Archive for the ‘Automotive’ Category

Small things writ large.

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

My vehicle had developed the exceedingly irksome habit of failure to start (n.b. – as it is not a Rolls, I can’t use the Rolls euphemism for a breakdown, “failure to proceed”). In a behavior also endemic to my old Buick, the factory Passlock(tm) system often decides that I am an intruder, and should therefore suffer the pangs of a disabled fuel pump. Unlike the Buick, which would lock me out for 3 minutes, the Saturn caused me to remain immobile for 10 minutes before I might try my luck again. As this problem was electrical, it of course manifested primarily in wet weather or (important) cold weather.

After having spent half an hour in the driveway of one of my friends at 2 AM on an exceedingly cold winter morn, the issue finally got above the “put up with it” threshold, migrating to the “deal with the problem” level. With the aid of an extraordinarily accessible tutorial, I replaced the ignition switch in the steering column. The major caution here is to disable the airbag. I have this aversion to exciting azides being “live” near my head.

The culprit, and cause for the immobility of ~2900 lbs:

This rinky-dink circuit board/resistor combo. If it gives the wrong resistance value, the idiot-level computer brain decides that some yobbo with a scarred-up screwdriver and a set of jump wires is trying to make off with my ride. It took 30 minutes to train up the computer to accept the new switch/board. Worth it, though.

Fortunately, none of my neighbors called the constabulary about the guy disassembling the steering column of my car in the parking lot.

Cabin Air Filter

Thursday, April 7th, 2011


Evidently, when they say “it’s time to replace your car’s cabin air filter”, it’s time to replace your car’s cabin air filter. (Note: as the name states, this is not the air coming into the engine; it’s the air coming to you.)

I need to get out my microscope. There’s dirt, pollen, spores, and seeds from something like 15 states in there. It’s like a particulate jamboree.

Ignition Spaghetti

Monday, July 12th, 2010

I was recently advised to change out the plug wires in my car.  Actually, the shop offered to do it and I declined, figuring that I could do this of all jobs.  Pleasantly, I could, which has historically not always been the case.  I like to think of my optimism when confronted with this sort of decision as being endearing.

This is one of the easiest jobs to do on an old engine – everything falls readily to hand.  Later engines (I’m looking at you, transverse V6es) can be much harder to do this work on.

The new wires went in with a pleasant “click” as the ends clipped onto the plugs.  Due to the age of the old wires, I hadn’t realized that this was supposed to happen (the clips had long since lost their springiness).  It is entirely possible that some of my recent ignition problems were simply due to loose plug connections caused by the aforementioned loose clips.  One of the problems with learning a subject with old/broken/suspect gear is that you don’t necessarily understand how it actually functions, working backward from the problem rather than forward from knowledge of the correct behaviors.    The problem is that learning this way means you need to repeat the past mistakes of the engineers who designed the item so as to understand the current design.  When confronted with what appears to be a nonsensical design decision, it’s usually a good idea to assume that there is an historical reason for it.  Whether or not that reason is a good one is a often decided by time.

Perking up engine performance

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

As I am nearing the end of a move to a larger apartment, I have found several (some would say numerous) items that I should probably dispose of.  Some have a minor story behind them, and one is amusing enough I thought I would take a few pictures before throwing out the guilty part.

This is an old-style air cleaner for a carburated engine.  It sits on top of the engine, hence the chrome(esque) finish.

Aftermarket 14" air cleaner

Aftermarket 14" air cleaner

Here is the underside.  This cleaner never fit right; it always sat at a slight angle and required some fiddling with to get it to work.

Underside of modified air cleaner

Underside of modified air cleaner

Note that it has obviously been modified, with a new neck fastened on with what looks like caulk (or Liquid Nails or somesuch) and then resprayed silver.  I had assumed that a previous owner had done this to lower the air cleaner to fit under a low car hood.  On the other hand… one night I was working on the car, neighbors undoubtedly sighing “there’s that fellow again”, and had the air cleaner off.  My trusty head-mounted flashlight (neighbors sigh again) picked up a few words visible under the silver paint on the neck.


Brewing instructions!  Some ingenious and frugal individual had at some point needed to replace the neck of the air cleaner, and had realized that a can of Maxwell House or the like was almost exactly the right diameter.  Cut an inch or so of of the can, glue it to the cleaner, et voila!  A workable solution.  I say “workable” rather than “ideal” because the characteristic rolled lip on the can makes the inside diameter a little bit too small, hence my repeated troubles with fitment.  I will confess that I had not anticipated the above to be the reason for the problem.

The Lion in Winter

Thursday, December 17th, 2009


I should probably get a car cover.  Or move south.