Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Rules of Vehicle Maintenance.

Its been a long day. I'm one hour into my standard eight at work, but I've been up since about 7:30 this morning (which isn't too far off when I'm normally going to bed). But my dad came into town this weekend for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that my poor S-10 has been running on maybe 3.5 cylinders (out of four) for the past month or two - and desperately needed attention. Problem was it's been colder then the Clinton Marriage Bed in Fargo of late, so I've been loath to mess with it, and it certainly wouldn't make the 186 mile trip home to Dad's beautifully heated garage reliably. So it waited.

This weekend was perfect, since today was gorgeous. Warmer then its been since November, Plenty of extra heat from my propane heaters, and relatively little work to be done on the cold concrete.

Now, I'm glad Dad came out to help me. I'm an old Farm kid, and I'm more then mildly mechanically inclined. I can handle basic maintenance on my vehicle (and do) and I've done larger jobs, like replacing brakes, and struts, starters and alternators. But I had no idea where to start with my rough running, not starting quite right pick up, and if dad hadn't come out to help, I'd probably still be in that garage scratching my head. (we admittedly got lucky... more on that in a minute.)

We decided that the first chore would be swapping the muffler which had gone bad. Neither of us thought this would be the answer to the problems, but it was a start - and more importantly would let us gauge how badly the vehicle was sounding once it was running properly muffled. This turned into a bit more of a project then originally envisioned.

And, it brought to mind the very first rule of Vehicle maintenenace - that being "If you go to the store to pick something up, and leave something behind you don't think will be necessary, you will invariably be going back." We stopped at Menards in the Morning to pick up a couple minor things after filling up on propane. While there, we happened across an angle grinder for cheap that Dad mentioned would be handy, but we shouldn't *need* it. (And he'd left both of his own at home.) Two hours of attempting to seperate the tailpipe, muffler and manifold assembly later, we went back to pick up the grinder.

An hour after that, it was off to O'Rielys to look into a muffler. They had two different models that were supposed to fit my truck, neither of which matched what was currently ON my truck - but since that particular exaughst job was something of a frankenstien's monster my brother had cobbled together, we weren't sure how much was 'stock.'

So, we took both. And since my engine wasn't running right, 4 new plugs, wires, a distributor cap and rotor, and on a whim because my dad had noticed my valve cover was leaking, a new gasket for that (the last will be key, later.)

Which, is virtually everything you could possibly believe you might need. You'd be wrong, and rule One was initiated again once we got back and determined that the tail pipe off my pick up would in no way fit to the muffler without a fair amount of reshapping (thank you Mark's Monster of a exaughst...)

A couple calls to O'Riely's around town netted us a tail pipe. So we ran out and picked that up, finding out that O'Riely's is open til 9 PM (this will be important later as well)

So we got the new tail pipe and the largest of the mufflers hung after that will very little trouble. Score one for the home team. Time to tackle the not firing right engine. (The New Muffler, btw sounds absolutely beautiful.)

We decided to start by pulling the valve cover and replacing the gasket. (We knew that wouldn't fix the problem... but it would be the most intensive part of the tear down and rebuild we had planned, so it made sense to do first. (We were also wrong, in my estimation. My dad prefers to think what happened was somehow caused by pulling the Valve cover off, but I just can't believe it)) Then we'd swap the plugs and see if that helped. If it didn't, we'd swap the wires, etc all the way back through the parts we had.

So after locating all 7! studs, one of which was hiding under a diaphram valve who's job I still don't know (and removing that valve was a reminder in Rule 3, that being - no matter how many tools you may own, in any given job, there will be one tool you wished you had, but can not find, or do not own.) Anyway, we managed to get the valve cover off with relatively little fuss, and then stepped back to eyeball things.

One thing stood out like a sore thumb. One of the little rockers (in this case, it appeared to be for the intake valve on what I'll call cylinder one) was not seated correctly.

For those of you who've never seen the intake/exaughst valves for an internal combustion engine, the system has a push rod on one side of a lever (sorta looks like a see-saw) when the rod goes up, it closes the valve, and when the rod goes down, it opens. The intake valve on my truck was stuck about 3/4s or so open, and the little see saw was perpendicular to the rest of the valve assemblys. (thusly, when the push rod went up and down, the valve didn't move.)

Now. I will qualify this by saying that my dad prefers to beleive we somehow did this while removing the valve cover. And he does this because neither of us have any CLUE what kind of forces could cause this to happen in the engine and still allow it to function, and because if it happened once, it very well could happen again. The problem with his theory is that that rocker's bolt was as tight as any of the others, and we sure didn't beat on the cover to get it off.

So, we fixed that major issue, replaced the valve cover gasket (the original reason we pulled the cover) and re-assembled things. Then... just because we said we would, we swapped out the spark plugs.

In doing so, we managed to break one of the wires. Remeber above, where we bought new wires just in case?

Yah. When that wire broke, it was 9:30 on the dot. If we hadn't bought the wires, we'd have been up shit's creek. (Back to Rule 1)

It was an adventure (as it always is with my truck) but she run's beautifully now.

And, for people who've been paying attention... I've neglected to bring up Rule 2 of Vehicle Maintenance.

Rule 2 is one of the most important. However long you think it might take you to do something? Always give yourself time and a half at least... just in case. We started on my truck at 8 am, give or take. We finished re-assembly just before 10 PM. Except for a 2 hour interuption to meet my Grandmother for lunch, we spent the whole day on my truck - and only $Diety and Lady Luck's smile got us done in time to get me to work.

Oh, and the best part?

Muffler: $35
Tailpipe: $16
Wires: $11
4 Sparkplugs: $10
Total Parts cost: $72

Tool cost(angle grinder): $21 dollars.

At $93 dollars, this is the cheapest major repair I've ever had to do to this pickup.

Its gonna feel so damn good getting to bed this morning.



Gothelittle Rose said...

Come visit me and bring your tools! :D I make a lovely lasagna!

Sean said...

I'll one up her and do steak if you will help my lovely wife rebuild the engine on the Cherokee when it's time (or maybe do the diesel swap) - she's the mechanically inclined one, I don't understand that stuff unless it goes *boom*.

Jon said...

Gothe - ..the money required to fly my tools and me across the country is scary - and as good as my truck is running, its still my truck. Its now allowed to make thousand mile plus trips - but if I ever get the urge to wander east via vehicle, I'll pack my toolkit ;)

Sean - A full engine rebuild or desiel swap is a little beyond my knowledge level, (not that I'm against learning :D) but if she just needs a grease monkey to assist and take directions I'm game ;).