Sorry I haven’t posted in almost two months! I’m still doing projects in diesel modification and preparedness, but I’ve been slow and I really haven’t written anything in a while.
The Job. I found a path away from the military work I was doing and took it. It turned out that this small company had been languishing in an undermanned spiral for some time. So, I show up, try to fix what I can, and wind up working 12-14 hour days all of the time.
I’m looking at another opportunity. My boss, a VP of the company, is aware of this. He and some others have made an offer to make it more attractive for me to stay. The other opportunity seems very attractive, though, and I think I’ll still take that when they make the offer. I’m still thinking about it, though.
Meanwhile, I got over the hump on getting a quarterly review out, and chose to take today off. I got caught up on a number of things and thought I’d start seeing what I can do to promote my book, again.
The Book. I’d like to announce that my book The Art of Diesel: Building an Efficient Family Hauler will be available for free this coming Friday through Saturday (25-27 July). Go grab a free copy and be sure to write a review of the book on Amazon! Also, if you buy the paperback version, you’ll get the Kindle version for free.
Chickens. I’ve mentioned that this blog is about preparedness, so I’ll point out that we raised some 26 meat chickens from chicks and after ten weeks they were ready to be “processed.” In fact, these breeds are so pitiful that if you don’t slaughter them right away they’ll start developing all kinds of other problems, including not being able to walk. They are bred to get big fast. We’ll look at some other breeds next time.
I didn’t get a good photo of what I did to my trailer, but I built a cover to haul them to the Amish ladies who do the processing at a low price. Eventually we want to learn these skill for ourselves, but we don’t want the learning experience to be under the gun with more than 20 to do at a time. We’ll make it a point to set a few aside, next time, and learn. Or, we’ll get with some friends who process their own.
So, after ten weeks in a Darby Simpson-style chicken tractor (we only live about two miles from him, by the way), these chickens were ready to go. We dropped them off early in the morning and picked up processed chicken ready for the freezer. One guy commented that these were some very large chickens, and here’s a snapshot of our freezer stuffed with them. They are very tasty and we feel comfortable about how/where they were raised.
Other Projects. I have had to make some repairs and do some maintenance on my Jetta TDI that now has 266,000 miles on it. I’ll take some time to post on that later. I hope to make regular blog posts on this and the sister site: Core 4 Liberty much more often.
I recently found that my clutch was starting to slip in my daily driver, a 2001 Jetta TDI. While doing this work I had to order some parts, unexpectedly, so I had to drive my Suburban for the week. The good news is that my next fill up showed me to be getting almost 26 mpg. The bad news is that this isn’t even close to the 45+ mpg my Jetta gives me, so I really needed to get this thing back on the road ASAP!
The Jetta currently has over 263,000 miles on the original clutch, so this wear item actually lasted quite a long time. Of course diesels produce torque at low rpms, so clutch when starting from a stop is minimized and less wear is experienced. I don’t let it slip at all when shifting between gears.
In addition to slipping, I had noticed that I had to push the clutch pedal to the floor completely to shift gears, and suspected that I might have a bent disengagement fork or need to replace some hydraulics.
I found a good deal on a clutch kit for the 228mm Luk clutch on Rock Auto. The kit (clutch disk, throwout bearing, and pressure plate) was a good deal at $110, but it was shipped from overseas for another $50. $160 was still a good deal, so I went with it. Using National part number CK9683, I was making the assumption that my dual-mass flywheel was still OK. I hadn’t had any problems or vibrations, so I expected this to be true. I was proven wrong.
I finally got the transmission out, which is no small feat. The Bentley shop manual I use recommends a special VW tool to push the engine forward. Of course, this can only be done with the left-side mount disconnected and with an engine support holding the engine from above. Without pushing the engine forward, the transmission can’t be removed. I used some threaded rod with nuts, washers, and a custom piece of 2×4 that grabs onto the frame behind the engine.
When the transmission was out, I compared the National clutch with the original Luk, and everything matched up perfectly. I had checked the fit of the National clutch and was getting ready to start reassembling everything when I realized that I should take a close look at the dual mass flywheel to make sure it was OK. It wasn’t. I didn’t have any issues with vibration, or anything, but I noticed that the bolt heads weren’t aligned with the holes in the flywheel’s cover plate. If the dampers were healthy, the bolts would align with the holes when the system is unloaded.
I had to order another clutch. I quickly found out that the dual mass flywheels were over $400. Even with $150 already sunk into the current clutch kit, it was a better deal to buy a kit to switch the system over to a conventional flywheel and clutch setup. The kit from German Auto Parts cost $383 shipped, but came with the flywheel, clutch disk, pressure plate, throwout bearing, an alignment tool, and the necessary bolts to install it all. It turns out that this is the setup used in the VR6 models, so this high-performance clutch should be more than adequate for my slightly-modified diesel.
So, I made the order and cut up the old flywheel so that I could access the bolts and remove it. The new parts arrived by the following weekend and installation went off without a hitch.
At first I thought I had made my hydraulic issue worse, because I had to pump the clutch up several times in the first few days. After that, it bled itself and returned to normal. It was actually better than before, as I didn’t have to push the pedal all the way to the floor, anymore.
The new clutch restored my car’s function and gave me the satisfaction of a job well done. I won’t have to worry about this conventional clutch, and many people have had very real problems with the dual-mass flywheels. It’s actually an improvement, and I’m back to using it as my daily driver.
I know that things have been quiet on this blog. Though I’ve got a backlog of projects and repairs to write about, I’ve been up to my neck in a new job.
Yes, I’ve finally escaped the Military Industrial Complex, but I’ve got a lot to learn in my new position. The next few months are likely to be slow with this blog, but I’ve taken photos of what I’ve done and I’ll catch back up later.
Meanwhile, however, several have contacted me asking if there was a paperback version of the book. I thought it would be a quick/easy effort, but I found quite a few things that needed to be modified as the book went to a hardcopy format.
I finally got it done, though, and now it’s available through Amazon for less than $10 a copy. Please check it out!
I was recently looking at tools to improve the accuracy and the amount of time I spend doing my own wheel alignments in my workshop. Like many other things, I believe that I can use some intelligence, ingenuity, and basic tools to do a better job than I would pay somebody else for. Yes, it will take time, but I will know that the job is done right.
While looking at tools I stumbled across a great article on CircleTrack.com that discusses how to align vehicles the “old fashioned” way using strings stretched between jackstands. I thought this was an instructive read, but I’d certainly trip over one of those carefully-aligned strings while making adjustments and have to start over. Toward the end of the article, the author (Jeff Honeycutt) said that they rarely use strings anymore, as inexpensive lasers are actually easier to use. Immediately this got my attention!
I knew that I had a pair of laser levels I used for my previous alignment efforts, and realized that they could be used this way, by lowering the included diffraction grating over the laser’s lens to spread the light out across a plane. If this process worked well, I could save a bunch of money while doing a better job aligning my vehicles.
My previous alignment process used these same laser levels to check toe-in by attaching them to appropriate lengths of aluminum angle, laying them across the rims, and measuring the distance between the dots on my garage door with fabric store stick-on rulers that I’ve installed for this purpose. By doing this at two measured distances from the garage door, I can determine the toe-in with some trigonometry. I’ve set up a spreadsheet in my shop’s linux machine to do the math for me. The problem with this approach is that I have to move the vehicle back and forth, hanging the laser levels and removing them again several times. After I get the toe-in just right, I then have to adjust to center the steering wheel by trial-and-error. If I’m stringing the vehicle, I’ll know when my wheels are pointed straight ahead (+/- some toe angle) and I can center the steering wheel without moving the vehicle.
So, I used this method with my wife’s Liberty CRD (yeah, it’s another diesel in the family!). Pardon the crud on the vehicle, as winter refuses to release its grasp as of this past weekend.
First, I already know that the floor in part of my workshop happens to be almost perfectly level. If the floor is not level side-to-side, you should look at using sheets of thin plywood, plexiglass (yes, I’ve used it that way before), or whatever you have laying around to get the vehicle level. You can use a long length of clear tubing with water in it as a type of level to compare the positions of the hubs or the bottom or the top of the rim on both sides of the vehicle.
Knowing that the vehicle was level, I pulled out a camber gauge that I purchased years ago from a forgotten source. Racer Parts Warehouse sells a very similar one for $40, but I’m still not absolutely sure this is where I got it. On this simple device, the standoffs are adjusted for the rim diameter and placed directly against the rim. The knob, marked in 1/8 turn increments, is turned in order to bring the level’s bubble to the center. A full turn is one degree, so the markings each represent 1/8 of a degree. I found out that the Liberty’s camber was within spec, but that there was a little bit of asymmetry that I removed. I don’t buy the arguments for asymmetry to counter crowned roads today, because we drive on such a wide variety of surfaces. The vehicle should be set to drive straight on a more common uncrowned road.
Before starting on adjusting toe-in, I also checked to ensure that the steering wheel was in the straight, level position. I would correct the front wheels’ position relative to the steering wheel, so that I wouldn’t have to mess with centering the wheel later.
Next, I put the laser levels onto some inexpensive tripods I picked up. I might opt for some larger, heavier, more stable tripods later, but these worked well enough for now. I set one up on the vehicle’s left side and used a carpenter’s square to check that the laser’s plane was at a right angle to the ground (yeah, I know the photo shows me doing this on the vehicle’s right side, which comes later). I then rotated the tripod left and right with repeated measurements taken on the left rear wheel to ensure the plane was parallel to the wheel. This is done by holding a ruler up at a right angle to the rim and seeing where the laser marks it. By comparing the front and the rear of the rim at hub level, I was able to get the laser positioned properly.
Then, I set up the laser on a tripod on the other side of the vehicle and used the same carpenter’s square to adjust it to be vertical. I measured the distance between the lines on the ground at the rear of the vehicle and at the front to see if they were parallel. With some time, I was able to get them exactly parallel to eachother. I then double-checked them with the carpenter’s square and knew that I could take good measurements.
The Jeep Liberty takes very near zero toe (0.10 degree total toe), and that was what I targeted, with just a hair of toe-in. Measurements are taken at hub level from the front and rear of the rim to the laser plane on both sides. When you know the total toe spec, the difference between these measurements will be:
Delta = (distance across rim)*sin[(total toe degrees)*pi/180]/2
The pi/180 bit is there for spreadsheets that default to radians for trig functions. The /2 bit allows for the fact that each side should cover half of the toe-in. My calculation shows that the difference should only be some 1/100th of an inch, and so zero toe is a good target. For applications where measurable toe-in is required, remember that the longer measurement should be at the front of the rim.
When I tweaked the adjustments I took the Liberty for a drive. It tracked perfectly straight and the wheel was straight. It wasn’t quite right before, but I was quite pleased with the results.
Well, temperatures dropped, again, I had some smoky, rough starts on the TDI. Voltage through my homemade harness looked great, but two of my plugs failed a quick continuity check using my multimeter — meaning that they were burnt out. Hadn’t I checked this before?
So, I had to replace them yesterday. I’d prefer the NGK glow plugs, but these are what I could get shipped from a local warehouse in one day. As long as they aren’t too expensive and they get hot when voltage is applied, I’m not too concerned about the brand name.
However, check out the NASCAR branding on these Autolite glow plugs. Are these the actual glow plugs used in NASCAR?
Yeah, I’m being sarcastic. I know, they aren’t really saying that these specific components (or any glow plugs at all) are used in NASCAR, but it’s still funny!
It’s been a bit since I’ve last posted on this blog. I’ve got some things going on that I’ve been hoping to share, but things haven’t panned out, yet. I hope to make an announcement about some changes I’m making in life soon. Soon! Meanwhile, I’ll just say I’ve been quite busy on a project.
Additionally, my kids and I have also been working on a quadcopter, now that building a 3-axis stabilized platform is really pretty simple and inexpensive. When we get it flying I’ll post a video and blog on that project.
We’ve had an unusually harsh winter here in Indiana, so I’ve been driving the diesel-converted Suburban [aka the Zombie Apocalypse Command Center (ZACC)] quite a bit. When road conditions allow it, though, I save fuel by driving my 2001 Jetta TDI (ALH). Sure, the Suburban gets reliable economy in the 20s, even in four wheel drive, but the VW moves me around with economy in the 40s. Paying half as much to commute is a good thing, even if its in a beat-up little car with 260,000 miles on the odometer.
Because temperatures have been low, glow plug function has been important, and I recently noticed some issues with cold starts. Making a cloud in a parking lot with a rough-sounding engine is embarrassing! I often cycle the key on-off-on in order to increase glow plug heating before cranking the engine. Recently it didn’t help, so I pulled the VW glow plug harness off and checked continuity for all four plugs. Last year one of them died (no continuity) and replacing it made a huge difference. All four plugs checked out OK, this time, so I figured my problem was another bad glow plug harness.
The glow plug harness on these vehicles is a poorly made plastic molding with only two conductors inside. One conductor feeds the positive side of glow plugs #1 and #2, while the other takes care of #3 and #4. Engine grounding completes the circuit for these plugs. I’ve been reading a number of complaints about them going bad repeatedly because the actual connections get corroded at the glow plug terminal. Bad design! I’ve already replaced this part once.
Being a bad design is one thing. Paying $80 per copy is another! I hunted down the part number and searched all over the Web for a better deal. Prices varied a bit, but they never went south of $50, so I decided that they were all horribly overpriced for a simple component that I could build myself.
I measured the connection on the dead glow plug from last year (not sure why I kept it, but it came in handy). It came in at exactly 4mm and my recent multicopter work got me thinking about 4mm female bullet connectors. I went onto eBay and bought a dozen sets of gold-plated male and female connectors for $5 delivered.
When they came in, I pulled off my VW plug harness to judge the needed wire lengths, soldered the 4mm female connectors onto the business ends of some wires spliced into a pair of Ys, covered everything in heat shrink (OK, yeah, some of it is actually electrical tape…for now), and spliced these assemblies into my wiring harness. The bullet connectors were just a bit loose on the plugs, but I solved that by squeezing them ever so slightly with a crimper. Now they fit onto the plug electrodes more tightly than the original harness does.
And, of course, my homemade harness works beautifully!
Please grab a copy for yourself and pass this along to everybody you know who might be interested!
If you’ve read the book (especially if you liked it), please be sure to make your way back to Amazon and review it. Any feedback I receive is greatly appreciated.
At present, the book is only available in the Kindle format that Amazon uses, but please note that free Kindle apps are available for almost any platform. Even the latest Android-based Nooks can load a Kindle app to read this book.
The Diesel Suburban just got a new set of leaf springs. I’ve been messing around with the suspension since the diesel was installed and running. The vehicle has seriously handled like a pig — and it’s not just because of its size. I’ve driven large vehicles that handled better than this one.
My first shot at improving handling was to replace all of my bushings with polyurethane. It didn’t help.
I realized that because I’m using the Isuzu 4BD1T’s power steering pump, I no longer had speed-sensitive steering, so I increased caster to get more “feel.” No improvement. I may still consider a non-speed-sensitive steering box at another time.
I swapped torsion bars in the front end for a set that were a bit stiffer, and got some improvement.
I swapped tires, and got no improvement, except that the newer ones don’t follow grooves in concrete as much.
I put a larger rear sway bar in, but it didn’t help.
I put some air-pressurized shocks in the rear to stiffen things up, but I suspect that spring wrap was still occurring.
As mentioned in the last item, I found out that some other large SUVs had problems from the factory, because they were shipped with light rear springs that allowed some rear steer which is caused by spring wrap. These vehicles were fixed by adding radius arms, but they could have also been fixed with beefier springs.
Nobody complains about Suburban handling from the factory, except when they’ve run into issues with the speed-sensitive steering being out-of-whack. Many bypass the feature to get predictable behavior. A suburban with 170,000 miles and over 14 years on the road may have weak rear leaf springs and start behaving in a similar fashion.
I called around, and found Warner Spring in Indianapolis had the best deal on a pair of OEM-style leaf springs. Some online locations might have saved me $20, after shipping costs were included, but the headaches of online returns when dealing with 200 lbs worth of springs helped me to go with a local shop.
Though the springs from Warner were supposed to be a direct replacement, they are 5+1 springs, rather than the 4+1 springs my K1500 Suburban came with. That’s OK, as I wanted them to be stiffer, and certainly feel that this Suburban was too lightly sprung from the factory.
When I got the springs home and removed the original springs from the Suburban, I set them down side-by-side and took a few photos. The differences include:
A 5+1 setup, meaning that there are five primary leaves, plus a single overload leaf. This overload leaf doesn’t engage until heavier-than-normal loads are placed in the rear of the vehicle.
Heavier leaf overlap. The leaves on the original springs didn’t overlaps as much, meaning that there was a lot less spring at the ends. The overlap on the new springs will add to the stiffness of the system.
Beefier overload spring. The overload leaf on the new assemblies is much longer and thicker than on the originals. This means that it will provide more load-carrying capacity for heavy loads.
I got everything installed on Saturday morning, but I haven’t had a chance to get the Suburban up to highway speeds. I have some errands to run and a meeting to attend this evening, so I will report back on whether this finally fixes my handling problems. I did notice that this lifted the rear end of the Suburban noticeably, and I may look at ways to counter that; including lowering shackles and cranking up the torsion bars a bit.
I’ve just set up a promotion on Amazon.com where free copies of my e-book “The Art of Diesel: Building an Efficient Family Hauler” will be available for free for one day only on Monday the 13th of January 2014.
Early in the week I mentioned that I had some issues running my natural gas-fired furnace using my generator — which has been converted to run on natural gas as well. Experimentation proved that there was something wrong with the power being provided by the generator. My family was lucky that the lights came back on on Sunday night, as we’ve heard stories of people without power for up to 48 hours. This is horrible when temperatures are in the negative teens and windchills are in the neighborhood of -30F (windchill will increase how much heat is lost through the walls of the house–by the same convective mechanism that affects your body). I also talked with a few people who had power, but were still having issues with frozen pipes.
I thought about my technical problem during the week and considered my actions to determine the exact problem and make a correction. First of all, I knew we needed more extension cords, so I stopped at a hardware store and picked some up, along with some cheap cord-wrap organizers and some water-tight cord connector covers — which were what we should have used for weather-exposed connections used to power heat lamps for chickens and rabbits. I picked up a heavy-duty 12-gauge cord long enough to reach from the generator to the furnace.
The generator had been left out and plugged into the natural gas line, in case we needed it again. Note that the ball valve before the quick-release was disconnected to avoid any natural gas leakage. With my sled/shelter protecting it, I wasn’t worried about blowing snow or rain getting into the control unit or the gas metering system. Because I live on a dead-end street in the boonies, only one (trustworthy) neighbor sees the side of the house where it was parked, so I wasn’t worried about theft.
On Saturday, when I had some time for experimentation, I fired up the generator and plugged my Kill A Watt meter into it. The voltage was right at 120V, so that was OK. I looked at the frequency of the alternating current, which should ideally be at 60 Hz. I found that the output was actually at just over 63 Hz. On a common, inexpensive, non-inverting generator like mine, the frequency is actually set by the speed that the engine is turning the generator head.
To adjust the frequency, I checked the throttle mechanism on the engine and found the governor. This was easily adjusted with a Phillips head screwdriver. The tip is to make adjustments while the engine is running. On my generator’s Honda engine, turning the adjuster clockwise increased engine speed and A/C frequency. I would expect other brands to be similar. I slowly turned the adjuster counter-clockwise until the Kill A Watt indicated 60.0 Hz. Then I observed it for about a minute. Even unloaded, the frequency will wander +/- 0.5 Hz, and the key is to ensure that that the range centers on 60.0 Hz. After a little more tweaking, I was ready to try running the furnace on the generator.
After letting my family know what I was doing (and waiting for a load of laundry in the washer to finish its cycle), I shut off all the power to the house using the master switch. I wasn’t sure that other energy sources weren’t used for the thermostat or any other systems, so I decided to simulate (create) a full blackout. I ran the cord into the furnace room, unplugged the furnace from the wall, and plugged it into the Kill A Watt meter which was plugged into the cord. I was in contact with my son via walkie talkie, and asked him to turn up the temperature on the thermostat so that the furnace would kick in.
The furnace started right up with no complaints. I heard the exhaust motor spool up first, followed by the ignition sequence and the main blower motor. As the generator was loaded up, the A/C frequency stayed in the 59.5 – 60.5 Hz range. I expected more fluctuation, and was favorably impressed with the result. Further cycling showed that voltage was constant.
I’m satisfied that I’m ready for the next winter power outage. I’d say “bring it on!” except that many others in the area aren’t prepared in this aspect and I’d like to see human suffering minimized. The lesson I’ve learned is that a system with any level of complexity should be fully ops-checked before it is needed. That’s obvious, but I hadn’t tried this out, and I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was. Now my Kill A Watt meter will be kept with my generator supplies, in case further adjustments are needed.