. 

I have always been creative in fitting cars in to the garage to maximize space. This usually means jacking a car on a floor jack and sliding it into positions that al-low one or two more cars to be squeezed in. I will not do that again. I learned the cars should have a straight shot at the door in the event they need to be evacuated from the building quickly. 

Fire blankets saved the cars. The fire was very hot, melting glass and PVC piping in the building, yet there was only minimal damage to 12 cars just inches away from the fire. When the firemen realized they couldn’t drive the cars out, they threw fire blankets over them. 

This fire was hot. All the cars were driven in to the garage, only two were drivable after the fire (both Saab’s B.T.W.). All the cars received heat, smoke and water damage, and also were damaged by falling ceiling lights and sheetrock. 

Oddly enough, the garage doors opened by themselves, somehow, the heat caused the door openers to short out and open the doors. 

So, what have I learned? First, I will ensure the cars by the exit doors are either newer, automatic cars or at least key start. I will leave an instruction note on the dashboard on how to start the cars. 

Second, cars will be parked with quick and easy access to a straight path out the door. No more jig saw parked cars packed tightly in the building. 

I will continue to do what I have always done, disconnect the batteries, and keep fire extinguishers in all the vehicles. I will also not leave gas cans or flammable objects in the garage. I will avoid using extension cords and not leave items plugged in to wall sockets unless they are being used. As bad as this fire was, it could have been much worse. 

Ethanol Gas & Gas Mileage

Dave, 

I want to share, with you, my story on ethanol gas. As I recall you have done pieces on this topic in the past, however, I thought I would share with you my totally unscientific finding. 

I religiously try to use the non-ethanol in my old cars, lawn mowers, weed whacker, chainsaw, etc. 

Last summer, I had heard from a few folks about their using the non-ethanol gas in their regular driver and getting better gas mileage. My modern vehicle is a 2019 4WD Silverado Chevrolet. With about 10K miles on the vehicle and I was getting on average 21.9 mpg. I drove over 1,000 miles filling the truck with non-ethanol gas and my average was 24.9 mpg, an increase of 3 mpg. My cost per mile with purchasing the higher priced non-ethanol vs the regular ethanol cheaper, gas came out as a wash (depending on the price per gal purchased at the pump). So I figured if it is not costing me more, I am using 15% less fuel, and it should be better for my engine, I have stuck with buying the non-ethanol gas. I am a great environmentalist when it matches up with my cheap side! 

Obviously different drivers, different vehicles, different driving habits would change the results in either direction. Also this was not exactly an apples to apples comparison, because I was comparing regular ethanol to high test non-ethanol. I did not bother to compare how high-test with ethanol would fit in to this mix. Luckily for me I have a local station that carries the non-ethanol fuel. 

I wondered if you ever thought about the ethanol from this angle or not, regardless here is my unscientific sharing that I thought you might find interesting, if nothing else. 

-Eric 

Dear Eric, 

You are correct. Ethanal gas has less energy than conventional gasoline, and you will notice at least a 5% efficiency loss with ethanal gas. My findings have largely aligned with yours. My Subaru has the H-6 engine, which has a 10.7to1 compression ratio, and requires premium gas. When I replaced the head gaskets I had the heads planned flat again, requiring .007” to be shaved off. This obviously increased the compression ratio even higher. (Subaru does not recommend planning these heads…. I have put 100,000 miles on the engine since with no troubles). I also use premium gas in my Saab Turbos. The Subaru and the Saab’s will burn regular gas, but the timing is retarded so far, to prevent preignition that the mileage goes way down, and it actually costs me more money to use the 87 octane gas, due to the decreased mileage. I was also amazed to see how much air conditioning effects mileage. It can drop by as much as 20%. 

Unfortunately, I have only been able to find 91 octane non ethanal gas. Even the non ethanal 91 octane gives better gas mileage than the 93 octane 10% Ethanal gasoline. 

I have had a number of problems with the ethanal gas, with not only the antique cars and small engines, but my daily drivers too. On the antique cars I have had fuel sending units, fuel lines, carburetor rubber parts, fuel pumps and even gas tanks dissolve. I had an exhaust valve burn in my wife’s Chrysler minivan, and I had a plastic valve on the top of the gas tank dissolve on my Subaru Outback. 

Ethanal fuel holds moisture in suspension, which causes the fuel to rust fuel tanks away. I have had gas tanks dissolve on cars that were in extended storage , while stored inside climate controlled garages. 

The only positive thing I can say for ethanal gas is, I don’t have to buy dry gas anymore, I haven’t had a frozen fuel line in years 

“Free” Inspections

Many new car dealers offer “free state inspections” for life when you purchase a vehicle from them. 

Why would car dealerships offer this? The answer is to get you into the service department after the sale of the vehicle. If you were to have the dealership perform scheduled maintenance and repairs, they would make money selling you these services. I have experienced several situations where the dealership uses the “free inspection” to pressure the consumer into consenting to repairs and services that are either not needed or should be covered by the new car warranty. 

I have friends and co-workers who have shared stories of dealerships pressuring them in to performing services, or expensive repairs that may not be necessary. Recently, I brought a one-year old vehicle with 8,000 miles to the dealership for a “free” State inspection. The brake pads and/or calipers had seized, causing the inside of the rotors to not contact the inner brake pads. The dealership flunked the car but said for just less than $500 they could free up the calipers and pads and turn the rotors. I asked why a one-year old vehicle with barely 8,000 miles would need this work, and why it would not be covered by warranty. They stated the warranty only covers parts that need to be replaced, and they would not be replacing any parts. I asked for the keys back and brought the vehicle to an independent shop. The independent shop also flunked it for the same reason, in addition to finding worn out bushings in the rear suspension. They quoted a price of $850 to make the one-year old vehicle, with barely 8,000 miles covered by the factory warranty inspectable. The original dealer then sent out a bill for $45 for the “free” inspection. Apparently, if the vehicle fails the “free” inspection, and you opt not to pay them to fix it, they charge you $45 for the failed inspection. Remember, If the dealership performs a warranty repair, they bill the manufacturer a flat shop rate. The rate a consumer pays for the same repair is significantly more than the flat-rate the manufacturer pays. The dealership would make more money convincing the consumer to pay to make the repair vs. the manufacturer. Why do dealerships do this? Because it works, and they make a lot of money with this business model. 

My advice is this: 

IF you choose to exercise the “free inspection”, read your owner’s manual and warranty carefully before you go to the appointment. IF the dealer recommends any services that are not mentioned in the schedule of maintenance table at the back of the owner’s manual, do not consent to the services. If they push back, point out the factory recommended service schedule in the back of the owner’s manual. If they say service is necessary for an inspection, read the warranty carefully, and point out to them what is covered, and what is not. Remember, dealerships have the “free inspection” to make money on service. Be careful, and do not fall for high pressure tactics to have the dealership perform services that are not necessary. 

Frozen Calipers

Recently I have seen a lot of frozen caliper slides while replacing brakes. Some of these calipers were relatively new. 

Usually I can free up rusty frozen calipers with an ATF/acetone mixture, wire brush the pins, clean and lubricate the slides and reassemble the caliper. Sometimes, the slides are so rusty I can’t free them up without breaking them. 

New calipers usually come with a light grease on the slide pins. I have found this grease is insufficient to keep the slides from seizing, especially on cars exposed to road salt. 

When I do a brake job I always remove and lubricate the caliper slide pins with caliper grease, even with new calipers. I also lube the contact points of the pads with caliper grease to prevent them from being seized in the calipers. Sometimes I have to dress the tabs on the brake pads with a file to open the gap enough to provide a slide fit in the caliper. 

It is also important to use never-seize on all the hardware when reassembling the brakes. 

Hot Spark Plugs Vs Cold Spark Plugs

In modern, computer-controlled cars, ignitions are reliable to the point where you rarely consider that they might fail. You have coil-on plugs, also called stick coils, snapped onto the tops of spark plugs, with not even a plug wire between them. The stick coils and plugs are typically hidden inside the engine under a plastic cover that looks like the top of a Shop-Vac. There’s no distributor, because the functions of advancing the spark with increasing engine rpm and distributing it to each cylinder are performed electronically, with everything controlled by the car’s electronic control unit, or ECU.

This is not the case in classic, antique and brass era cars, unless they have been changed-over to electronic ignitions. If, however, you do have the original ignition, a lot can be learned about the running of your engine.

A hotter plug does what is says, it runs hotter. This will not give any more power and neither will a too cold plug. Because the spark plug resides in the combustion chamber, it’s influenced by what happens there. It serves a dual purpose; not only is it responsible for initiating the combustion event, but it gladly tells the tale of how the chemical to mechanical energy exchange process took place. If all is well, the plug is clean, but if something is not correct, it will leave its mark for the trained eye to diagnose. In many ways, the spark plug could be looked at as one of the first forensic investigators. You can work out whether you need a hotter or colder plug by looking at the current ones. If the current plug is too hot then the tip may be melted or deformed. If the plug is too cold then you may have excessive build up (which can also be caused by burning oil or a rich air-fuel mixture).

If you can be “tuned in” to your plugs, you will be able to read problems in your old car before it leaves you by the road. Cleaning with steel wool is better than nothing. Using a spark plug sand blaster gives the best cleaning although you can damage the porcelain insulation and cause the spark to “go to ground” somewhere besides the end electrode, it’s proper destination.

Encrusted black carbon is a sign of problems. The causes of this condition may be a cold type of plug, which is proper if you are using the car for long road trips. If all you are doing is driving the car off and on a trailer or around the block and back, change to a hot plug.

Excessive oil reaching the combustion chamber, especially at slow or idling speeds, is also a frequent contributor. A hot plug temporarily may solve the problem, but excessive oil is a sign of other problems, as in bad rings or pistons.

If some of the plugs are clean and others have dry sooty lamp black deposits, the sooty plugs are getting too much gasoline, and can be corrected with carburetor adjustments. If a leaner mix is used, and the engine runs irregularly or misfires, go back to original setting and consider a hotter plug.

Incorrect gaps also contribute to fouling, and is attributed to too narrow a gap. Check the gap and published specs on your car and re-gap all plugs.
The spark plug tip temperature must remain between 930°F to 1560°F , regardless of the type of engine the plug is fitted in.

If the tip temperature is lower than 930°F, the insulator area surrounding the center electrode will not be hot enough to burn off carbon and combustion chamber deposits. These accumulated deposits can result in spark plug fouling, leading to misfire.

If the tip temperature is higher than 1560°F, the spark plug will overheat which may cause the ceramic around the center electrode to blister and the electrodes to melt. This may lead to pre-ignition/detonation and expensive engine damage.

In identical spark plug types, the difference from one heat range to the next is the ability to remove or add approximately 150°F to 200°F in the combustion chamber.

A Franklin Automobile Enthusiasts

Do you remember the TV series Mash? 

Did you know those helicopters that flew in wounded soldiers were Bell 47s units….and the engines they used were Franklin engines

The Franklin O-335 air-cooled aircraft engines were six-cylinder, horizontally-opposed displacing 335 cu in with a power output of around 225HP. 

When the Franklin auto company went bankrupt in 1933, two of Franklin’s employees purchased the rights to the engine and continued to use the name Franklin. The engines were used in trucks and as stationary units, until WWll began and then went into production for use in over 15 U.S aircraft and helicopters. 

Republic Aviation Inc. purchased the Franklin engine rights in 1945 and produced the Franklin engines for light amphibious aircraft. This company was short-lived with the war ending that year. 

In 1947, the Tucker Car Corporation purchased the engine rights, where the 50 cars that Tucker produced, were powered by Franklin engines. The home of the Tucker Car Club is now at the AACA Museum in Hershey, PA. Tucker reworked the engine from air-cooled to water-cooled and many examples can be seen on the museum floor today. 

In 1961, the Tucker family sold the engine rights to a company called Aero Industries and from there to the “Government of Poland” in 1975. The Polish engine manufacturer is today called “Franklin Aircraft Engines” and are manufactured in Grudziądz city in Poland. 

Saab 900

Absent any questions this month, I will briefly discuss some cars in my shop this month. Both of my sons now have cars. I wanted their first cars to be something durable, safe and inexpensive. Somehow, each of them ended up with a Saab 900 four door. 

When I learned how to drive, people maintained their own cars. Times have changed. Today, people don’t work on cars; they either take it to someone to have it repaired, or they replace it with another car needing less work. 

My older son has a strong interest in cars, and has a nice 900 Turbo. It needed some work when we got it, and while fixing it he was able to learn some basics on how things work and how to maintain a car. My younger son was just looking for basic transportation, and he found it with a base model 900 with an automatic transmission. This car needed a lot of work, and he and I have been working on it for the past year or so. This car was not really worth saving, but was almost too good to scrap. 

These projects are teaching basic auto mechanic skills, like brakes, suspension, electrical and exhaust and also more advanced body work skills with rust and dent repair and painting. They will not only learn skills to maintain a car, but also will have some personal investment in their cars. 

These projects also provide an opportunity to spend time with them. Cars come and go, but quality memories last a lifetime. 

Timing Is Everything!

A co-worker of mine just had an expensive experience with her Volkswagen. 

vw 5v timing

The car has the two liter twin cam engine, with a timing belt. The car had 85,000 miles on it, and had the original belt. This engine has five valves per cylinder, and it is an interference engine, meaning the valves will hit the pistons if the camshafts turn out of sync with the crankshaft. 

Unfortunately, the timing belt broke. When the belt broke, the valves hit the pistons, bending the valves. What should have been a several hundred dollar preventative maintenance repair, just became minimally a $1,200 repair. Minimally, the head needs to be rebuilt with new valves, if it can be saved. The head may well have to be replaced. The pistons could be damaged as well. 

If your car has a timing belt, it is not worth delaying the timing belt replacement, especially if it has an interference engine. A proper repair may involve replacing the water pump, camshaft seals and the front crankshaft seal.