Sump Pump Circuit

I was unhappy with my Basement Watchdog backup sump’s controller, so I built my own simple system to control the pump and keep the battery charged. I took some video of the effort and posted it on YouTube yesterday.

Yes, I know I need a better camera, lighting conditions, and the sound quality leaves much to be desired, but I still thought I should share what I made with you.

May the Lord bless you and keep you running on all cylinders!

Sick, Callous Abortionists

Sometimes I must take a break from working on diesel and other projects to share some of the truly important things going on in this world. This is one such instance. To not speak out against the evils of abortion is to be complicit in an evil that dwarfs the holocaust in comparison. Since Roe v. Wade, Americans have killed 60 million of our own. As a Catholic, I believe that these unborn children are alive and have souls. The act of abortion is murder.

Gary Franchi of the Next News Network put this into his feed today. I don’t always agree with him, but I wholeheartedly agree with what he’s saying here. This is very disturbing and should be brought to everybody’s attention.

The link to the video he’s talking about is here: The audio “watermarking” for the preview is annoying, but stick with the video long enough to see what Gary was talking about.

How can these people see what they are doing and continue to perform these terrible acts?

Please share this with your friends!

May God bless you and keep you (and your offspring) running on all cylinders!

R320: Why Buy a Mercedes?

This AWD minivan is our new efficient family hauler.

This AWD minivan is our new efficient family hauler.

I know, I know, it sounds crazy that the guy who used to be so practical-minded would buy a Mercedes, of all things. Please allow me to explain!

First, the Suburban was requiring too much attention. The diesel conversion in a vehicle that complex required constant attention. Further, being that the vehicle was an aging, poorly-designed K1500 model, I was never happy with the handling or the brakes (yes, these are common complaints with the stock vehicle, so my conversion wasn’t the culprit). My wife was never comfortable driving it, either. When one of the rod bearings started making banging noises, I already had my eyes on a somewhat smaller vehicle as a replacement, one that would achieve 90% of what the Suburban did in a ready-made, well-integrated package. I don’t think that doing the conversion was a mistake, and I learned a lot that can be applied to future vehicles, but I definitely want to stick to simpler, lighter-weight vehicles where such a conversion can really shine. Perhaps something like a diesel sandrail or one of those common VW-TDI-into-Suzuki-Samurai swaps. We’ll see where I go in the future on this front, but I really want to pursue something where the swap results in an improvement over stock performance and things are kept simple and inexpensive. The Suburban cost me about $16k to build, and with all the systems I needed to integrate to make everything functional, it took about 18 months of my “free time.”

For those who are new to this blog, I currently own four turbo diesel vehicles. Call me strange, but I love torque and I demand good efficiency in my vehicles. The result is that diesels make a lot of sense. People will point out a higher initial cost of these vehicles, but I never buy new vehicles and when you look at used machines the cost of a diesel, typically, is not much higher. Especially not when you take the longevity of these machines into account. Maintenance may be more expensive, but I do my own maintenance. My vehicles are my #1 hobby, so I enjoy maintaining them and I absolutely refuse to go into debt to buy a vehicle.

R320 Rear View

There are some cosmetic imperfections, but this vehicle is mechanically solid and has a lot of potential.

This post wouldn’t be complete without bringing up the current car market. Are you looking for a new car? I’m writing this in May of 2017, and Peter Schiff’s latest update included information about manufacturers seeing worse-than-expected demand for their new vehicles. This is especially notable when they were already expecting declining year-over-year sales figures. So, the decline is worse than they thought. Don’t let Janet Yellen or her minions at the Fed fool you: this economy is on the precipice and we are seeing cracks in our biggest three economic bubbles in the United States (homes, autos, and education). These guys are playing a con-game with our economy and their “data-driven” approach to managing the economy (something which Austrian Economics shows can’t be done) is creating a mess. Without going further into detail on Austrian Economics (see, or Contra Krugman, if you’d like to learn more), the bottom line is that lots of dealers have inventory sitting on their lots and now is a great time to find a deal. Further, that fact also affects the used car market and many used cars are ridiculously inexpensive right now. Given that I’m a person who prefers to stay 100% debt-free (yeah, I have a mortgage, but I’m working on that), this makes the capability that can be found in a used car a completely amazing bang-to-buck ratio!

So, still, the question is why I would buy a Mercedes. The answer is in the specs for this Mercedes minivan:

  • Spacious room for six, even the third row will comfortably fit somebody over 6 feet tall (though nobody in my family comes anywhere close to 6′).
  • The same 3.0 OM642 V6 turbo diesel that is used in the Sprinters and a slew of other Mercedes-Benz vehicles. A common engine means that its strengths and shortcomings are well-known and parts won’t be too terribly rare.
  • More on the engine: 398 lb-ft of torque!
  • 4-matic. How many minivans have all-wheel drive systems?
  • Combining this with the same seven-speed automatic and transfer case that are used in a number of other models, including the R63 500+hp fire-breathing R-class, the drivetrain ought to be bulletproof.
  • The machine is EPA rated at 28 mpg highway.
  • Depending on where you can find the information, the towing capacity is between 3500 and 4600 lb.

Does that sound good enough? How about this: I found one with somewhat high mileage (145,000) for less than $7k. It has its scuffs, dings, and a number of issues that need attention, but this is an amazingly capable vehicle for the price. With classic Mercedes vehicles going 500,000 miles, I expect that this machine will also achieve a long life with some minor adjustments and modifications, along with proper maintenance.

That leaves one more question: What about maintenance? Given the time and capability I’ve shown in doing the Suburban modification, I believe I can do what’s needed on this vehicle, too. Further, I’ve already purchased a knock-off SD Connect multiplexer and software, giving me the code scanning, reset, and recoding capabilities that the dealers have. Perhaps more, as the system I have includes Xentry with development mode and something called Vediamo, which is a development suite.

So, that gives you a quick background on my latest project machine. I’ll follow this with posts about some of the work I’ve been doing.

Meanwhile: may the Lord bless you and keep you running on all cylinders!

Indiana State Trooper Driving Recklessly

I was westbound on I-70 just west of Indianapolis on Friday afternoon, talking with my father via Bluetooth, when I caught this on my dashcam. An Indiana State Trooper was in a hurry to get to a wreck … but that wreck could easily have been his or her own!

AOD: Rebooting

Hey, life has been crazy and I haven’t been doing anything with this blog for quite a while.

My son will graduate from home schooling in just a couple weeks and my daughter will follow a year later. My son’s going to take a very interesting path from here, and I’ll certainly be sharing more about his approach. For now, though, life has had the usual challenges that we all encounter, as well. So, I’ve had other priorities, but I haven’t stopped working on projects. Naturally, many of them are done out of sheer necessity or based on my unwillingness to accept the normal way of doing things.  I think that I learn useful things along the way that should be shared with you.

I’m going to spool back up on sharing things that might be useful to you, so please subscribe to this blog and my YouTube channel, so that you don’t miss out on some interesting things.

A number of changes are taking place, and you should expect the following from The Art of Diesel:

  • I’ve gotten more devout in the Catholic faith. I’ll share thoughts and information related to my ongoing, lifelong, spiritual journey.
  • I’ve sold the Suburban and I’m working on another project preparing a practical family hauler for a fraction of what the Suburban cost me. This project is getting to be quite technical, and I’ll share what I’m doing with a Mercedes R320 CDI that was sourced for cheap. I’ve already taken a lot of photographs and video that can be shared.
  • Of course, I’ll cover automotive projects related to my other turbo diesel machines and anything else mechanical that I wind up working on.
  • I’ve become more interested in exerting independence in the technical world and will share steps that anybody could take to become freer in a world where your information is being harvested for nefarious purposes by every organization that touches it.
  • I’m less and less interested in national politics, but I will get more involved in what’s happening at the local and state levels. As a libertarian, there’s a lot more that can be done working at these levels. I will share my exploration of local politics.
  • The site will gain a new look.
  • Could there be another book in the future? Time will tell.

Hang on, as I expect this to get interesting. I will continue to question the idiotic way that normal people approach life. I promise that I will ask tough questions and present you with at least one set of options that goes well outside the norm.

May the Lord bless you and keep you firing on all cylinders!


Glow Plug Harness: Powerstroke Parts on a VW TDI

I’ve been enjoying my 2005 Passat Wagon TDI for nearly two years, now. Like my Jetta, it’s another little diesel in my fleet. The engine is the BHW code, making it a Pumpe Duse engine. It’s not as efficient as the Jetta’s ALH engine, but it still gets me into upper 30s, but with a more comfortable family machine with a leather interior. When I bought the car it had a dead automatic transmission, so I was able to get a deal on it. I dragged it home and got to work on swapping the transmission for a standard using used factory parts sourced from Dutch Auto Parts in the Netherlands. Today you wouldn’t know that it came with an automatic transmission in it, because it looks completely stock.

This is the inexpensive part I used to replace my worn-out glow plug harness on my Passat TDI.

This is the inexpensive part I used to replace my worn-out glow plug harness on my Passat TDI.

The car now has 200,000 miles on it and I started getting the dreaded “EMISSIONS WORKSHOP” messages every time I started the engine. Pulling the codes, I found out that I had an open circuit at one of my glow plugs. I checked the glow plug and found that it had good continuity, so I knew it was the harness. VW charges too much for glow plug harnesses, and I must say that I didn’t bother to price it this time around. I wrote up an article a while back showing how to use R/C bullet connectors to make a glow plug harness rather than spending $80 on a factory part. Some of you told me that you’ve used the Powerstroke 6.0 harnesses you’ve bought on eBay, so I decided to give this a try. I found this one on eBay for $19.99. In case that link is dead, the seller was calvinvo, and the title was “2004 – 2010 Ford 6.0L Powerstroke Diesel Glow Plug Harness Left Driver Side.”

It came fairly quickly after I ordered it. I got started by chopping off the connector and peeling back the convoluted tubing. THEN, I realized that I’d like to start blogging again and took a snapshot of it. I should have taken a snapshot first, but this still gives you an idea of what it looked like.

I checked the four wires with an ohmmeter to see which color went to which connector. Using the one closest to where the connector used to be for the #1 cylinder, the codes are yellow for #1, red for #2, white for #3, and blue for #4. I tried snapping one of them onto the #1 glow plug after I removed the original harness, seeing that the large plastic caps would allow the couplers to snap onto the glow plugs.

Note that the black coolant tube has dimples near the glow plugs to make room for the stock harness.

Note that the black coolant tube has dimples near the glow plugs to make room for the stock harness.

I made new solder connections and covered them in heat-shrink tubing. Then, I went to install the harness and found that #3 and #4 didn’t fit. I realized that a coolant tube runs quite close to the head on the BHW engine, keeping the large plastic connectors from sliding into place. To make room for the stock harness, I noticed that VW put dimples in this tube.  I wasn’t going to enlarge the dimples or relocate the tube, so I got out my rotary tool and used a cutting disk to remove material from the underside of the plastic connectors for glow plugs #3 and #4.

These plastic connectors have o-rings for the Powerstroke application that must be used to keep water from getting into the cavities where the glow plugs are on that engine. The VW TDI engines have glow plugs that are exposed to the air, so there’s no need for this much plastic. I trimmed them back until I could snap the connectors in place.

I trimmed the glow plug connectors on cylinders #1 and #2 so that they would fit alongside the coolant tube that runs past the BHW head.

I trimmed the glow plug connectors on cylinders #1 and #2 so that they would fit alongside the coolant tube that runs past the BHW head.

Success! I’ve been able to clear the code and I no longer create an embarrassing blue haze hanging in the air when I start the cold engine on a cold day!

Suburban for Sale

Everybody, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted on here and I need to let you know that I’m making some changes in my life. Because I’m the father of two homeschoolers who are in their last couple years of high school, I can’t put the effort into the automotive hobby that I have in the past.

Yes, you haven’t seen much on here, because I wind up “just doing it,” and don’t have the time to take snapshots or even write blog posts about what I’m doing. I’d like to change that in the future, but that’s where I stand today.

I recently did a valve job on the Suburban’s 4BD1T with new valves, rebuilt rockers, and had everything professionally machined. I got it all back together, but now it sounds like something went in the bottom end of the engine. This really drove it home how much time I’m spending out in the workshop and I really need my 4×4 ready for winter. So, I’ve decided to sell it:

Meanwhile, I found a screaming deal on a Mercedes R320 CDI. This vehicle is basically an all-wheel-drive minivan with a 3.0 turbodiesel under the hood. These get 29 mpg on the highway and the engine has 400 ft-lb of torque at 1700 rpm. At the low price I paid, it’s no surprise that it needs a bit of work, but the drivetrain is solid and it’s driveable right now.

I intend to post information on the work I do to this vehicle and our other turbo diesels, but I’m really under the gun right now. Also, I need to roll up my sleeves on some political actions, and I intend to start sharing that again, too.

Free Book Until This Sunday!

The Kindle e-version of my book The Art of Diesel: Building an Efficient Family Hauler is free until this Sunday, the 12th of July 2015.

This book is primarily about why and how I put an Isuzu turbo diesel into a Suburban. The result is a large, capable, four-wheel-drive vehicle that is fun to drive and achieves 25+ mpg on the highway. Preppers might like that this vehicle has 1,000 miles of range and looks like any other 1999 Suburban on the road.

I manage to sneak a fair amount of libertarianism into the book, and I do my part to promote the concept of unfettered free markets. A couple readers complained about my politics, but the book still manages to get 4.7 stars out of 5 — so it stands on its own as a how-to/hobbyist/automotive book.


Sale on Tri-Fuel Kits

I’m working on some diesel projects right now, and will post on them soon, but I needed to share this with anybody who is following my blog right away:

I need to make a quick plug for the guys at US Carburetion.  They currently have a sale on their motor snorkel kits.

I installed one of their older kits on my generator and I love it!  It can now be run on propane or natural gas, in addition to gasoline as fuel.

Consider a situation where the power is out in your county for a week or more.  Everybody who owns a generator will be running to the gas station every day or two and standing in line.  However, if you have a large propane tank or have natural gas piped to your house, you can run your generator from that supply while paying attention to other family and community needs that may crop up in an emergency.  I still wouldn’t recommend running a large 5kW generator all day and night (the bill could be astounding, and running generators at night during an outage might attract undesired attention), but this certainly would allow more flexibility in your preparations.

These newer kits are much easier to install that the older version I used.

I have no business interest in US Carb, I’m just a happy customer who wants to share some useful information!

Stringing With Lasers: Building and Calibrating a Better Tool

Taking Alignment Measurements

Once two parallel, vertical planes of light have been established, it is fairly easy to measure the distance from the rims to the light and determine the wheels’ angles.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, but I thought I should share this useful information.

In a previous post I mentioned that “stringing” is the classic method for do-it-yourself wheel alignments.  By creating two parallel planes of laser light, one on each side of the car, one can easily take measurements from points on wheel rims to those planes.  Using those measurements and a bit of trigonometry, one can easily determine how the wheels are pointed and make adjustments.

The first time I mentioned stringing with lasers, I used laser levels with gratings that fan the laser light out across a plane.  The fact that these lasers were attached to levels was irrelevant, except that I had a pair of them in my workshop and they had 1/4″x20 threaded inserts that allow them to be mounted on tripods.  So, I mounted them on some small tripods and then went through the laborious process of adjusting the light planes to be vertical and parallel to each other.  It’s a great idea, and better than tripping over strings stretched between jack stands, but the alignment process is still quite a pain!

Lasers Mounted on a 2x4

I mounted my laser levels to a 2×4 in order to ensure that they would remain aligned relative to each other.

Shortly after I wrote that article, I got a crazy idea and bolted both laser levels to a 2×4.  This would ensure that they would only require, at most, very small adjustments in the future (due to warping wood, or getting bumped around in the shop).  However, this was still a huge improvement in shortening my setup time.  Note that the calibration process mentioned below would work for any material that one might choose to use.

Realizing that wood isn’t the most stable, sturdy platform in the world, I chose to make a new alignment device from pieces of steel.  I would gain more assurance that there would be no changes in the alignment between the lasers from one alignment session to the next.  I would still do a quick check, though, to be sure!

Tubing Welded Together

Two 4′ pieces of 1″ square tubing were welded to each other, in order to get an 8′ long piece. The angle iron reinforcement at the center was also used to mount the level.

I had two 1″ square pieces of steel tubing that were each 4′ long.  I really wanted an 8′ piece of tubing, so I butt-welded them together and reinforced the center where they met with a piece of angle iron.  The angle iron wrapped around the square tubing.  In addition to reinforcing the steel tubing, the angle iron gave me a convenient place to mount a level.  I didn’t worry about getting the tubing perfectly straight, or ensuring that the angle iron reinforcement would be perfectly parallel to the tubing.  All of this would come out in the wash when the lasers were adjusted and the setup was calibrated.  The important thing was that the connections were solid and weren’t going to move.

Feet Welded On

A foot was welded onto one end of the tubing. Also, 1/4″ holes were drilled in the tubing on both ends to mount the laser levels with 1/4-20 screws.

On both ends I drilled a 1/4″ hole at 1″ from the end.  These were to mount the laser levels.  Later I measured from one level to the other and found out that the actual distance between the lasers would be 93 15/16″  I made note of this for calibration purposes later.

Then, on one end I welded on a piece of metal that was cut so that it would touch the ground in two places.  This forms two feet of the tripod that  supports the device.  I angled these two feet so that the laser levels would actually point upwards a bit.  The laser fans are somewhat wasted when almost half the light is pointed into the ground.  More importantly, they might not be wide enough to take measurements at a car’s rear wheels if the device is set on the floor close to the rear of the car.

The Third (Adjustable) Foot

A third foot was made from all-thread. The pointed end goes toward the ground and it is adjustable to level the device.

On the other end I drilled a 10 mm hole inboard of where the laser level would mount.  I cut a piece of all-thread and ground one end to a point.  This point would be the third foot in my tripod.  By using this piece with a pair of nuts, I can adjust the entire device to be level when it is in use.

I strapped an inexpensive level to the angle iron and used this to level the device.

I bolted the levels onto the ends of the device and started calibrating the system.

First, I pointed the device at my garage door from a distance of 13 feet.  This should place two vertical lines on the garage door, but of course I could easily see that some adjustment would be required.  First, I adjusted the third foot, to ensure that the level at the center of the device showed it to be level.

Adjustable Beams

The gratings on these laser levels can be adjusted. I wanted to make these light planes perfectly vertical.  Note that the laser level is purposely pointed in an upward direction.

The grating on the lasers can be adjusted on these levels to get the desired angle.  I placed a long construction level upright on the ground against my garage door.  By inserting shims underneath its bottom, I was able to get it to stand perfectly vertical.  I adjusted the laser fan on that side such that the line went straight up the edge of the construction level.

Without moving the device, I moved the construction level to the other line on the garage door and did the same.  Now I had two vertical planes, but I had to confirm that they were parallel to each other.

Measuring Between the Planes

Now that the planes of laser light are both vertical, I measure between the two with the device at a distance of 13′ from the garage door.  Yellow stick-on rulers are stuck to the door in a horizontal line just below the bottom hinge.

When taking my wife to a fabric store, once, I found stick-on rulers that can be used for measuring lengths of fabric on a table.  I stuck these to my garage door, starting at zero at the door’s center and working outwards horizontally.  They come in one-foot lengths, so I used several of these in each direction.  I used another ruler to look along each sticker’s length to ensure that the measurements weren’t drifting from inaccurate placement.  I used these for other alignment approaches in the past, but today I could use them to measure the distance between my laser light planes.  Earlier, I had measured the center-to-center distance (same as the left-side to left-side distance) between the laser levels at the point where they mount to the square tubing.  Now I confirmed that the distance between the planes was the same at the garage door.  Obviously, I needed to make some adjustments.  Once I had the measurement within 1/16″ (at 13′, this corresponds to 2/100 of a degree), I tightened the screws used to mount the levels and checked it again.

Then, I got out the construction level and checked that the lines on the garage door were plumb, again.

Completed Device

Here my completed alignment device has been painted, reassembled, and recalibrated. It is shown in position for doing an alignment on “The Silver Standard,” my TDI.

Now I have two vertical, parallel planes of laser light that can be used to “string” a car for alignment.  I normally place the device behind the vehicle with the laser light planes extending forward.  I then align the system with the car by making the planes as parallel to the rear rims as I can get it.  Of course, this is a good approach for cars without independent rear suspension.  Some commercially-available systems use a third laser mounted in the middle to align the system with the car’s center line.

This system has been accurate enough that I’ve completed alignments and didn’t have to re-center the steering wheel when I was done.

One key when using a ruler to take measurements from the rim to the light:  Keeping the plane of the ruler vertical, swing the ruler forward and backward a bit, to find the smallest measurement — this ensures that you are taking measurements that are truly normal to the laser light planes and not succumbing to optical illusions.

–Keep it straight!