Entries in Sunfire (13)


The Bad Taste in My Mouth

Today did not feel good.

No video or pics today, wasnt able to get things together, but spent much of my day wrenching on the car. Spent the last week concerned about a misfire at low RPM, and two weeks with the return of the ABS light.

As usual, much of my spare time gets spent researching what it could be. I'm not a trained mechanic, so solutions don't always come to me right away. The trouble with asking the internet for specific answers that pertain to a 20 year old car is that you often don't get a lot of direct answers. As such I am left with the possibilities ranging from catastrophic vacuum leak to simply air in the brake control module.

Either way, it's been 50,000 miles and 3 years since I replaced the fuel filter, which may contribute to part of the issue. Easy enough, I slide under there, unbolt the old and swap in the new. While I'm under there, I see a worrying amount of rust aft of the rear axle. Really bad rust, such that it might mean failing a safety inspection if I catch the guy on a bad day. This would require cutting and welding to resolve long term: two things beyond my shadetree mechanic experience.

Nothing I can do today. Now the misfire: no signs of a vacuum leak, spark connections look all right. But a new diagnostic computer I just got shows timing advance and fuel trim bouncing around quite a lot for just sitting at idle.

Can't figure that out. Go to the brakes.

My new acquisition shows trouble with the right front speed sensor. But I just replaced all that wiring, so is the sensor itself bad? Also, the ABS module says the rear control will not move. Air in the system?

Bleed the control module, there's a fair amount of air coming out, but eventually clears. Bleed the front brake lines, okay. Bleed the rear left: nothing coming out. Check the other side: still nothing. Back to the fronts, just fine. Module again, clear. Back to the rears, nothing comes out.

Getting dark. Here comes the rain, too.

Usually, as I'm packing up the tools and putting them all back in the trunk, I feel a sense of accomplishment for the work I've done. There's no dopamine fix for today. As I set out to fix two problems, I solved neither and have been alerted to deep rust in the lower frame.

There's a half a bottle of rum on the shelf. It will likely be empty by the morning.


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.


#SaveEddie, Part VI: The Fortunes of Happenstance

This is the sixth part in a series of articles chronicling my illogical attempts to repair and restore my long-time owned Pontiac Sunfire, affectionately dubbed "Eddie." Do not anticipate expert repair advice. Trust me, an actual mechanic would have sorted this all out years ago.

Previous entries

Part I: The Coefficient of Friction
Part II: The Consequence of Inertia
Part III: The Inconvenience of Arithmetic
Part IV: The Agony of Without
Part V: The Fragility of Fasteners

Credit: NBC/Getty

It’s funny, the people you meet in a bar. I should say, it happens more frequently when you work in said bar, perhaps to the point it become unfunny, but happy coincidences happen.

So it was that I had three gentlemen from a local body shop come in for lunch, still wearing their coveralls emblazoned with the company logo. As they’re digging into their burgers washed down with locally brewed IPA, I get to talking to them and mention I’m thinking about paint for Eddie. Turns out the guy on their left is the one to talk to about that, nudge nudge.

I show them all some pictures on my phone, explaining that the still-crumpled hood and quickly-painted bumper will be replaced. That said, they tell me it would be an easy side job, taking no longer than a weekend. Phone numbers are exchanged, and they tipped well.

So now another piece is in place for Eddie’s resurrection. I just need to source the bumper cover and hood, which can be found online, as long as you’re willing to spring for freight shipping, which sometimes costs more than the parts themselves. Sure enough, it does, but it’s either this, or try my luck at junkyards, and the whole point is to make Eddie look good. But wait, they offer financing!

I normally don’t like paying thigs off over time, since the future is forever in flux, but for whatever reason the short term I’ve selected has zero interest, so that’s a purchase made a little more palatable by distributing the load. Oh, and the bumper absorber finally arrived; after I’d resolved to use the old one, at least temporarily.

With a source for these parts checked off, I call up my body shop acquaintance so he can look things over and give me an estimate. It occurs to me I should ask if he could give some attention to the left quarter panel, damaged by a support pillar (my fault) and the slightly caved-in left-rear door, damaged in a parking lot (not my fault, and I wish I knew who to blame). The quarter panel looks easy to him, but the door would be easier on his team and my wallet if I could find a new door, then the whole car could be given a fresh coat. This appeals to me, since the roof has been fading faster than any other body panel due to sun damage these past 19 years.

I thank him for his time and double-check I have his number saved. Now I need the parts, and I’ve figured that, since I’m replacing the nose anyway, could I swap it out for the 2000 design?

Research tells me that everything lines up, so in theory it’s just a matter of parts. With a glass of bourbon in hand, I scour the Internets for pictures of the 2000 nose to compare to Eddie. From what I can tell, the only things I’ll need are new side marker and turn signal lenses. The units are discreet from one another on the 2000, but are integrated on the SE trims 1999 and older. Then comes the method of installing them, which turns out to be an odd 11mm nut designed to cut into a plastic post to create its own thread pattern.

This is all a matter as easy as buying new parts online. Sure, I could troll around junkyards, but my vanity wants new parts, and the emotional part of my brain has declared that Eddie deserves it. However, I’m forced to reconsider once I meet with my paint guy with the car in person, and he sees the big dent in the rear-left door from a parking lot incident.

“We could hammer it out, but it’ll be easier on us and you if you could find a new door.”

Okay. Where’s that junkyard, again?

Credit: WikiMedia


#SaveEddie, Part V: The Fragility of Fasteners

This is the fifth part in a series of articles chronicling my illogical attempts to repair and restore my long-time owned Pontiac Sunfire, affectionately dubbed "Eddie." Do not anticipate expert repair advice. Trust me, an actual mechanic would have sorted this all out years ago.

Previous entries:

Part I: The Coefficient of Friction
Part II: The Consequence of Inertia
Part III: The Inconvenience of Arithmetic
Part IV: The Agony of Without

Perhaps it’s separation anxiety. I’ve had this Sunfire for nine years, which is twice as long as you have a kid before dropping it off at preschool. At least I think that’s the age for preschool. Given the mental maturity of some individuals I’ve met, preschool could start as late as eighteen, for all I know. Regardless, I’ve had time to grow attached to this little scamp, and now I have the urge to keep it for eternity.

Eternity will have to wait, however, until I can get him put back together. First off, nothing is getting done at my apartment complex, since the lease doesn’t permit on-site repairs, so I’ve set up shop at my parents’ house. It wasn’t hard to do, since most of my repair shop is already stored in Eddie’s trunk. That’s the reality of my situation: my daily driver is also my project car. At any point, Eddie could break down (though he rarely does), and I want to be ready for the occasion. True, the hundred and some-odd pounds of tools and a hydraulic floor jack add unnecessary weight, which spoils handling, fuel economy, and performance in acceleration and braking, but Murphey’s Law dictates I will break down within 12 hours of relocating these tools to a less mobile storage option.

So the tools stay in the trunk, where they also come in handy when something needs fixing when I’m at work, where there is a limited selection of repair implements. Luckily, my coworkers haven’t figured out I always have tools with me, and therefore they aren’t constantly asking me to fix things.

First thing to come off is the bumper cover, albeit, with some convincing. Once that’s off, we can see the crushed absorber and folded bumper reinforcement. Taking those off, the radiator and AC condenser are untouched. Some quick measuring shows the left corner of the unibody is pushed in and slightly up. The left headlight is toast; we didn’t need any disassembly to tell us that, but the right one has damage from the previous owner, which is yet further evidence of Eddie’s careless history.

I wish I could remember the name of the guy who owned this little Pontiac before me so I could occasionally swear his name in vain. A front-right collision damaged many things that weren’t addressed, not limited to a bent front-passenger door frame, shattered inner fender and splash guard, damaged wire loom conduit, and (most recently found) headlight assembly. I don’t know how I lived with it, but the damage to the bracket meant the right-side headlight couldn’t be aimed properly. Perhaps it’s dumb luck it was already pointed in the right direction.

Throughout all of this, of course, we must pop loose those plastic fasteners. This is the aftermath of the corporate ecosystem Bob Lutz had to contend with when he took over as vice chairman of product development at General Motors, as detailed in his book which I’ve started reading, Car Guys vs Bean Counters. Eddie was built during an era of saving a penny here only to wind up losing a dollar there. As such, many components of the J-Body are held together with cheap plastic push-fasteners designed to go in easy and hold well, but destroy themselves when subjected to the forces necessary to remove them. If you’re mentally deranged, you can try and save these fasteners for later installation. Or you can take the path I did and order them by the gross on Amazon, knowing you’ll just break more of them down the line.

As we dig, some things worry us. The windshield washer pump and reservoir are in that general area, and since it’s a very interconnected system, might be a hassle to replace. I thanked my lucky stars it was undamaged. Same story with the battery. But key is this bent frame.

So first the entire front end is removed, then the car is repositioned, aligning with the decades-old maple tree at a similar angle as the impact. 1,200lb-test mule tape, a small square of pine to distribute the load, and a steel cable come-along from Harbor Freight are arranged to reposition the front left corner, and employed with marginal success. But at least it’s straighter than it was.

My work schedule at this time has me working most days during the week, but my dad works nights, so when he gets home in the morning he takes on some repair work while I sling beers at thirsty craft beer aficionados. In that time, he’s done well to hammer out the crumpling in the left fender, as well as fashion out of steel a little-known small bracket used to align the headlights. On my end, I’ve ordered parts to be delivered straight to the house instead of my apartment. As such, Dad cant help himself, and takes to the packages like a kid on Christmas, installing them post-haste. So by the time I can come down on Friday, he’s already put on the new headlight and reinforcement bar.

I’m still waiting for the replacement bumper absorber, so the old, damaged one will have to suffice now that the insurance money’s run out on the rented Jeep. (Damn, that Jeep was nice…) Eddie is road legal now. With one clear headlight lens and the other oxidized, he looks a bit like that that guy with the cloudy eye from Legion. The bumper is also a different color, now that Dad’s sanded off the chipping paint and given it a quick coat of a green shade from Ford.

I kind of wish he hadn’t told me it was a Ford color; feels wrong doing that to the nose of a Pontiac…

In the end, Eddie is put together. He ain’t pretty, especially with the hood still a bit cockeyed, but he can be driven. There’s still some work to do, and I won’t be satisfied until it’s done.


#SaveEddie, Part IV: The Agony of Without

This is the fourth part in a series of articles chronicling my illogical attempts to repair and restore my long-time owned Pontiac Sunfire, affectionately dubbed "Eddie." Do not anticipate expert repair advice. Trust me, an actual mechanic would have sorted this all out years ago.

Previous Entries:
Part I: The Coefficient of Friction
Part II: The Consequence of Inertia
Part III: The Inconvenience of Arithmetic

I have mixed feelings about Uber.

This does not regard their recent PR fiascos involving rampant chauvinism among senior management. It’s not about their investment in autonomous vehicle technology, which certainly isn’t in the best interests of its 400,000+ drivers’ long-term employment opportunities. I’m not even talking about the (until recently) utter absence of an in-app tipping system for drivers which, as a bartender, really should bother me.

My mixed feelings are about ride-share services in general, and Uber is just a good one to put in the first line of your post to grab readers’ attention.

On the one hand, it’s a great option for my nights out when I know I’ll partake in numerous libations. Definitely done that before, which my old roommate can attest. But as a commuting utility, it’s hard to justify the daily expense. I find travel time can end up being extended, since the driver may not know your shortcuts. I also find myself uncomfortable when in someone else’s car, as well as anxious, since I’m not the one driving.

Plus, most people who drive for Uber have rather dull cars. My heart sinks a bit when the app tells me Abdul will be here in 7 minutes, driving a Toyota Camry. But let’s be honest: nobody in an Audi A8 is gonna feel the need to drive for Uber to make some extra cash. In light of this, I have thoughts of winning the lottery, buying a Maserati Quattroporte and enlisting in Uber for fun.

The best Uber I rode in was also the last one before the insurance adjuster came the next day to drop the total-loss bombshell on my psyche. My driver picked me up from work driving a Lincoln Town Car, one of the last such examples of Ford’s Panther Body. A former hire car picked up at auction by my driver, this boat took only five of the thirty minutes I spent in it to convince me why it is what every cab and limo company used since their introduction.

The rear seat had the kind of legroom you get in the front seat when you’ve slid it all the way back. That’s impressive to someone of a 6’4” stature like myself. And the seat had some give at the edge, which eased entry and exit. The designers of my dad’s Honda Fit must have been aiming for seat support, so it’s stiff at the front, restricting already-limited movement when sliding to the middle seat. Not that I ever really sit in the middle-rear seat in any car since my final growth spurt somewhere back in high school; people now just look up at me and say, “Yeah, you should probably sit up front.”

Perhaps that’s my message to Uber: When you go to a fully-autonomous fleet (which you will eventually, let’s be honest), it’ll be in your best interest to equip a fleet of Lincoln Town Cars. This nearly-40 year-old platform nailed it for rear passenger comfort before your founders were allowed to use a pack of crayons with more than eight colors. At least I think so; I’ve never been in a 1979 Ford LTD, so improvements may have been made since then.

These are the thoughts that occupy my time as Eddie sits in my apartment complex’s garage, preserving his state until the insurance adjuster can take a look. Once he does and gives his verdict, I take the Sunfire down to my parent’s house, where the work can be done. Because my lease forbids auto repairs on the premises. On the one hand, I get it; they don’t want the place looking like a salvage yard with transmissions and orphaned bumpers littering the property. On the other hand, I had to be sneaky when Eddie snapped a brake hose in the garage before I’d set off for a movie date.

With Eddie squared away at la maison de ma famille, my dad can take a closer look at the damage. I defer to him because, despite my extensive YouTube tutorial viewing, he has far more experience with these things than I do. No matter how much you think you know, there’s always someone who knows better, and it’s usually Dad.

Dad’s eye sees it’s not too bad, frame bending aside. But that’s for another post. Until then, insurance has sprung for a rental, so we head to Enterprise, who must have seen that insurance is footing the bill and said, “Oh, you’re getting this car.”

The guy at the desk said, “Is a Cherokee okay?” and I’m thinking the Dart-based crossover, so I said, “Yeah, sure.” It hadn’t occurred to me he might have appended the “Grand” prefix to that model. With this behemoth, the insurance-backed rental budget will be depleted in about a week. Well, played, sir.

But that Jeep is nice. Like, ole-timey gangster-nice. Every fiber of my being is screaming, “Don’t get used to it, don’t get used to it…” But it’s so nice…

Objectively, the interior is well-constructed, electronic amenities are plentiful, and it has an opulence-inspiring sunroof. Subjectively, driving dynamics aren’t as direct as my Sunfire, especially with the eight-speed gearbox and high center of gravity. But it’s still so very nice…

Bear in mind, however, that my list of luxury features still includes “power windows.”

It’s also overkill for one guy commuting. So, I look forward to getting Eddie back to driving condition. Until then, I comfort myself in the knowledge that I can park just about anything as big as that Jeep.

As a side note, does anyone else find rear-view backup cameras disorienting? I found myself just turning my head around to park using my own depth perception every time.