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.
It was fairly warm, with temperatures in the mid-30s (Fahrenheit) yesterday. We had heavy snow in Indiana yesterday, with perhaps ten inches of depth. As the sun went down, the snow continued, but the gusty wind was added as the arctic front came through. This morning temperatures dropped into the negative teens and we will see a high today of nine below zero.
Hoosiers, for the most part, aren’t equipped or prepared for this kind of weather. This wouldn’t have been a big deal where I was raised in Minnesota. Everything is closed today, including the place where I work.
The coming snow and cold was something that everybody in Indiana was well aware of for the past several days. Grocery stores were good places to avoid for their crowds and cleared shelves. It wasn’t a scene of panic, but people around here sure rush to the store when a storm is announced. Milk and bread are the first things to disappear.
Yesterday morning, as a wet, heavy snow was falling, we started noticing that our lights were flickering. The area I live in is notorious for power outages. If there is a thunderstorm, we are the first ones to lose power and often the last ones to recover. This happened quite a few times earlier this year. My family and I are well-practiced at rolling out the generator and running extension cords to where power is truly needed.
Considering the possibility of long-term blackouts, the relative reliability of the natural gas system used to heat our home and water, and the cost of natural gas versus gasoline on a per-BTU basis, I decided that the generator should run on natural gas. I purchased a tri-fuel (natural gas, propane, and gasoline) conversion kit for my generator and the necessary plumbing and hose fittings to make it work. I put a tee and a quick-disconnect just after the meter on my house’s natural gas supply. Now, as long as I have natural gas I can run my generator.
With winter coming, I saw that I could use the generator to power the controller and blower on my furnace; keeping the house warm. This meant that heating my house would only require one grid to be functional, rather than two. My furnace was hard-wired into the house’s power with only a breaker to disconnect it. This makes powering the furnace difficult without a transfer box (perhaps I’ll get one installed later). So, I added an outlet and rewired the furnace so that it plugs into it. Now I can simply unplug it from the wall and plug it into an extension cord from my generator.
We had a based snow from a few days ago on the ground, heavy snow was falling, and the lights were flickering. I started wondering how I’d get the generator through a foot of mushy snow to the location where my generator’s hose can reach the natural gas supply. I recalled a pallet that my wife had left leaning against the back side of the barn, and thought about fashioning a sled. I added some 1x4s with a 45 degree angle, some planks, and covered all of the gaps with shower board that I had laying around. Voila! I had a generator sled.
In the past, I’ve thought that I should build a shelter for the generator, so that it can be run in heavy rainstorms. As I was building the sled, I realized that it could be placed inverted on top of the generator, in order to provide some shelter from the snow. I added some sheets of Solex (leftover from a greenhouse project) to the sides of the shelter which would be exposed to the prevailing wind.
As predicted, the power went out. Dragging the generator to the back of the house was one heck of a workout, as the sled could use more surface area for flotation; the generator and sled kept sinking in. At every time I stopped to rest, my first movement as I restarted would basically lift the entire system to get it back on top of the snow, using the ramp I’d built into the front end. It was a slow process, but it was possible due to the sled.
After dragging it through the snow, I rolled the generator off the sled into position. I plugged the generator into the natural gas system and fired it up with no issues. I agree with those who say they actually run better on natural gas than they do on gasoline. I put the inverted sled on top and held it down with bungies. Amazingly, it stayed in place, even with last night’s howling winds. The snow buildup on top probably helped.
We ran extension cords everywhere, and I found out that the furnace wouldn’t fire up. I experimented with multiple potential causes:
Bad ground? Generators aren’t often grounded. I thought the furnace was being fussy, so I grounded the system to the house’s ground and it made no difference.
Was too much natural gas being used by the generator to fire the furnace? I shut off the natural gas supply to the generator and switched it over to gasoline, to find that it made no difference.
Adequate power? This generator is rated at 8 kW peak, so I have no doubt that this would power the furnace which pulls a maximum of 12A (1.44 kW).
Inadequate extension cord? I think this is it!
The startup transient must suck a lot of current when the blower starts up. With the panel removed to troubleshoot the situation, I could see and hear the controller trying to start the blower. It would blip the motor and stop right away. The controller must have seen a momentary drop in voltage and reset each time. I monitored a/c voltage with my multimeter and didn’t see the voltage drop, but it may have been too quick for my multimeter. I think I need a better gauge of cord for this application, and will certainly ops-check it before we need it next time.
Thankfully, the power came back on at around 8:00 pm, but I know that many Hoosiers are without power with -30F windchill today. My neighbors and I are OK, but this could be a real emergency for some. It would have been tough for us, but in the worst case we would have moved to a single room, closed the door, and huddled around a space heater with blankets. I would have to keep checking pipe temperatures in the basement to ensure that they were OK.
Good: We were well-prepared with stored food, LED flashlights, and candles. We used our gas stove (lit manually with a handheld lighter) to heat water and vegetables to go with the home-grown chicken that my wife had been cooking in the crock pot all day. Everybody simply dug in on what needed to be done.
Bad: I had made preparations for a situation like this, but hadn’t ops-checked the power system to see if I could really power the furnace.
Corrections: We identified several things we need to do:
Get a good extension cord for the generator. Installing a grounding rod would be a good idea, too. Ops check the whole system. Drag out my Kill-A-Watt, too, in order to characterize what’s happening.
Get more inexpensive extension cords. Because we were worried about rabbits and chickens in the cold weather, we ran some 150′ of cords back to the barn’s greenhouse and chicken coop to run heat lamps.
I need some ski pants or other lower body covering. Cotton jeans are a terrible idea when slogging through the snow.
We need a lantern to light up one room. (We ordered a Rayovac SE3DLN on Amazon today.)
With a few inches of snow last night and crews that don’t seem too interested in actually cleaning road surfaces, the Suburban was in its element today. It was very slippery early this morning, and it wasn’t much better when I came home late in the day.
I decided that if I’m going to be driving this machine, I should take some time to make a couple quick adjustments. I decided to adjust the injection timing to tune for better fuel economy and to adjust the wastegate pushrod for more boost.
When I bought this engine, the injection timing was set at approximately 8 degrees before top dead center. To find this out, I disconnected the output connection for the #1 cylinder on the injection pump, primed the system, and slowly rotated the engine while looking for the point where the fuel would be released from the #1 port. The 8 degree timing was an indication that this engine was originally retarded from the normal Isuzu specification of 13 degrees in order to meet California emissions standards. Of course, I fixed that. In the attached photo, you’ll see a row of three punch marks I made on the pump on the left side of the vertical joint shown. On the right side, you’ll see a row of three marks which were in alignment with the three marks on the pump when it was still retarded. When I set the timing to the normal Isuzu specification, I made a single new marking in that location.
In the photo, you’ll note that the pump has been rotated even further recently. I thought I’d see if further advancement of the timing would help the engine’s fuel economy. Given that that two marks on the right are about 5 degrees apart, I believe I advanced the timing another 4 degrees; taking the engine to approximately 17 degrees BTDC. It actually hurt the fuel economy by several miles per gallon, so I pulled all but about one degree of this additional advance out. I’ll top off the tank, again, and watch my fuel economy for a few weeks, again, under a variety of conditions.
When viewed from the front, rotating the pump counter-clockwise advances the timing, while moving it clockwise retards it. The injection pump is mounted with four nuts on studs that have to be loosened to rotate the pump relative to the engine case. These nuts aren’t easy to reach, especially the bolt at the top of the pump between the pump and the engine block. To reach this, I use a 17mm Gear Wrench with a flex end. When I get the flex angle just right I can use it to loosen and tighten that bolt. I should find a ratcheting wrench with a smaller angle between clicks, because it’s so tight in this area that I can only get 1-2 clicks of ratchet between tightening or loosening movements.
I’ve been reading Dougal Hiscock’s thread on turbo sizing and performance predictions on the 4BTswaps website. Dougal also provided performance predictions that made it into my newly-released e-book The Art of Diesel. Looking at these, Dougal predicts that the maximum horsepower can be extracted from these engines by allowing the turbo to produce around 26 psi of boost. Because I once experimented with disconnecting my wastegate, I know that
my GT2259 will produces approximately 25 psi of boost measured at the manifold, after an intercooler that has about a 1 psi pressure drop (based on further experimentation). When I previously tried increasing the boost above the wastegate’s 15 psi setting, I didn’t actually increase the performance, but I hadn’t backed out the fueling screw or removed the aneroid pushrod. I have more fueling available, now, so perhaps the additional boost would be put to good use. This shouldn’t hurt normal fuel economy, as 15 psi is rarely seen and the wastegate isn’t exercised that often.
I’ve threaded my wastegate’s arm and installed a sleeve nut to make the length adjustable. Tonight I considerably shortened the length, and tomorrow I’ll see how much boost the turbo will provide. Soon I should have some butt-dyno and mpg results to report. I’ll get back on this soon!
My e-book The Art of Diesel: Building an Efficient Family Hauler was uploaded to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing site last night. After a couple iterations of tweaking the format to work better on the Kindle (or on Kindle apps available for Android, IOS, PCs, and Macs), I hit the “publish” button. This morning, I received notification that my book was available online.
We’ve just rebuilt The Art of Diesel to make it more focused on diesel modifications and self-reliance. I will still be blogging on liberty-related issues, but this content will now be found at http://core4liberty.com
With the change, we’ve updated the theme and will be adding some new features to the site. I’ve ported all of the the old content over to the new version of the site. I’m still working on improvements to the Suburban and other self-reliance projects and will do a better job sharing more on the topic.
You may have noticed that my last post was in October. I’ve been concentrating on my book The Art of Diesel: Building an Efficient Family Hauler, that will be available soon as an e-book through Amazon. You can get the Kindle app for your smartphone, tablet, or your PC, if you don’t have a Kindle. If there’s enough interest, I’ll consider creating a print edition, too.