Jetta TDI: Head Gasket Replacement

TDI Timing Belt Removed
The timing belt was removed. Note the drill bit used to lock the injection pump into place.

In advance: I apologize for the blurry photos!  I need to replace my wife’s camera, so that I get my good one back.  I took these with my phone, and the quality is horrible!

In my commutes to and from Columbus from my home near Martinsville, Indiana, my 2001 Jetta TDI has been getting 47 mpg with 266,000+ miles showing on the odometer.  However, it started using coolant, and this needed to be addressed.

My own investigations found that the coolant wasn’t leaking onto my garage floor, so the usual suspects, including a bad water pump seal or a leaky hose, were immediately dismissed.  The coolant level might be OK for a week or so under normal driving conditions, but if I drove at elevated highway speeds or in a spirited fashion I would quickly get the low coolant alarm and need to top off the spherical tank under the hood.  I found that the coolant system was being pressurized under high boost conditions, creating gas bubbles and even pushing the coolant out of the water bottle.

A search around the excellent forums at TDI Club showed me that this was a known issue that occurs to the 1.9 liter ALH TDI engines.  It’s caused by a leaky head gasket.

The situation wasn’t too severe, yet, so I thought I’d try to increase the clamping force on the head.  The stock head bolts are of the stretch type that cannot be reused.  They also limit how much clamping force can be asserted.  I knew that ARP makes a stud kit for these heads, so I thought I’d give it a try.  I found out that DaveLinger on TDI Club had the same problem and was able to fix it by upgrading to the ARP studs.  I ordered them, did the upgrade, and found that it didn’t fix my problem.

So, I bit the bullet and ordered up about $400 worth of components from Kerma TDI.  I found that they had the best bottom-line total price, even though I still needed to pay some $21 in shipping.  Others had “free” shipping, but their total price was still higher.  I’m running a mild Kerma tune in my car, and know that Kerma specializes in TDIs and knows their business well.  I ordered a head gasket kit, a couple bottles of compatible coolant, a timing belt kit, and a replacement expansion tank (the old one was looking rough).  The timing belt kit was added because I already had 66,000 miles on the current belt and if I was removing the head, I might as well replace the belt early and be good for another 100,000 miles.  The kits were pretty deluxe and included stretch bolts, gaskets, seals, rollers, and other stuff that one isn’t likely to think of when doing this job.  It was about $400 in parts, but I know that this job would cost $1200+ for somebody else to do it.

When the parts came, I thought I could get this done in a weekend.  I work slowly, though, and it took two weekends to get everything back together and a third to get everything running correctly.

Homemade Camshaft lock
I locked the camshaft into position by removing the end bearing cap and using this piece of angle aluminum shimmed with some sheet metal.

I started by pulling out my Bentley Volkswagon Jetta, Golf, GTI 1999 to 2005 Service Manual and slowly worked my way through removing the timing belt process prior to switching to the head removal process. I should point out a couple cheapskate things I used for tools during this process.  The Bentley manual calls out some special VW tools, but there are workarounds.  Much of this came from checking out GallowayChicago’s YouTube video on the subject.  One is using a 15/64″ drill bit to lock the injection pump in place.  He also recommended removing the bearing cap on the end of the cam and using a saw blade to lock it into place using the groove built into it.  I took his advice, except that I used a piece of angle aluminum shimmed with some sheet metal I had laying around.  Further, rather than using some other fancy pin spanners on the tensioner, I found that the Park Tool SPA-1 had the right pin diameters when I found it on Amazon, so I tried it out and was pleased that it was exactly the right tool for the job.  It was only $10.

Homemade Sprocket Tool
This simple, homemade tool was used to counter torques when loosening the camshaft sprocket.

To counter torque when loosening the camshaft sprocket, it is very important that you don’t use your locking mechanism or you will likely twist the camshaft.  So, I simply used two pieces of angle iron with a bolt acting as a hinge and two other bolts at the end used to contact the sprocket and keep it from rotating.  It gives me plenty of leverage!

Parker Tool SPA-1
The Park Tool SPA-1, a pin spanner made by a company that specializes in bicycle tools, works perfectly for setting the tensioner on this engine.

When I was removing the head, I found that I’d forgotten to disconnect the oil line to the turbo.  This steel line was quickly messed up in the procedure and it looked like a real mess to reinstall an new one.  Bora Parts had the answer for me, that was about the same price as the best deal I could find for the OEM line: a braided stainless turbo line.  It was easy to route and install when everything was being reassembled.

When the head was removed, I cleaned up all of the surfaces with a gasket removing chemical and a plastic scraper.  I wouldn’t use metal to remove gaskets from an aluminum head, as you will certainly gouge the surface and screw up the ability to seal with the new head gasket!

Filthy Head During Cleaning
I used the Permatex gasket removing chemical that is applied with a brush to remove remaining gasket materials from the head and the engine block.

When I reassembled everything on the second weekend, I found that I couldn’t start the engine.  With my crazy work schedule, I had to hang it up until the next weekend.

I began looking through everything to see what I did wrong.  I found that my timing was off one tooth, which is apparently a common error that will happen when tension is applied to the belt.  However, correcting this still didn’t allow me to start the engine.

I had used a Mityvac to prime the injection pump before trying to start the engine, but it didn’t seem like it was getting any fuel.  I did a cold compression check, and knew I had good compression, so simple logic dictated that I wasn’t getting fuel into the chamber.

I searched through forums for “no start” conditions checked a number of things, including electrical connections going to the injection pump.  Everything looked OK.  Finally I stumbled across one person who mentioned priming the injectors and tubing that had been disconnected in the process.  I cracked them open, cranked the engine, and tightened them back down.  Now the engine started with no issues.  There must have been a bunch of air in those lines!

Injection Pump Timing Adjustment
Injection pump timing is adjusted by removing the upper timing belt cover and loosening the three bolts that are in slots on its sprocket. Then, the central bolt is rotated to adjust the timing and the bolts are retightened.

With the engine running, I pulled out my Ross-Tech VAG-Com and took measurements on the actual injection timing.  This tool allows me to look at, record, and adjust a large number of features and variables on my car.  There is an acceptable timing range for the injection event, and this tool gave me a graphical indication of where the event was taking place.

At first the injection was too far advanced, with the events being recorded above the visible range on the graph.  On my first tweak I moved it just below the acceptable range.  After a couple more small adjustments, I got the injection events timed on the advanced side of the acceptable range, but still within it.  This is a safe timing setup that will provide the best fuel economy.

VAG-Com Injection Timing Graph
The VAG-Com allowed me to mechanically adjust my timing until it was ideal. Advanced, but within the acceptable range.

I learned a lot of lessons in this process, and if I need to replace a belt or pull a head from one of these cars again, in the future, I’ll be able to do it much more quickly and easily.  In addition to the knowledge, I also have more of the tools for the job.

-Putting the “engine” back in “engineering!”

Finally an Update! Free E-Book, Chickens Processed

Chickens Ready for Processing
I built a cover for my trailer to haul the 26 chickens for processing. Sorry about the bad photo. I should have taken a snapshot in daylight.

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.

Chickens in the Freezer
Here we have 20+ chickens that now occupy my dedicated freezer.

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.

–At least I’m starting to blog, again!

 

TDI Clutch Time!

Jetta Clutch Maintenance
The Jetta needed some rare attention, and I replaced the clutch.

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.

Makeshift Spreading Tool
I built a makeshift spreading tool to push the engine forward, allowing the transmission to be removed.

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.

Trashed Dual Mass Flywheel
The original dual mass flywheel needed to be replaced. Note that the bolt heads are only partially visible through the holes.

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.

New Conventional Clutch
Because the new flywheel didn’t have a damping system in it, the new clutch disk has to have springs.

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.

By the way, on my last tank I got 46 mpg.

-Putting the engine back in engineering!

My Diesel Conversion Book: Now in Paperback!

The Art of Diesel: Papberback
The Art of Diesel: Building an Efficient Family Hauler is now available in paperback format.

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!

 

Stringing for alignment with lasers

Laser String Alignment
This weekend I used lasers to “string” my wife’s Liberty CRD and adjust its alignment.

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.

Checking Camber
I used this simple, inexpensive camber measurement device to ensure the camber was OK. Caster doesn’t tend to change much on its own.

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.

Squaring the Plane of the Laser
The laser’s diffracted plane was adjusted to be vertical using a carpenter’s square.

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.

Two Lasers Used for Alignment
Two lasers with diffraction gratings installed were used to make a pair of parallel planes that were at a right angle to the rear axle. Measurements for alignment were made from these two planes.

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.

–Do it yourself, if you want it done right!

 

 

 

Are these the glow plugs used in NASCAR?

NASCAR Glow Plugs
Are these the actual glow plugs used by NASCAR? (Yes, I know better.)

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!

–We’ll see if this makes my 90 hp TDI any faster!  ;-)

$80 Glow Plug Harness?! Not on My TDI!

VW Glow Plug Harness
This is the original, poorly-built, overpriced piece-o-crap that VW sells.

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.

My Homemade Glow Plug Harness
This harness was made from 4mm female bullet connectors soldered onto 12ga wire with heat shrink (and some electrical tape–needed some larger heat shrink).

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!

–No more embarrassing smoky, rough startups!

Free Book Promotion: 1st and 2nd of March

The Art of Diesel CoverWe are having severe thunderstorms in Indiana, tonight, and it seems like spring is in the air.  I think it’s time for another book promotion!

Thanks for the reviews, everybody!  I just noticed that my Dad recently reviewed the book.  I know he’s not exactly an impartial observer, but his review was appreciated.

I had a free book promotion several weeks ago, but this time I’m providing some notice, so that you can tell your friends.

My e-book will be available for free for the first weekend in March.  That will be Saturday the 1st and Sunday the 2nd of March.

The US link to the book is here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HMUUOAM, but of course it can be found worldwide on Amazon by searching for The Art of Diesel.

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.

Thanks!
-Mark-A-Billy

Diesel Suburban: New Leaf Springs

Leaf Spring Comparison
The new leaf spring assemblies (5+1) are much beefier than the ones they will replace (4+1).

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.
Spring Overlap
The new springs feature more overlap between the leaves, which will further stiffen the system.

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.

Overload Leaf Comparison
The overload leaf on the new spring shown here is much beefier and longer than the other. This will allow more load-carrying capacity.

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.
New Leaf Springs Installed
The new leaf springs are installed. I still need to get the vehicle up to highway speeds to know if I’ve improved the handling.

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.

–Still learning things the hard way!

Monday the 13th: Free Book Promotion!

The Art of Diesel CoverI’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.

The book can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HMUUOAM.

If you download and read the book, I encourage you to post a review in Amazon and any other social media outlets you use.

–Thanks, and Happy Reading!