Entries in coolant (2)


Leadfoot - Sunfire Running Hot

I noticed something odd while I was driving last week. The weather's been getting warmer because the President sent a tweet or something, I don't know. I don't really pay attention.  Fact is I noticed that the coolant level temperature was getting a little high, mostly when I was at a stop light.

And this has happened before, usually check a motor, temperature sensor, maybe a fuse, relay, something. But then I noticed a puddle of antifreeze on the ground, which, your coworkers will definitely point out to you. Them pointing it out didn’t stop me from having to pour in a gallon of coolant before I was able to park the car for the week.

As a quick test, while I was stopped, I put it in neutral, gave it some revs, and the temperature needle started going down. Now this suggests to me that the water pump doesn't work well enough at idle, as in; it doesn't move enough coolant to keep the block cool. This could also be a thermostat issue, and since I don't really know the service history of the car for the first ten years of its life, I’ve got to assume both are original parts, and either one could fail.

So, I figured, while I'm draining it to replace one, I might as well replace the other.

And with anything involving your accessory drive, you're gonna need to pull off that serpentine belt first.  This means finding the tensioner pulley and figuring out which direction it needs to go, which is complicated by the theme of this car: just about everything is in a tight space.

To get to the bolts holding the water pump on the block, we have to remove the pulley, which is easier when the belt is still on. But we didn't think of that.

However, if you wedge something like a screwdriver in between two of the bolts, you can then use your socket to loosen up (or tighten) the third bolt. This is, of course, easier done with four hands, but at most we could fit three into the cramped space.

Right about now is when my Dad mentions this would have been a lot easier on the old Chevelle. I’m not arguing.

With the pulley off we attack the first bolt holding the pump to the block before we realize there’s still a lot of fluid in the system…

Even with the radiator drained, there's still going to be some coolant left in the system, and that's likely to splash onto the serpentine belt. I'd normally be worried because antifreeze is very slippery, and it can cause a belt to slip. That's how you get that squealing noise on some older cars.

But this belt, as old as it is, has enough cracks in it that, while it's off, I might as well replace that as well. Once the water pump is loose, then it's a matter of snaking it out of there without tearing up the radiator or AC line.

That’s easier done when the alternator's been removed.

With the old water pump out, we can see the years that have accumulated, and looking at the state of that, it makes me a little worried how much worse the other components might look.

Can't really worry about that right now, because we have to clean off the old gasket, but as old as that gasket probably is, this is going to involve brake cleaner, a Scotchbrite pad, and a razor blade.

And a Swiss Army Knife.

As I mentioned before, I don't know if the thermostat's any good, so while the system's drained I might as well replace that.  Luckily, that's in a much more convenient location.

While this gets pulled out, my lovely girlfriend pays us a visit, and invites Dad into a discussion we’d had before. She’s of the impression we’ll have need of one of those angel statues you’ll likely see in Amsterdam that’s taking a leak into a small pond, only the urethral discharge is that Sunday brunch favorite: Mimosas.

I’m always in favor an endless supply of alcohol, especially in statue form, but my hangup is on the method of delivery.

Getting back to the thermostat, I’ve gotten it out and I suspect it's an original part as well. Twenty years is just too long... it had to be someone that replaced it before.  Just wasn't me.

Re-installation is easy enough, it's simply the reverse of whatever we did before, and the water pump goes in as well. After we get the alternator back into place, we have that moment where we kind of look everywhere and ask ourselves...

Did we forget something?

We did.  We forgot that when you leverage the tension pulley, it's best to take that lever out, BEFORE you start the car.

Now that I have a closed cooling system, I refilled it all with water (just regular tap water), and I'm gonna let the engine run for a while, let the block heat up, warm up the oil; so that I can do what has become my monthly oil change. I drive a hundred miles a day, it adds up.

And then I close the hood on a job well done. Of course, then I spend the next hour and a half picking up all my tools, cleaning up the workspace, and putting everything away, because, honestly, the one thing you don't do after a job like this is anything that'll piss off the homeowner's association.


Leadfoot: Water Conducts Electricity

When you drive an older car day-in and day-out, you learn to deal with the things that are wrong with it. Things like slow oil leaks, broken air conditioning, loose steering, that funny squeak the door makes when the right-side tires go over bumps.

Then the day comes when the oil puddle in your parking space has expanded beyond the painted white line, and your wheels roll over it, leaving more oil marks all over the lot as you head off to work. That’s when you sigh, slip on some work gloves and break out the floor jack.

You also go out and buy as small a bag of kitty litter as possible. Because you don’t have a cat, but the conditions of the lease say, “You spill it, you clean it.”

I must confess, I did a bit of that work without telling the world. Back in early June, I decided to flush Eddie’s coolant system, since he hadn’t had the coolant changed since 2008, shortly after his purchase and we found a bolt on the water pump had worn a hole in the radiator.

A proper job of it is done by draining the antifreeze and filling it back up with water and a helping of coolant flush. Seriously, that’s what it’s called. You just ask for it by that name. A few weeks are then spent driving normally with the heater on while the flush works through the system and cleans it up. The water and all the crap that got picked up is drained again and new coolant is administered.

But because it was the start of summer, I didn’t want to drive around with the heater on. I’ve had to drive without air conditioning in the humid August days of the mid-Atlantic coast, and the last thing on my list was adding more heat to that equation.

I also only get one day at a time to work on Eddie. My lease also prohibits automotive work on the premises, so I venture to my parent’s house, where there is a tree providing shade, a fridge full of cold drinks, and a hose to facilitate radiator filling. I do wonder how I got away with working on that scooter, given the lease terms.

Draining the system is straightforward enough; find the drain plug and open it. Old antifreeze is collected in a bucket, and the hose fills the system back up. I run the engine with the heat on, letting the water get hot and start dissolving the crud, then it’s drained again.

What a lovely shade of brown it was.

Fill, run, drain, repeat again, only this last time with coolant flush, just to get the very last of it. By the end, the water coming out looked almost as clear as the water going in. Close enough for me.

Between doing these fills and drains, the engine was running, so I had little to do while internal combustion did its thing.

You may recall Eddie was in a front-end collision before he came to me, specifically the front-right.

It must not have been major, or else the car would have been totaled. But it was obviously enough to bend the front-right door frame, such that there is terrible wind noise on the interstate, and necessitate a new front bumper. I know it’s not original because the new one had to be painted, and the shop didn’t use the correct primer, so the paint it’s got is flaking away bit by bit. Flex primer is not an option for painting plastic parts, I’ve decided.

The collision also tore up the forward fender liner and splash guard. These serve only small purposes: mitigate the water that splashes onto the serpentine belt and support the ABS wire as it leads to the main loom. Being shattered into five separate pieces where there should only have been two connected ones, they didn’t perform well in either duty.

Being harnessed to the splash guard, the ABS wire ended up being crushed by the fractured pieces. That was enough to puncture a small hole in the wire’s insulation. And you remember those oil leaks? Yeah, oil loves small holes.

Oil also corrodes copper, which is what wires are made of. This eventually meant the ABS module had lost the connection to the front-right wheel speed sensor. For a system that monitors each wheel’s rotational velocity, a speed sensor is kind of important. So important, that losing one sensor means the entire system shuts off and a little light on the dash glares at you. You still have brakes, of course, but you should be wary in slippery situations.

It’s been an issue for a while, if I’m honest. I’ve got decent tires, and I know to limit myself in the rain or snow, but warning lights bug me. Even if it’s not really a problem. Besides, I had the time, a bunch of spare wire (courtesy of dear ole Dad) and I’d already jacked up the front-right wheel.

(The radiator drain plug is on the left. I wanted gravity to work with me on this.)

What makes oil awesome is that it penetrates into the tiniest of spaces, worming its way in and breaking metals loose from other metals. That’s great, unless you’re talking about wires.

The small hole punctured into the ABS wire’s insulation made a nice entryway for Eddie’s leaking engine oil. The corrosion runs all the way from the sensor plug to the main loom. It’s not as bad near the loom, but it’s still there.

So I’ve got the time, I decide to replace the bad wire. It’s something I’ve already done before, but that was four years ago, and the oil leaks hadn’t been solved back then. So new oil got in, basically at the same spot as the old wire. Time to put new wire in.

Up until recently (not recent enough to do this for the fix, unfortunately), I had no idea the wire connectors I was using will heat-shrink. That would have been very helpful, considering I was trying to keep oil out of the connections. Electrical tape only does so much.

So the ultimate goal is to stop the oil leaks. For that, I turned to a coworker for assistance. A master technician for Toyota in a previous life, he suggested starting at the top with the valve cover gasket. It made sense, I decided. Gravity being the funny thing that it is, taking things that were up high and putting them on the floor, a leak up top would cover everything below in dead dinosaur juice.

My coworker-come-Sherpa enlightened me to the wonders of Scotchbrite pads and brake cleaner that day. Mating two metal surfaces with a molded rubber gasket works best when said surfaces are clean and smooth. Scotchbrite is like a hand-operated pressure washer. Those pads felt like they could scrub off skin, if I was inclined to do so.

But I’m not into exfoliating, so I focused on the valve head cover. When the two surfaces were all shiny, the new blue gasket was wedged in and the bolts were tightened up. I gave the block some more cleaning around the joint to make potential new leaks show up better and crossed my fingers.

Staring at those broken pieces that once were fender liner solidified my resolve to finally replace them. After all, they’d been in my way when the radiator hose needed replacing, when the AC compressor needed work, and the three times I’d replaced that torque mount. If I didn’t replace them, I’d be running new wire for this sensor again in about a year.

These being somewhat unique parts, the local stores were unlikely to have them. To the Internets I went, and was able to find the ones I needed. Had to get them from two separate stores, because each of them had one of the parts but didn’t carry the other. With that, it turns out there’s a bit of ignorance in the “All the parts your car will ever need,” slogan.

And, of course, the parts had a cheap feel to them. I wasn’t expecting carbon fiber from McLaren, just something a bit thicker, with more substance. It’s of small consequence, since the parts are function over form.

The funny thing about finally seeing how the part is supposed to go together is that makes you understand things. Like the fact you’re missing a few fasteners.

Times like this make me grateful my dad is a packrat (sorry, Mom). If I need a nut, bolt, and two washers to secure the splash guard to the sub frame, I’ll find them. It’ll take almost twenty minutes of picking out likely candidates from three different bins marked “Assorted,” but by Grabthar’s Hammer, and the Sons of Warvan, I shall find them.

But why am I having to look for a fastening solution? Because whatever shadetree shop Eddie was taken to after his crash decided to take shortcuts. And who could blame them? The Sunfire is hardly going to be a collector car, so why endeavor to preserve it? This is a daily beater, both in my hands and the previous owner’s. As long as it runs, who cares if the splash guard is really connected at all six points?

After seven years, I care. It’s not David taking down Goliath with a slingshot. It’s David’s next door neighbor with asthma coming out of nowhere to thrash Goliath to a pulp with his bare hands. It’s not a long bet if the bookie never put odds on it.

But David’s neighbor still needs his inhaler. That’s why I then turned my attention to a puddle of red fluid that’s started to appear now that I’ve cleaned up the leaked motor oil.