Thursday, July 28, 2016

Dangerous Dangling Drivetrain

The other day, after welding up Glinda’s exhaust system, I started the engine to check for leaks. I revved the engine and noticed it was moving significantly more than I was used to seeing. I slid back under the car and began investigating. What I found was concerning – one of the three bolts that holds the transmission to the cross-member had gone missing. I went to the bucket-of-bolts and found one that was the correct diameter and pitch (3/8-16UNC) and twisted it into the empty threaded hole. The bolt was longer than I’d hoped, and with the tight confines, took longer than I’d hoped to seat. As the head hit the cross-member I expected some torqueing resistance, but there wasn’t any – stripped out hole was my diagnosis. Not having the luxury of time to do the fix right then-and-there, I left the bolt in the hole, and said a prayer over the car.

I decided that yesterday evening I’d take on the challenge of removing the crossmember so I could access the supposedly stripped hole. With Glinda backed into the garage and her rear up on ramps, I raised her front and set her gently on jackstands. After disconnecting the clutch linkages, parking brake spring, shifter rod, and throttle rod, I unbolted the shift tube link and the left and right side struts and their associated brackets. This gave me unfettered access to the cross-member. Using the floor jack to support the front of the drivetrain, I spun off the two bolts holding the cross-member to the body and the two remaining bolts hold the cross-member to the transmission. I found that one of those bolts was loose in its hole. With the front of the trans fully in view, I took a close look at the state of the holes. It appeared the suspect hole already had a helicoil in it. This morning I searched my blog and discovered that, yes, I had put a helicoil in one of the transmission holes and it was, if memory serves, this hole.

Having used up my allotted garage time, I headed inside leaving the rest of the project to hopefully proceed this evening. I plan on putting a bolt in the helicoiled hole with a stack of washers and torqueing with the hopes of getting the prescribed 20-30 LBS FT. I’m also going to install helicoils in the other two holes as a precaution.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Story To Tell

Last night, as I walked into the house from the garage, I passed the lovely Loriann and said to her, “at least I got a good story to blog.” With the kitchen mostly functional and no other car requiring my attention, I decided to tackle Ringo’s starter switch issue. Yeah, this is the same problem that was not fixed during my last foray into the garage. When that effort failed, I switched focus to the ignition switch, so that’s what I worked on last night.

Getting an old GM ignition switch out of the dash requires a stiff wire and the ignition key. With the key turned to the lock position, you stick the wire into the tiny hole in the cylinder and push while turning the cylinder counterclockwise. After some jiggling, the cylinder turns past LOCK and will pull out. Once the cylinder’s removed, the retaining ring can be spun off freeing the switch assembly. Note that I put the shifter in LOW to improve access to the ring – this is important later on the tale. Snaking the switch with its harness still connected out from behind the dash is daunting, but doable.

With the switch out, I clamped it into the vise and tapped the little swaged tangs out to free the plastic inner contact retainer from the housing. Being careful to note the orientation, I removed the retainer and inner copper plate. After some light wire brushing all the black nastiness was gone with shiny copper remaining. A coat of dielectric grease and I put the sandwich back together and swaged over the three tangs to make things solid again. The multi-meter confirmed good continuity in both the run and start positions, so I slithered back under the dash and snaked the switch back into its home after first plugging in the mating connector. On went the retaining ring and in went the cylinder. A test-turn of the key and … WHAT? NOTHING? IRRRR!

One thing I noticed when I’d removed the mating plug was that there was some exposed wire at the back of the plug before the wire insulation started. Thinking maybe pulling on the plug had pulled a conductor from its contact, I re-removed the switch and tested continuity between the spade and the exposed wire on the back of the connector – zero ohms is good. So what’s the issue? I then decided to jumper the hot terminal to the start terminal and see if I had 12 volts at the engine bay connector. Nope – zero volts is NOT good. Pondering the places where the wire would be interrupted, it finally occurred to me that the circuit goes through a safety switch in the shifter that prevents starting the car with it gear. And, yes, I’d left the shifter in LOW. Dumb, dumb, dumb. I reattached the plug to the switch, popped the cylinder in, put the shifter in NEUTRAL, and – what do you know – the engine turned when I twisted the key. Success; so back out came the cylinder, and I re-snaked the switch back into its home, put on the retainer, and RE-re-inserted the cylinder. One more test and I’ll be good-to-… WHAT? NOTHING? IRRRR! A search behind the dash and the culprit was quickly found. My snaking the switch into place had pulled one of terminal off the aforementioned safety switch. Plugged it in and THIS time the starter spun immediately with the turn of the key.

The car started right up again when I went to back it down the driveway after putting all the tools away. Great; problem solved I’m thinking. Not so fast. This morning I went out to drive the car to work, and, wouldn’t you know it, the darn thing wouldn’t start with just the key. Thank goodness I didn’t remove the starter switch. Now what to do? NOTHING – just live with the switch.

Friday, July 22, 2016


Warning – no Corvair content in this post. What does follow is a missive on the frustrating follies of an amateur mechanic.

Short back-story. Our adventure began on a quiet day in early February when Victoria’s GMC Acadia had a timing chain failure. The vehicle was 3,000 miles past GM’s warranty on this issue. The local mechanic told her it’d be $5000 to replace the engine – not willing to quote just replacing the chains because he didn’t know how deep into the engine he’d have to go to complete the repair. We chose the less expensive route of fixing it ourselves. Four months of sporadic weekend and evening thrashes resulted in the car going back on the road with five check engine codes and a puddle producing transmission fluid leak. Cleaning the MAF sensor (one of the codes) and putting an o-ring in the suspect transmission line joint didn’t do a thing, so we bit the bullet and delivered the car to the local mechanic to sort out and deal with the problems.

Today Victoria retrieved her repaired car and was told a small piece of foam had become lodged between the upper and lower intake manifold pieces causing the air leak triggering many of the codes. I apologized profusely to Victoria while kicking myself over my lameness for having this happen. She was gracious in reminding me there were other issues that the mechanic needed to deal with (new transmission line seals, leaky O2 sensor, and a malfunctioning manifold control valve).

Now we wait and see what happens next. Do the codes stay away? Are all the leaks alleviated? Does the A/C blow cold (we had to have it evacuated in order to drop the engine to do the timing chain replacement)? Time will tell.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Starter Woes Go Un-fixed

Yesterday evening, I was in a huge funk after finally giving up on my unprofessional skills fixing Victoria’s car. I decided that, while I was already dressed in grungies, and the garage was already open, and Ringo was already sitting in said garage, I’d go ahead and swap in a GUP solenoid and fix the starter problem. After disconnecting the driver’s side air duct and only breaking one of the terminals on the crusty, old solenoid, I had the starter/solenoid assembly out in no time. Pulled the nicest looking solenoid off the shelf and swapped it in place of the discardable piece. Using battery cables and a jumper wire I made sure the Bendix would fire out before reinstalling the unit back onto the bell housing. Before reattaching the duct, I hooked up the battery and gave the key a twist – nothing. Irr. The switch, though, caused the starter to spin the engine just fine, so I guess it was an improvement, but the ignition switch still needs to come out and be cleaned or replaced. After I put all the tools away, it occurred to me I hadn't put the duct back on. Fortunately, the car was still up on jackstands, so the assembly wasn't too bad.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Will This Be the Beginning of Consistent Blogging Again?

My lack of blog entries in the last three months has been due to a couple of non-Corvair projects sucking all my free time away. First, I’m still working on a new kitchen for the lovely Loriann. Second, Victoria and I were dealing with her daily-driver Acadia. To summarize the latter, a timing chain slipped, intake valves hit pistons, compression was lost, engine was dropped out of the car, heads were pulled and rebuilt with new valves and machined surfaces, engine was reassembled and raised back into the car, everything was hooked back up and fluids topped off, key was turned, engine started (TYL). All that took roughly four months.

In the midst of all that, I did get some Corvair problems to solve. Since Victoria needed a vehicle to use, as did Mikhaila, Ringo became my daily-driver, while Mikhaila got the pleasure of wrestling Glinda around town.

Ringo, for the most part, has been well behaved. The only work I’ve done has been to extend the jump-start wire into the salon and insert a temporary toggle switch between it and a 12V tab on the fuse block. The starter won’t energize by just turning the ignition switch anymore (solenoid? – probably!), so I have to double up on sending voltage to the solenoid. I do this by turning the key and toggling the jump-start wire at the same time. I’m sure, in the end, it would have been more effective to swap out the solenoid which I still plan to do. Oh well. Glinda has had some issues that have sucked up some time. A couple weeks back, with Victoria’s car out of the garage, I decided to weld up her cracked exhaust pipe (Glinda’s not Victoria’s). While brushing the surfaces clean with a wire wheel on my grinder, I took a big chunk out of the air hose that runs in that space. I did the best I could to weld up the crack without removing the pipe, but figured I hadn’t gotten it all. That was confirmed when I started up the car and pulsing hot air was still coming out of the pipe near the weld. After replacing the hose with a GNP off the shelf, I sent Mikhaila on her way. She got about 3 miles down the road when the pipe broke taking out the muffler hanger with it. Mikhaila immediately pulled off the side of the road and gave me a call. I got her the rest of the way to work and then returned with bailing wire and the tow stuff to get Glinda back home. Fortunately, the Flowmaster didn’t drag on the ground – one of the clamp u-bolts did the dragging. With Glinda in the garage and her rear up on jackstands, I unbolted the broken hanger and pipe and then went rummaging for replacements. The hanger had failed at the rubber square, so I pulled a GNP square and nut and bolt kit, drilled out the old rivets, and installed the new square – job done. I then closely inspected the two pipes I found in the rafters, but one had a crack and went into the recycling can. The second one had had its muffler cut off at some point in its life, so clamping the Flowmaster onto its end was not going to happen. It was going to have to be a welded joint. Fortunately, there’s a short transition pipe installed into the inlet of the muffler that meant I wasn’t welding the muffler, but the transition pipe’s end to the exhaust pipe end. The mating areas and surrounding surfaces of the two pipes were thoroughly cleaned to bare metal with the wire wheel on my stand grinder before I climbed under the car with them. With the repaired muffler hanger in place supporting the rear of the muffler, I bolted the replacement exhaust pipe to the exhaust manifolds with copious amounts of exhaust sealing paste (no new donuts available) and slid the inlet of the muffler over the abbreviated pipe as far as it would go – only about a half-inch. Out came the welder and I laid down a bead (or what passes as a bead given my lack of welding skills) all the way around the joint. The next morning Mikhaila started the car up, and it was noticeably quieter during her commute. When she got home, I inspected my work and found the strap had
pulled out of the hanger (see circled in red below). Back into the garage went Glinda, and I removed the strap and the portion of the hanger that the strap attaches to. I then welded the two together. I’d been struggling with seeing the weld using my self-darkening helmet, so I adjusted the darkness of the lens to the next smaller number – huge difference. I could see the puddle much better. With the strap and hanger piece as one, the assembly went back together and has held ever since.

It seems starter issues are contagious, as that was Glinda’s second significant issue. For the longest time, her starter’s Bendix drive would sometimes not engage with the ring gear on the pressure plate resulting in the starter spinning, but no engine turning. Usually, it would happen once and on the second turn of the key everything spun as it should. When the clutch cable broke a few months back, I had to abuse the starter to get the car home, and the starter issue immediately got worse. It would still, eventually, work, but it would take a few tries before operating properly. Last week, while I was away on a youth mission trip with the lovely Loriann and her enthusiastic group of high schoolers, I got a text telling me Glinda would not start. Fortunately, it happened right in front of the house, so Mikhaila wasn’t stranded somewhere. When I returned the following Saturday, I roll-started the car and drove it into the garage where she assumed the position – rear-end up on jackstands. After disconnecting the battery’s negative lead, I slid under the car, disconnected the leads to the solenoid, and went to remove the two bolts retaining the starter to the bell housing. They were both loose. Odd. So, thinking I’d found the issue, I tightened the two bolts, reattached all the electrical leads, and turned the key to test my fix – nothing. Well, something did happen - the idiot lights on the dash faded. Odd. Thinking the solenoid had finally crapped out, I disconnected the wires again, and removed the starter. Using jumper cables, I then went to my milk-crate of starters to find one that worked. By the time I’d gone through a couple with anything but a few sparks to show for my efforts, I tested the battery. It had died, but not an “I’m out of juice, please recharge me” death, but a “I’ve had something bad happen inside me, and no amount of charging will make me work” death. Odd (there’s that word again). Grabbing Luna’s battery (she doesn’t’ need it), I tested the starter/solenoid that I’d just pulled out of Glinda and it looked to work fine – Bendix slid out and stayed out just as Vincent Hugo Bendix had invented it to do. Thinking the dying battery was the culprit behind the non-starting (not enough juice to engage the Bendix properly), I bolted in the “original” starter again, and, this time, after hooking up all the wiring, turning the key turned the engine. I exercised the starter at least a half-dozen times before pronouncing all was good and lowering the car onto the garage floor. The car started right up when I went to drive it out to the street, but a couple hours later, when Mikhaila wanted to use the car, the starter was back to its misbehaving ways. Odd (AGAIN!). Quite fed up with the whole thing at this point, I handed her the keys to Ringo and pondered how big a sledge hammer I’d need to destroy this royal pain in my butt. The next day, once I’d calmed down over the whole affair, I had drug Mikhaila out to the street where I taught her how to roll-start a car with a manual transmission. Once she got Glinda running, she drove her into the garage where the two of us went to work. After disconnecting the battery, we used jumper cables to test prospective starter/solenoid replacements from my cache. The first one we hooked up spun nicely and the Bendix moved properly (just like the faulty one in the car had done, so I was still leery), so she and I swapped the supposed good for the known bad. Guess what? The car has started perfectly every time since then.