Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Most Frustrating Evening

Ariel went back to school this morning. Since Ringo STILL wasn’t ready for the road, our first thought was she would take Lucy. With that in mind, I left work yesterday with the intention of changing the starter so Ariel wouldn’t get stranded. A couple months back, Lucy’s starter developed the bad habit of not working when it was hot. When I got home, I turned off the engine, and, after a short break, went to the garage to get out the ramps. With them approximately in place in the driveway, I walked back to the street to get Lucy. Of course she started right up, even with the hot engine, so I backed her down the driveway up to the ends of the ramps. Idling in neutral, I hopped out to make the final alignment of the ramps and before I could get back in the car, the engine died. This sometimes happens, but when I turned the key to start her back up, nothing happened. No click from the solenoid, nothing. Okay, I can now do some sleuthing to make sure it is the starter and not the ignition switch. I had Mikhaila come out and turn the key while I measured the voltage at the starter wire. While the starter sometime turned and sometime didn’t during our testing, the wire always got 12+ volts whenever she turned the key. Satisfied the problem was in the solenoid, I took Mikhaila’s place behind the steering wheel to start up the engine, but the solenoid was now being especially ornery and would not energize at all. No big deal, I’ll just roll down the slight incline of our driveway, pop out the clutch, and let gravity do the work. As Lucy neared the end of the driveway, I let out the clutch and she chugged without starting. With a car coming down the street, I rolled out of the way now stopped against the opposite curb. I had to push the car back up over the crown in the road, turn the wheel and get her aimed down the street. Once I got a good roll going, I let out the clutch again and this time the engine started. I backed up to and down the driveway. Not wanting to get out and risk the engine dying again, I aligned the car with the ramps as best I could from the driver’s seat and began backing up onto them. The right side was off-center enough that the ramp base flipped on its side, knocked that muffler loose, and bent a portion of the rear valence. I was able to pull forward, get out and realign the ramps, get back in without the engine dying, and finally get up the ramps when the dinner bell rang.

After dinner, I donned my grungies and began repairing the exhaust damage. Fortunately, the only thing I’d done was loosen the joint between the manifold and exhaust pipe. Of course, the two bolts of that flange had rusted to the point where removal without breakage was impossible. Now I had two broken bolts, but I was in luck since this side used through-bolts with nuts rather than threading into the manifold flange as GM had intended. The bolt pieces easily came out of the way, and after raiding my inventory of bolts, nuts, and washers, I had two sets of fasteners that would work. The jack held the muffler in place while I bolted the flange back together with plenty of anti-seize on the threads, not forgetting to drop washers and nuts a few times just to keep things maddening. Tightening the muffler support was the last task on the repair. I had now been working on the car for well over an hour and hadn’t even been able to start the job I’d set out to complete.

First though, I decided I wanted to check the level of gear oil in the tranny since it seems to have a slow drip. I jacked the front up to level the car, slid underneath, and undid the plug with the 9/16ths wrench. I was surprised but happy to find the level was still at the top. The plug went back in and I moved on.

The first step in removing the starter is to disconnect the heater duct and move it out of the way. In the past, I’ve forgotten the VERY important second step - disconnecting the battery - and that has caused some commotion as one would expect. In my clouded, frustrated condition, I almost did it again, but caught myself and undid the negative lead before causing sparks. The two bolts holding the starter to the bellhousing always seem to turn freely once loosened, and this time was, surprisingly, no exception. I snaked the heavy assembly around clutch linkage, fuel line, and suspension bits and had it out and onto the ground. A quick inspection indicated this was probably the original starter assembly, so no wonder it was giving me issues. I decided that, since the starter didn’t seem to have much play in its rotating parts, I’d just replace the solenoid with a GUP I found on the shelf. Getting off the old solenoid took some persuading by my impact screw remover, but it all came apart without any parts breaking. After the replacement solenoid was screwed into place, the threaded hole for the positive lead would not line up with the hole in the tab coming out of the starter. Irrr. I removed the two mounting screws, and after some more frustrating moments including dropping the washer and spending a few minutes finding it again, everything was successfully screwed into place. More snaking and bolting and it was ready to go. Oh wait, gotta’ reconnect the battery lead. Wrenches in hand, but no light, I ducked under the trunklid and quickly put the washers and nut on the bolt and tightened everything up by feel. When I opened the driver’s door to turn the key, the courtesy light didn’t come on. Crap. I’d neglected to include the cable terminal in the stackup of washers and nut. This time, with a light, I undid the fasteners, correctly stacked up the pieces and re-torqued the nut. The light went on this time and the starter worked great. It was nearing eleven by the time I put the tools in the garage, drove Lucy off the ramps and put them in the garage.

All that, and we’d decided that Ariel’s luggage had exceeded Lucy’s capacity and she would take the Suburban instead.

This morning, the starter functioned flawlessly even the couple times I tested it after arriving at my parking spot at work.

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