Archive for the 'mikuvan' Category


Operation Bad Timing II: The Epilogue

Sep 06, 2018 in mikuvan

Holy pepperini I’m late with this one! I’m really hoping I can get back into regular posting soon in some way as the company (which I owe now a TED Talk or Disrupt-level summit on the story of, I’m sure) becomes more defined and roles more condensed. See, if I don’t get to blog, I start almost brooding like a chicken that just has to pop an egg out and sit on it until it hatches. This is a patently unsustainable behavior in the long term. By the lack of updates, really, you can probably infer that everything worked out and I was able to move onto other things – after this post, I’m planning on a lot of back-blogging some robot and additional van work I did before the summer. If I keep saying it, it will happen, right?

We pick up the adventure again on the verge of final re-assembly as I decide to tackle the very cracked exhaust manifold before it just splits in half like something I’d see on r/JustRolledIntoTheShop. I did some light reading on cast iron welding techniques beforehand – everyone says it’s extremely difficult, so why not try since I’m not…… likely to make it worse? The method I ended up settling on is using a nickel filler rod and a TIG welder.


I wire brushed and ground out the area of the crack with some combination of a Dremel and a die grinder. The idea seems to be you have to get ahead of the crack such that it doesn’t continue propagating.

I’ve read that it’s very likely the cast iron used in manifolds is a bullshit material made of manufacturing scrap and cuttings, so the composition might not be carefully controlled, and that different manifolds will weld with different success rates because of it. Either way, it seems like a preheat is necessary – and some places even advocate post-heating. I found a simple way to pre-heat the area by virtue of just sticking the torch up the bottom.

I can say right away that these were not my proudest welds.

So I’m sure people who have repaired manifolds will giggle amongst themselves about it, but it turns out that old oil-soaked cast iron is not exactly a very cooperative material to weld. By this I mean the moment I stepped anywhere near the boundary of my cleaned/ground weld seam, it would literally explode from all the deposited junk in the surface. If it didn’t just crater the whole area, the remnant oil would actually bubble up into the weld pool and make it porous!

This meant a lot of rework and re-cleaning and re-grinding. Eventually I got the message, and simply plowed forward and just kept adding more nickel rod to fill the imperfections and porosity up, basically burning out all the oil in the area of the weld. Sadly I was only able to close the cracks on the accessible sides, and not much in the center valley, so it’s still technically leaking.

You know what, fuck it. It’s better than when I started, and nothing re-cracked yet, so it’s going in! Overall the experience in the clean, cooperative area of the weld wasn’t bad at all.


….okay, yes, but first I had to repair the studs. There was always one exhaust downpipe nut that was almost impossible to get off, and I finally found out why. In this manifold were studs of two VERY, SLIGHTLY, IRRITATINGLY different threads. Two were M10 x 1.25, a standard metric fine thread that is easy to find in the US in any disused, neglected metric parts corner.

The third was M10 x 1.0, which is apparently a parallel metric fine thread standard. Well that would certainly explain why the M10 x 1.25 nut was so difficult… this nut has never been changed or the stud inspected by itself until now, and was the one someone clearly meatheaded on long ago.

Oh, yeah, I also sheared all 3 studs off trying to get them loose, because of course they would all shear off.

The only option remaining was to drill them out down the center. Because of the awkward angles involved, I decided to not try and set them up in a drill press, but instead piloted the center of the hole  with a larger 135-degree, split-pointed drill bit, then drilled downwards with larger and larger drill bits by hand.

Manifold-kitty is pleased.

Then I slammed a M10 x 1.25 (more commonly found metric fine thread) tap through whatever remained and YOU KNOW WHAT, JUST GO DIE IN A FIRE ALREADY shipped it. Yes, I tapped right over the remains of the old studs. Who cares!?

My plan was to actually not use nuts and studs anymore and instead put some ISO large-head M10 bolts straight in from the bottom.

Very generous dollops and blobs of anti-seize lube are applied to everything in sight with respect to the exhaust manifold. The new nuts and hardware are no longer JIS standard, so they use 13mm wrenches instead of 12mm – while I was able to locate 12mm JIS series nuts, they had a regular zinc coating, whereas I could get the non-JIS ones with the yellow chrome finish. I decided to opt for maximum corrosion resistance than period hardware correctness.

Also check out the timing hardware finally installed! I’m so fast with it now! Kill me and end my suffering!

Look! I didn’t even sail right through a critical mistake-catching step this time! That is indeed the camshaft timing mark lined up with the head casting mark.


The original mistake? In the dark and without the paper manual in front of me (and boneheading through remembering the exact procedure), I missed the casting mark and instead lined it up with the top of the head.

With everything now bolted up and secure, it was time to fill it up with oil (just oil for now) and do a test fire…

Well, it didn’t explode, so…

I now had to set the distributor timing. The engine has electronic timing control, but still depends on the distributor as a crankshaft position pickup, so it has to be vaguely in the right place. To do this, I had to whip out my timing light and find the degrees-BTDC indicator on the lower timing cover, after jumping a “timing mode” connector pin located right  behind the engine on the passenger cabin firewall – this tells it to not apply any timing advance.

Wait, what? Mine didn’t look like any of the others I saw online. After a lot of head-poking and investigation, it appears this has been severely damaged at one point by an escaping pulley of some sort, or a loose/derailed belt! The “BTDC” text was visible, but all of the physical markers had been destroyed.

It took a little clever hunting for OEM parts to find an image of what the thing used to look like.

I found listings for other cars with 4G64 engines, both SOHC and DOHC since they appeared to share the same timing components besides “More of Them” for the DOHC. At the least, I wanted to check if my imagined scale – what the indicating lines would have said – was correct.

The above timing cover from the Eclipse shows the “BTDC    |” marking with a “10″ near by the T and D. You can barely make out the tops of the “10″ on mine, so I used this as a reference to set the distributor at the 5-7 degrees base timing it recommended. I erred closer to what I think was 5, since I’m not letting that happen again.

After setting the base timing was done, it was time to fill up fully with everything and idle until warm. Now I reconnected all of the intake and coolant hoses, as well as finally adding in the oxygen sensor (which I went ahead and replaced, since the old one at this point was a solid wad of oil minerals)

Filling a cooling system from empty means it has to purge all the air out that had been trapped. Idling until warm/hot means the thermostat valve opens, letting the coolant fully circulate and a lot of it will burp out from the radiator. After that, I could top off the radiator and close up.

Final bringup operations included organizing remaining wires/cables, spark plug wires, final check on hose clamps and tube fittings, and setting the warm idle speed by repositioning the throttle cable stop incrementally.

And we’re back online! The trip to the local gas station was really a make or break – once I got out here, it meant that any near-term catastrophic failures would have already revealed themselves….or so I’d hope.

But you know what? I was out for revenge. I had to restore my honor and dignity.  Why the hell would I do all this work just to drive 6 or 7 miles to and from the shop?

So after the 100 mile break-in oil change, the following weekend I decided to hit up….

Middle of Nowhere, Virginia. My original late May trip was going to be taking the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway slowly down to Atlanta. Not having a random week to spare at the moment, I decided to just make a weekend (Friday evening to Sunday evening) trip out of it, on the Skyline Drive portion only. I got into the area Friday late night, spending a good chunk of Saturday wandering through and then hanging around Harrisonburg, VA before returning Sunday early afternoon.

I’d give Skyline Drive a 8/10 for sheer scenic presentation, but a 4/10 for “Hoodrat shit Charles likes to do”, which is cut up mountain roads in a nonsensical vehicle for doing so. First off, the park speed limit is 35mph and it’s very much enforced. Second, since it’s actually a national park, it’s not very technical nor tight – any schmoe has to be able to drive it without flying off the mountain. A very leisurely cruise – almost too leisurely as you are trapped behind a Winga-Dinga-class drop-top Corvette with 3 gray-haired people doing precisely 35.1 mph who REFUSE. TO TAKE. ANY. PULLOUT. At least I got to fly around a little after the second “half” south of U.S. 33 where the camper, biker, and hiker population also drops off. I think I’ll go back to U.S. 129 any day…. or hell, the Afroduck Loop if I’m that bored.

What kind of idiot goes on a 1,200 mile road trip right after rebuilding an engine? Apparently me.

Suffice to say, Operation Bad Timing II was a resounding success. I’ll be keeping an eye out on the wear and consumption levels of everything in the next few trips, but so far it’s all been super promising. After I got back, I did another wear-in oil change, and the oil consumption level has dropped to almost trivial levels. It’s after Dragon Con now (…so there’s THAT trip report), another 2,500+ mile combined trip, and I’ve topped the oil level off with about half a quart.




Operation Bad Timing II: Chinesium Rising; The Zero-Delta-Entropy Point

Aug 05, 2018 in mikuvan

Last time, I had just gotten to replacing most of the seals on and cleaning up the old head before discovering a cracked exhaust valve which meant I couldn’t put everything back together before getting new ones. That delay pushed back the timeline just long enough for the Chinesium Solution to appear:

Yep, it’s cylinder head shaped alright.

- me, when I opened the box


To recap, while searching the neighboring galaxy Craigslist for old Mitsubishi truck/van parts, I discovered that there is still a lot of Chinesium aftermarket support for this engine family, the 4Gxx series. So I took a leap of faith and spent $400 on a complete cylinder head assembly, in the interest of exploring the solution space and documenting it for all other silly van enthusiasts as I tend to do for everything.

The appearance is virtually identical to my current cylinder head, minus one or two things which jut out in the corners, possibly for different accessories or mounting needs later on. However, the biggest added feature I noticed? Roller rocker arms! That’s worth at least like 1 horsepower over flat ones, which to me is a 1% gain.

The gasket-mating surface of the head is otherwise identical.

So now I’m left with a conundrum. Which head do I use!? The old one is proven and has most of its wear parts changed already, but I had new valves coming and would be changing those out, but without refinishing the valve seats. The Chinesium Option is brand new – late-2017 date code on the casting and still smelled like machining coolant – but my fundamental skepticism of Chinesium persists.

I figured that at the end of the day, all things considered, Chinese people also prefer to have working cars – so this thing probably doesn’t not work, but might have parts that have  shorter wear lifespans. However, I’m of the opinion that any new parts I can find for this thing are already Chinesium, or already will not have the expected lifespan of an original Mitsubishi OEM part, or both. For example, the head comes preloaded with valve stem seals which might wear out again at the 50-70K interval. Or they might not. Who knows?

Fact of the matter is, after doing this dive, I’m no longer uncomfortable and scared of a lot of the process, just understanding that it takes time. So what if this thing instantly and catastrophically fails – lesson learned, shove the old head back on. So for now, I’m keeping the old head around until the new one either proves itself or doesn’t.

And so we cross the point of maximum entropy, basically when your shit is the most taken apart and hopeless.

The new head even came with studs. I picked up a pack of new metric nuts to replace the hodgepodge of hardware that was on the old intake – which I still can’t figure out if it was factory-intentional or the result of some previous surgery.

This was the moment I discovered that JIS (Japanese Industrial Standard) and the rest of the world has different wrench sizes for various fasteners.

Chances are, in the U.S., if you even touch metric at all, it’s the ANSI or ISO standard. JIS is Japan’s own thing, and it has different head sizes for nuts and bolts. I finally understood why some times I found M8 nuts and screws that had 12mm hex heads and other times with 13mm ones, or more drastically, M10 nuts and screws with – get this, 14, or 15, or 17 millimeter wrench needs. I took most of these parts off with a 12mm wrench… but a 13mm is being used to re-arm them!

To be super authentic and ジェイ ディー エム, I’d have to hit up the local metric automotive supply place and get some JIS small-wrench hardware. But McMaster-Carr is just so easy.


The intake manifold now being mated to the new head. I took this opportunity to replace a few of the rubber hoses which I noticed had become sufficiently mummified, including the PCV, PCV breather, and a few vacuum lines.

Before I go too far, just double checking that it’s correct….

It took me a little while of searching to find how to re-mount the distributor. I couldn’t find where it was referenced in my USDM van manual at all, just occasionally sketched in with the intake manifold and cylinder head. I had to do some searching and found a 1990-1994 4G6 workshop manual hosted by the Canadian Delica club, where I found the instructions for the SOHC head, reproduced here for saving my ass later:


Hey, I have those locating features! The distributor will need to be fiddle with once mounted anyway, so I really just wanted to get the initial gear mate correct.  When it is correct, the rotor will face essentially straight downwards with the head in a normal upright position.

Now I flip it over and mount the exhaust studs, which are the same type.

After the head assembly was prepared, I cleaned and prepared the valve cover with a new gasket and also added the half-moon shaped plug to the back of the cylinder head with some silicone squirt-a-gasket compound.

The whole assembly was maneuvered into place with some help and put in its final location without the head gasket first – this was just to make sure it was basically in the right place to begin with and we wouldn’t be hovering over a “Don’t fuck this up or it will explode instantly”-class component trying to find the two mating locations.

After it was dropped in place, I simply had someone hold the head up a little and slid the gasket into place, then the whole assembly was dropped back down. I then sprinkled some oil into the rocker and cam area, around the lifters and springs, and a bit into the valve stem seals to start them off.

The fun operation of torquing the head bolts now begins! It seems like some times you’re recommend to torque them to specification and then check it again after a few hundred miles or several cycles, and other times you’re recommended to give it some extra goose to ensure you don’t have to do that. But either way, that sounded like “old school car guy” advice…. for people who can just pop off the valve cover in their very clean and accessible open engine bays without having to remove half of the vehicle (because 50% of the length is hood) and just crank on the bolts a little harder.

You know what, I think I’ll stick with the “Extra Goosing” strategy. Beforehand, I thoroughly washed the head bolts themselves as well as made sure the clamping surfaces under the washers were clean – this was one area where I could see “Torque it a little more” being the cure-all for dirty or oily head bolt threads and lands.

With the head bolts secure, the worst of the storm is now history. Everything else from here on is making sure I don’t forget how to plug something in.

The task of reattaching all the random hoses and lines now begins. I moved all of the aft heater hose connections and clamps to more accessible positions that I could get at from the top only…… if, for instance, I had to run back in here shortly.

Some of the more snowflakey connectors had to be routed through the intake manifold curve, like the oil pressure sensor harness. They don’t reach otherwise – I contemplated extending them so they could be routed around if needed, but the idea is I shouldn’t have to keep doing this, right?

Now it’s time to try and remember what my gratuitous labelling meant. I not only drew on the connector themselves, but the connector mounts and seats, and even on the cables. And even in regions where the cables had to go. I wasn’t leaving anything up to chance.


….except, apparently, where I put two of the small M6 flanged mounting screws. What? I thought I sequestered all of the hardware in little baggies with their associated parts!

Who knows – maybe I will find these screws randomly one day in the back somewhere. In the mean time, I had to sub in two of my M6 socket cap screws.

Okay, my mechanic friends were right – things really only do go back together one way.

Making the connections on the intake side now, including several vacuum lines and water temperature sensors.


After all that was complete, I discovered what is so far the only incongruity between the original Mitsubishi head and this chinesium special: The power steering pump bracket is displaced an additional roughly 2mm in offset distance from the side of the head.

Hmm. Well, it could have been worse, I suppose. This meant the PS bracket and alternator mount don’t line up with the hole they need to. This was resolved by turning the PS bracket hole into a C-shaped slot with two quick Dremel cuts.

All of the accessories and cable and hose connections were now reconnected. By this time, night had fallen again, and I elected to not repeat my mistakes and try to put the timing gear back on now. That battle was for another day.

In the mean time, before I put the thing back together, I decided to tackle an additional demon:

The exhaust manifold has been cracked since time immemorial, and it’s only gotten worse over time and heat cycles. I figured while I had everything dismounted, I would try to repair the crack as much as I could. It was cracked not only through the collector region on both sides, but also in the valley, which was going to be rather hard to reach.  And honestly, it looks like several people have been here before me – as usual – so I probably can’t make it all that worse!? I picked up some nickel filler rod for the purpose after doing some research on welding and brazing cast iron.

Oh, and my new valves came in finally.


So for now, the old head also sits at the ready if it has to be recalled into service…

Operation Bad Timing II: The Soundtrack – Pistons and Valves and Seals, Oh My (God Everything Sucks)

Jul 23, 2018 in mikuvan

Here we go! With the head  now off, it was time to extract the pistons and either repair or replace them while the Chinesium head was on its way. This post covers roughly the week of July 1st. The plan was to pull pistons #2, 3, and 4 out and appraise them for damage. Pistons 3 and 4 were part of the knocking-induced head gasket explosion, so they were the most suspect to me. Cylinder 2 merely showed less-than-factory compression (around 90 PSI), so I wanted to see what problems it had, and to practice my piston-replacement operations on it if need be.

The first step to being about to get to them is to remove the oil pan. Gee, this thing was stuck on a lot harder than I remember… granted, I haven’t personally opened it myself since the Great Accidental Partial Engine Rebuild ceremony, and it seems like they slathered the whole thing in silicone and slammed it on there hard. I ended up having to bend up a corner of the pan to get enough leverage to pry the rest of it off.

This corner was later hammered back into shape, but whether it’ll seal again is another question!

Ahh, we meet again. I removed the connecting rod cap of piston #2 and shoved it out the top while inspecting the crankshaft journal for any damage or abrasion.

Here’s piston #2 in all of its oil-grunged glory. I know for a fact that Mikuvan has been burning oil through the valve stem seals (at least) for the past roughly 10,000 miles, and it shows.

I decided at this point to just use all 3 of the remaining pistons in the original kit that I bought – the original piston which was replaced in the GAPER (still a very unfortunate acronym) was #3, which was one of the now-untrusted ones. Since #1 showed nearly factory compression, I was just going to leave it alone.

This meant making….

Big Chuck’s Automotive Special Tool #BCA-9001-3939-A, Mikuvan Piston Pusher. The factory manual showed an object not unlike this, which led me to conclude it was just two tubes. Well guess what, I also have two tubes and a hydraulic press. The larger tube is a 1.25″ OD thick-wall tube, whose bore I enlarged to 15/16″ to clear the 22mm piston rod, and with two notches machined out to accommodate the piston’s flat face. The tube was in fact originally bought for either creating the hubs of Chibikart or Chibi-Mikuvan’s steering uprights.

It was then easy to push the piston pin out and free it up. Part of my rage-ordering of every component I might need was a new set of crank and connecting rod bearings, and I decided to just go ahead and put them on anyway because why not, I already had this stuff out.

Essentially I was working with the assumption that everything which has touched a pre-ignition event is immediately suspect out to like 2 layers of the network away. In a way, it’s like how I repair my motor controllers: if one FET lets go, its friend on the same half-bridge is replaced, the gate driver is replaced, and all power supply components that are semiconductors nearby are replaced; after all, if you already are heating up the board for reflow, you MIGHT AS WELL.

With my post-facto knowledge, I now understand that this is a better assumption for higher-strung newer engines, or ones built for high performance and racing, in which the stakes are much higher if something goes wrong. Mikuvan’s engine is rather the opposite, an understressed low-revving truck engine which only ever made 107HP out of 2.4 liters new and had an incredible 8.5:1 compression.

My adventures consulting my vanstylists, “car guy” friends, and the Internet at large including Mitsubishi Delica owner forums/groups and reading in general about engine explosion scenarios, has forced me to conclude this: All Internet car advice is horrible and irrelevant.

You need to decide what is best for your application by Kalman filtering your own experiences in with all the differing advice you’ll get, mostly from “car guys” who insist that things must be done a specific way or it’s not worth doing at all.

I luckily have the upside of having a lot of mechanical system intuition that made me question “car guy” advice – do I REEEEEEEALLY need this? Is this the ONLY way things happen? Maybe if I actually did have the turbo Evo engine… And then some from my trusted mechanics who have in the past advised me on what I could conceivably get away with versus what would fail right away, which I was more trying to gauge. I know I’m not doing anything truly correctly, so how topologically-correct can I remain?

Anyways, in conclusion, I could have probably run Piston #2 just fine after replacing the rings, but again, Might as Well if I have the parts handy. So on a new piston and rings go. I learned a great deal about the neckeardry that goes into piston rings doing research on them; these are one of the Insta-Fail scenarios, if you put in the rings upside down or inside-out, they will not seal properly or prevent oil burning. If you don’t install them in a certain rotation (phasing, clocking) according to the factory manual, you could get compression issues right away and uneven wear in the cylinder long term.

There are just so many small details to get “right” that all affect long term operation, yet are presented to you as life-or-death scenarios, which you have to distill out for applicability.

I suppose the advice is all bent towards people who would rather not jiggle with their engine internals on a regular basis.  But hey you know what an electric motor is? It’s one round thing that spins inside of another round thing. I heard the kids are into them these days.

My “car guy” friends absolutely begged me to hone the cylinder bores before installing the pistons again. Another one of my mulling conclusions is that everyone seems to think Mikuvan is more fucked than it actually is, with talks of cylinder wall scoring damage as if I ran the thing without oil up a mountain.

I do rather think the cylinder walls were all fine, but again doing my Kalman Filter research it seems like putting in new piston rings on a previously worn-in surface wouldn’t do me much good in the long run, and buying a simple flexible hone and sticking it on a drill is not hard. So that’s what I did!

I alternated pushing the hone with spraying the area down with WD-40 (you’re apparently supposed to use a dedicated honing oil for Best Results™) while the crankshaft below was covered by a few shop towels to prevent the metal particles and abrasive dust from falling on the journals. I cleaned the journals afterwards with some brake cleaner regardless.

Using “Irritating 1-purpose dedicated automotive tool #21892″, a piston ring compressor, I loaded the new #2 piston in with a healthy dousing of motor oil (you’re supposed to use dedicated assembly oil for  Best Results™). There are SO. MANY. stupid irritating one-purpose tools to do things expediently.

I have to wonder if all this is just entrenched through generations of automotive engineering and service or if there is an actual reason there’s a squiggley-shaped object called a Distributor Hold-Down Wrench. Boy that would have sure saved me a lot of time when I was dismantling most of vantruck’s accessory belt drives off to assembly a specific order of socket universal joints and extensions to loosen its distributor hold-down bolt.

And here I thought the world of drones and 3D printers were a horrifying mess of tribal knowledge – I clearly have never actually worked on cars up until this point. That is a hundred and twenty years of tribal knowledge.

After feeling pretty good about piston 2, it was time to do the same thing to #3 and #4. I was expecting more gore here for sure.

Here they are extracted. #3 on the right was replaced during the GAPER, but it and #4 show some pretty serious signs of oil burning.

They also both had stuck piston rings, #4 moreso than #3. Grunge filled nearly the entire volume of the oil control rings, which were probably doing dubious controlling at this point. So something was bound to fail sooner or later. The further back in the engine, the more it butts up against the firewall (which is actually behind me) and presumably the hotter they get. I’d like to think this is why cylinder #1 has barely shown any problems – it’s first in line to get water, cooling air, and oil pressure.

Control-C Control-V the whole procedure – cylinder honing and cleaning, piston swap, rings, and bearings… to pistons 3 and 4 and back in they go. I figured I did it mostly right if it still turned by breaker bar as easily as it used to.

For now, I put a few towels over the whole thing and went back inside to inspect and work on the cylinder head itself.

The intake manifold is seperated from the head by a few mix-and-match nuts and bolts. This was a little weird to me, since I was expecting all studs and nuts versus half of them being hex-head screws – maybe that was factory, or maybe someone’s been in here before.

Nevertheless, this was when I discovered that this thing DOES have an EGR system. As I mentioned before, the EGR valve was always drawn in isolation with little context of where it actually was. By my guess, I thought it sat behind the cylinder head, and when I didn’t feel it there, I assumed that it was a CA-spec emissions versus REAL AMERICA spec difference. It turns out the damn thing is nested in the U-turn that the intake runners make from the throttle body. The small center tube between the four larger intake runners is the EGR passage, and it mates up with a similar passage which dives through the head and pops out near exhaust valve #4.

What?! Well, either way, this passage was very clogged – not all the way closed, but significantly. Given that I’d never had any EGR-associated idling problems, I decided to leave it alone – I just filled the whole cavity with brake cleaner and came back a few hours later to blow it out with shop air, whatever I could get was it!

The cylinder head itself was fairly caked with oil grunge, with cylinders 3 and 4 being the worst as expected.

My goal with this head was to replace the front oil seal, the eight hydraulic valve lifters (the round bumpies poking out of the upside-down camshaft on the top left), and the eight valve stem seams, which cause the oil burning and vape cloud on startup behavior. While I had the valves dismantled, I was just going to casually clean them and the chambers they sit in – casually meaning yes, I know I’m supposed to take everything off and chuck this thing in some ultrasonic cleaner filled with teratogens, but I think the application is not strenuous enough to warrant it.

This…. is where I got to use “Irritating 1-purpose dedicated automotive tool #37985″, a valve spring compressor. It also ranks as the most terrifying tool I’ve used yet, since it’s literally stamped sheet metal holding onto an angry die spring, and that’s supposed to be an okay thing. I’ve witnessed a suspension spring/strut compressor tool being used before. That is something I will never voluntarily stand next to if I can help it.

It turns out all that holds the valve springs on are these two little taper-lock bushings, literally called “valve spring retainer locks” and similar. I’m frankly amazed they don’t just shear off all the time. Once you compress the valve spring, you bean it downwards to unseat the taper lock, upon which these little halves fall out. Whatever, I’ve already suspended my belief that combustion engines are actually things that work okay for long enough, let’s continue!


Yes, the valve stem seams were all very crispy. On the left, a new one. On the right, the hardened and bloated lump that was in it. Sure as hell not doing any sealing, as all of the valves came out with very oil-covered stems and backsides.

I’d also noticed some mild leaks on the camshaft, which is explained by its own hard-as-a-rock seal on the right.

In dismantling and cleaning the valves – mostly wire brushing with some brake cleaner love – I found the reason for cylinder #2 showing slightly low compression: I had a cracked exhaust valve. Very unfortunate, as this means I can no longer just put this head back together. I immediately jumped on eBay and searched down some new-old-stock valves. No matter what, it means a delay in putting things back together.

I was otherwise going to replace ONLY this exhaust valve – I figure all the other ones have already met their own valve seats for a long time, and redoing all 8 would involve having to clean and re-grind the valve seats also. By this point, too, I was also getting tired of the dozens of minute small manufacturing processes that all have to be done and special tools that have to be used, to make things work “correctly” – I wasn’t planning on performing the valve seat grinding/polishing operation at all on the replacement exhaust valve either, just a quick cleanup of the existing valve seat and making them be friends by thermo-mechanical coercion.

Natural technological progression is really an evolutionary process unto itself – you end up with systems that have thousands of micro-optimizations in different places for different things, instead of clean-sheet designing something with the knowledge of the system you now have. That takes a lot of time and money, I suppose. Having researched obsolete combustion engine technologies in the past, it makes me wonder if one or the other design was just invented at a bad time when metallurgy and manufacturing couldn’t support it existing yet and they really were fundamentally better concepts which could do away with much of the “every page in the engineering textbook” experience so far.

It also made me appreciate, and maybe mildly envy, the people who got their engineering career starts working on vehicles, the “car guy” friend in high school everyone probably had, including me. Frustrating folk knowledge aside, you really do get a sampling of every engineering industry in making a working automobile, a huge head start on the pratical side of things. I like to think I gained some of this edge by working on my robots and silly e-vehicles, which perhaps lends me to criticizing the combustion engine industrial complex now.

Waiting on the valves meant I put a temporary stop to work on this head for a little while, enough that on the following Monday morning, I awoke to a pleasant gift from the Chinesium Fairy….

Well, it’s cylinder head shaped, so we’re off to a good start. Stay tuned for more!!?


Operation Bad Timing II: The Soundtrack; or Zen and the Art of Van Maintenance

Jul 17, 2018 in mikuvan

It all started with a timing belt inspection.

With almost 230,000 miles on the clock now starting from its 151,000 mile humble beginnings, Mikuvan is essentially a cultural institution in my sphere of influence. It’s just assumed to always be around, and it really has been a relatively (emphasis on relatively) pain-free experience. Originally a hare-brained experiment in what if I built myself an electric car, which I swear to all of the gods who made themselves known these past 2 weeks will still happen, it means I’m physically coming up on service internals I never imagined I’d have to deal with again, because… .and I quote myself out of context from 5 years ago, “It’ll probably last like 10,000 miles if that”.

I can’t find the damn figure on this website, but I know I said something like it.

Well, almost 80,000 miles later, here I am. Since the “Great Accidental Partial Engine Rebuild of 2015“, I’ve actually barely gone inside except to feed its increasingly untenable thirst for motor oil. That, believe it or not, was itself over 50,000 miles ago too (I have the service papers from that still – 178K!). The past abonormally-cold winter finally pushed a number of wear components over the edge, it seems, and I wound up after the cold season with an almost two-stroke-esque oil consumption level of < 400 miles per quart and a complementary vape cloud per start.  So you know something like this was coming anyway, just a matter of when and how.

(Oh yeah – I made a number of other deferred-maintenance level repairs when it got warmer, but those will need to be handled separately now!)

We begin on the night of June 28th.

I was to leave for a weeklong southern-fried van adventure covering most of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive, and diving back to Atlanta through the Smoky Mountains forest roads, part of which I ran after Dragon Con 2016. Essentially wandering down in a casual manner for no good reason besides to be not in Boston, because every opportunity I have, fuck this place. The startup’s hardware status was finally to the point where I felt comfortable leaving it to the other members of the company (a story still building up which I owe everyone… put it on my I swear to God list); I’d already punted, up to this point, several of my usual trips because you don’t leave your hardware before it launches, like the opposite of a ship’s captain but with equal amounts of dodging icebergs.

So naturally, having experienced basically no van trouble in 2.5 Dragon Cons (my benchmark for “It Has Been ____ Days Since an Injury” of vans), it was almost a given that I’d make trouble for myself! Gee, I haven’t looked at the timing belt in a whole bunch of miles – let’s see how it’s doing.

Yup, that there’s a timing belt. Hmm, it looks physically in good shape, but the tension is a little out since it’s worn down. So, how do I tension this thing again? Let’s not go back home to bring out the manual, or go upstairs to read my own damn blog post, and instead just take my best memory-stab at it.

You may be wondering How I ended up in this position why I chose to perform what to normal people and sensible mechanics is highly invasive, expensive, and complex engine surgery the day I was to leave for a multi-thousand mile road trip. Don’t question me – and if you did, I wouldn’t have a good answer. All I can say is since we did it the first time, I was confident I could get in and out in around an hour.

That was only a little wrong – there were a few stuck bolts in the way, which caused the procedure to take until after nightfall. Uh oh.

Alright, let’s see, how do you retension this thing? A quick gander at the online Ukranian-hosted rebuild manual gives me…

Cool, I’ll just loosen the tensioner and breaker-bar the crank pulley to move the timing belt 2 tee…. oh, shit, there’s no spring, that’s right. Mikuvan didn’t come with a tensioner spring – we always set the tension manually, and this was relayed to my van salon when they did the Great Accidental Partial Engine Rebuild. So they didn’t unbend some Smart Car’s front suspension to wind me a new spring either.

I immediately skipped several teeth on the belt.  It was then that I realized I was probably not going on my trip.

A sensible person would probably just Uberlyft home and try again during daylight, but I was already invested deeply into this rapidly sinking venture. Nope, I was gonna drive home tonight. I know this damn thing inside and out. I built it. I summoned it back into existence. So I stuffed the belt back on!



….and, in the dark, proceeded to misalign the timing belt by 2 teeth. Great! Non-interference engine, let me just pop it back over, right? An afternoon’s work to dig back in, right? Looks like I just aligned the mark we made a long time ago instead of the (impossible to see in the dark) factory-stamped timing dimple, right?

Sadly, the damage was done. The timing was artificially advanced by the belt misalignment, causing massive and horrible pinging (pre-ignition) as soon as I gave it any load; which only happened when I goosed it to get onto the main road.  It idled and crawled slowly out of the side roads fine, which gave me a false sense of security. I tried to limp it back as gently as possible, sounding like a diesel school bus the entire way. It’s interesting to think that if I had gotten it a tooth off the other direction, the timing would have been artificially retarded, yielding just horrible gas mileage and less power…..which I might have just wrote off as “eh, it always does that I guess”.

That’s it; I cooked my own goose. Until a lot of money was spent or time was used up, Mikuvan was down, possibly for good. With compression lost between two cylinders, it was clear that at least the head gasket was gone in that area, with possible piston and cylinder wall damage which often follows bad pre-ignition under load.

Let’s summarize the failure chain:

  1. I insisted on pressing forward with a complex and involved repair in the dark
  2. I checked neither my own documentation on the repair, nor the factory service manual for the entire service procedure, relying on memory of something I did over 5 years ago.
  3. I then proceeded to mis-remember the hardware configuration and performed a service procedure incompatible with the state I had left the engine in.
  4. Not stopping there, I tried to remedy it also in the dark, mis-recognizing an alignment feature.
  5. I also didn’t use a timing light or tool to verify that the timing was still correct – doing so would have immediately shown me that the timing was too far out of line.

The God-King had betrayed a fatal flaw, hubris; easy to taunt, easy to trick.

And so, on the morning of June 30th, when I was supposed to be carving up the Shenandoah Valley, Operation BAD TIMING II: THE SOUNDTRACK began. This was going to be deep.

It took me a while to decide to take on the task myself – I had an entire spreadsheet of options, from trying to source a junkyard engine, to buying an entire parts van (I had been stalking this Craigslist post for a non-running but good body condition Mitsubishi cargo van – the seller had sent me photos of it previously but I declined due to the price at the time), to just asking my van salon for an estimate “Make it Happen™”.

It was a hard decision, but performing this operation was to be a soul-searching mission for myself.

  • If I was so bad at paying attention to detail and glossing over important information to get myself into this position, what does that say about my leadership role at a company I co-founded to the people working for it?
  • Could I reasonably scope my work each day, seeing as how I can no longer just rail on a project until it’s done because of the need to ensure the continued operation of the company and development of our hardware? This might be the newest thing for me, honestly, having to adhere to a regular schedule not just for myself, but for other people. I wanted to limit myself to only thinking and working on it during weekends and after the business day – vaguely defined for us, but still a block of time when everyone’s around – was over.
  • Will I be thorough in all the operations I needed to do to bring the engine back from an unknown damaged state, not skip steps unnecessarily and take shortcuts which will bite me in the ass? Will our hardware be subject to similar requirements!? How would I even know what thorough engineering and design is if I never do it myself?

Okay, enough mangsty philosophy. Time to mark all the connectors of the ECU harness and little hoses and start stripping things down. My goal was to get to the head gasket itself by the end of the weekend.

By the way, if you ever need to rebuild a Mitsubishi 4G64 SOHC 8-valve engine in a truck/van application, here it is in all its gory, bloody detail. There’s quite a lot of English-language information for the JDM/international Delicas, but actually not much information for those who own the USDM vans since they are substantially different. Since I’ve been saved by my own blog posts a few times, consider this also an entry into the annals of “how to unfuck your van” for the owner community.

I marked literally everything. I had watched some of the action when the guys at Smooth Automotive were taking the head apart, and they said to me that really if you look at it, everything goes together in one way only. Yeah, sure, all the connectors are unique and they have logical wire lengths which can put them only in a few spots. But there’s a lot of them. That’s scary. I never touched Mikuvan’s engine harness for this reason, because at the root of things I’m still not a car guy by historical experience. Honestly, it took a year of wrenching on vantruck to get me to this point where I just sighed and said yeah, it’s just like the FiTech rig but spread out over a few cables.

Really, it wasn’t so bad after that.

It was in doing a lot of this that I finally recognized where a lot of the EFI-related parts on Mikuvan were, which I learned on Vantruck performing the EFI conversion. I had only otherwise inklings that yeah there’s a throttle position sensor and idle air control servo and breather tube and manifold absolute pressure sensor and eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. As it turns out, too, it does actually have a EGR valve – I had assumed the California emissions versions did but Federal did not, because the EGR valve was always shown in the manual in isolation, and when I felt around the area of the head I thought it was in, it wasn’t there, so I wrote it off as nonexistent. You’ll love where it actually was.

It actually only took an hour to get to this point. after pushing the connectors aside, disconnecting the throttle and transmission cables, and removing the multi-purpose brackety thing on top of the valve cover. A real mechanic would laugh, but remember, I erred on the side of cautiously labelling and marking (and taking photos!) for reconstruction ease later.

I also went ahead and removed the exhaust manifold, which was 1. cracked severely, and 2. took another half-hour of gently massaging and milking stuck nuts and bolts. Any antiseize lube I put on those threads has long evaporated.

The valve cover comes off after its two bolts are loosened. Most of the gear up here looks relatively new (since Great Accidental Partial Engine Rebuild, or GAPER….what an unfortunate acronym…  involved a head rebuild) despite the operating condition of the engine since I pretty diligently perform oil changes and whatnot.

How do you change oil on an engine which eats a quart of it every few hundred miles? Well, you keep it topped off and after 5000 or so miles, you do it anyway. Just adding more oil all the time doesn’t make existing grunge go away .


Ten giant socket cap screws later, and the head is ready to come off! This is the only place I’ve found on the whole powertrain which uses socket hardware. I wonder why? They’re M12 fine-thread screws with a 10mm socket drive.


Actually, wait up. There is a Bracket of Irritation directly under the intake manifold, seemingly there to give it more support, which is NOT DOCUMENTED in the USDM factory manual, as far as I can tell!

It took 10 minutes of gently prying at the head before I finally figured out that something was causing it to spring back each time. This 14mm-drive, M10 bolt is accessed from underneath and behind the suspension/engine mounting member. Just stick your arm behind the driver’s side wheel and poke it upwards past the fuel filter.

(Remember: I have no lift or hoist system, or even a garage. I’m on the ground in a gravelly, disintegrating parking lot with jackstands only as a means to lift the whole thing. This is literally “How to un-fuck your van in the most painful, laborious fashion possible”)

Alright, now the Bracket of Irritation is free. It’s time to yank the head assembly off and…

Yup, that’s a head-gasket alright. As I suspected, it blew out between cylinders 3 and 4, most likely as a consequence of severe pre-iginiton under load.

I’m not just out to stuff a new one on and call it a day. I’m told that once an engine fails due to pre-ignition, everything inside is suspect, from pistons to rings to bearings. It was on the docket while I was deep, brah to go ahead and pull the #3 and #4 pistons associated with the failure plus #2 which showed low compression and inspect them thoroughly. The worst thing would be to bodge it back together then have pistons implode later.

#1 still showed factory-spec compression, so I decided from the get-go to leave it alone. This actually means I can use my leftover 3 pistons from the GAPER (…what an unfortunate acronym again).  I ordered a new set of both crankshaft and connecting rod bearings just in case.

It seems that cylinders 2-4 have also been burning oil for a while, with #2 being the worst. I suspect it began in earnest late last fall into winter (which was a fairly unprecendented cold one) when I really started noticing smoking on cold starts. Yet this damned thing took me to Atlanta and back in January, and regularly got hooned around town thereafter and I didn’t even notice any power loss.

Call me silly for going back on my EV conversion word this many times and digging this deep in to ewwww, internal combustion, but something this hard for me to kill kind of deserves my best shot at getting it working again, eh?

So on the docket for this guy was cleaning the valves and seats (no regrinding or re-lapping, which I declared out of neckbearding scope unless I found serious damage) and new valve stem seals, which were clearly not very seal-y any more. I don’t know what a typical “old car rebuild” service interval is, but for the wear parts to let go after 50K is a little disappointing. However, I also don’t know what the gold standard of the time period was – maybe 50K per comprehensive service was actually phenomenal in the 1980s?

Nevertheless, it was time to clean everything up, scrape the old chunks of gasket off, and put the patient on the operating table.

Around this time, I found a resource which, if true, could be a boon to USDM van-mongers.

A complete Chinesium head assembly for the 4G64 8-valve SOHC? Sure, why not! These engines’ bloodlines made it all the way up to like, last year in a few Chinese car models, and still live on otherwise as industrial engines for forklifts and generators.

I was now determined to do my usual exploration of resources for the greater good of the community. It also offered me a backup solution (if true) in case my head repair failed or I discovered some kind of terminal damage that is beyond my skill and resource to fix correctly.

I hit the button on this order on Sunday afternoon, and soon, the thing was due in on Friday after July 4th. What’s actually going to be in the box!? Hell if I know – if I received a Chinese junkyard head that got run through a dishwasher, I was gonna be happy.

Coming up next: Diving even deeper into the valves and pistons themselves.




All-Vans Quality of Life Patches for Fall and Winter; Going to the Jalopnik Car Show, and Infectious Vantruck Disease

Dec 12, 2017 in mikuvan, vantruck

Winter is literally coming. As time goes on, my ability to work on vans decreases greatly both for lack of daylight and lack of inside matters. In preparation for overwintering now two  vanbabies, I decided to make some repairs and mods that were becoming more necessary (or more necessary, if you get what I mean…). I like keeping my machinery in good functioning state, and Mikuvan was beginning to feel a little like a daily junker more and more. Meanwhile, Vantruck had some lingering bugs I wanted to address before my hands freeze off holding a wrench.


The most important thing was making sure Mikuvan could still pass its incipient Massachusetts state inspection. You see, since the day I got it running in 2013, the exhaust has been slowly shortening itself piece by piece. Recall that one of the earliest bits of mechanical work I did was to rebuild the catalytic converter flange. A year and some later, a part of the exhaust pipe broke apart, which I had a mechanic repair while it was on a lift already for a brake fluid change and rear drums inspection.

That was 2015. About a year to the day, before Dragon Con 2016, it breaks upstream of that repair. I threw together this patch in my classic weeaboo-redneck-engineer fashion

No beer cans here, only top quality RAMUNE BOTTLES. Three layers of them.

Several months later, that broke off, so I trashed the whole section from the bottle-hack back and replaced it with a 90-degree downwards bend with an exhaust tip on it, hanging on to the remaining muffler stub.

Well guess that, that broke the fuck off earlier this year, likely during the Detroit Maker Faire trip. I didn’t notice. I didn’t even care. It can rest in eternal pain and suffering somewhere on the side of the 401 in Ontario.

I just ran with the stumpy pipe out of the muffler which terminated well under the cabin, sounding vaguely like a ricer fart cannon but offering me nothing except exhaust slowly seeping into the cabin when I was at a stop or accelerated hard.

With the inspection date coming up, I had to do something.

Ah, good old New England Organic Loctite. It occurs naturally, regenerating from any exposed worthwhile metal in its vicinity. In the winter, it feeds off the gazillion tons of salt poured on the road and blossoms each spring.

I’d watched the catalytic converter slowly get smaller and smaller over time – even the new gasket I put on it quickly became one with the material. I actually dumped PB Blaster on this flange connection while it was still hot – that was quite exciting. It then took several seconds of impact wrench before I was able to free the converter bolts. Frankly, I was amazed they were removable at all.

Since Mikuvan is emissions-exempt in Massachusetts, I elected to not buy a new catalytic converter and just latch right onto the downpipe stub.


Time to measure up the exhaust path. I needed to clear the rear axle and end up at roughly the correct length to still put a muffler on. I decided to rear-mount the replacement muffler (which was also already rotted out at the bottom, so it wasn’t doing much muffling for a year or two at least) instead of mounting forward of the rear axle like it was before.


And two trips to Pep Boys later, I have all the ingredients! Several lengths of pipe, a flexible coupler, several rubber-mounting hanging straps, and a bunch of tubing adapters. All that is needed to get the right dimensions is an angle grinder!

What, you thought I was going to weld this shit together? Mandrel bends? Mitered joints? Nah. Clamps and impact wrench all the way.

It’s nighttime in this photo because I ran into issues with the downpipe stub – it was some odd metric size of course, and there was no adapter which fit cleanly either inside or outside. I ended up using a 1-7/8″ OD adapter slit and shoved into the downpipe stub, which had a matching slit to let it expand a little. It was then a dance to get the other end of that adapter (2″) adapted to 2.25″ for the remaining pipe. All of the new pipe is 2.25″.

Yeah, the slit is a built-in exhaust leak. Whatever, it’s past the oxygen sensor. Maybe if I feel enterprising I’ll TIG weld it shut (and ONLY it) later.

This section has a flexible coupling in it since the catalytic converter’s output also did, and I wanted to keep the same constraint architecture. The length of solid pipe from here back is hung at both ends while the flexible coupling goes from the adapter salad to it. Should I be required to reinstall a converter in the future, like moving to an emissions-strict area where they don’t just go by OBD-II diagnostics, I should be able to stuff one back in here.

Compared to the… exhausting… dance up front, doing the up-and-over was quite easy and enjoyable.

I decided to be cheeky and go for a SPORT MUFFLER instead of an OEM style one. What, you wanted to sound like a sports car all these year, Mikuvan. Here’s your chance.

This is a Cherry Bomb “Turbo” multi-chambered muffler, distinct from Cherry Bomb’s usual fiberglass packed ones. I don’t have a turbo. I don’t care. It was $28.99 on sale at Pep Boys, and a little of on-the-spot research told me that glass-packs would definitely bring out the ricer fart cannon sound, but would foul up quickly due to the engine consuming oil. Given that,  I was better off with a chambered type.

Anyways, this first attempt made it hang a little too low, so I had to cut the strap and bolt it in closer to the trailer hitch.

The final position. It’s not actually tilted much in real life, by the way – the perspective of this photo is a little strange, since Mikuvan’s rear lower quarter panels curve upwards and the trailer hitch is actually a little tilted upwards also.

So, how do I like the end result?

i regret everything in my life

Okay, the ricer sound was funny for about 24 hours. Between 1000-1500 rpm and 2500-3000 rpm, it seems to resonate the cabin, resulting in a constant mooing sound, a persistent droning. Guess which RPM bands get used the most during gentle city and highway cruising!?

Mikuvan sounds like it has 75 more horsepower than it actually does, which is a 75% improvement. It DOES have more low-end jumpiness, like the second after mashing it from a stoplight. Additionally, the power available past 3500 RPM improved noticeably – previously, trying to throttle past 4,000 didn’t do me much good, and it felt like the engine just hits a wall, but my gas mileage the week after took a complete dive as I was redlining everywhere all the time.

I think this is less due to a sport muffler than just installing the new system as 2.25″ pipe instead of the stock 1-7/8″ (50mm?) pipe for its majority length. I didn’t bother to check if the 0-60 changed. That’s not the point. The answer is still yes.

Realistically, I might toss an OEM style muffler on there after winter passes.  One Dragon Con and Franklin Institute with the Persistent Moo was fairly sufficient, thank you.

Anyways, let’s move onto the more important part of van maintenance: blinkenlights.  I replaced almost all of the small marker and dashboard lights with LEDs back in 2014. A few of them had begun dying, including somewhat important things like the previously chastised oil pressure warning light. That’s maybe a little important.

inexpensive chinese van lighting 3: the reckoning

I decided that enough time had passed to do a scan of the market again, so I hopped on good ol’ Amazon Prime. The market structure™ is very different now – in 2013 and 2014, a lot more of the LED widget vendors were China based. Nowadays, they (or their underlings) all have Prime fulfillment or US-based shipping.



What I noticed is a rise in these purely PCB-based LED units in small (T10, T5, 194, etc.) sizes. I originally bought several styles which were plastic former incandescent lamp shells containing discrete LEDs with formed leads. Those actually didn’t work very well in the end. The LEDs had no heat sinking and tended to burn out or dim quickly, and the formed leads pretending to be T-series shaped were flimsy.

Also, a lot of the LED clusters were unnecessarily bright, containing 5-10 devices. It’s a marker light, bruh, not a camera flash. The ones I found contained 3 or 4 little LED chips only and seemed to have a lot more PCB copper area relative to their size. An example captured from Amazon is bove.

I was curious about one more thing: Most of these products now claim to have “CANBUS error-free” features. After doing a little sleuthing, I discovered that it’s a New Car Problem (a.k.a I don’t care) of the LED bulbs drawing so little current that the ECU/Body control module will throw an error saying you have a bulb broken.

….so here is how the enterprising Chinese widget makers solve it. They drop a big power resistor across the input. To make it draw more current.

This is utter bullshit. Do not EVER buy a “CANBUS Error Free” LED bulb. If your car is new enough to complain, it’s new enough that you shouldn’t be putting questionable aftermarket glowy things on it anyway.  Get an old shitcan like these were meant for. Preferably a van. I like vans.

Here is what the typically 100-to-200 ohm power resistor does: It heats up.

It heats enough to some times desolder itself.

It’s also right next to the LEDs, so they heat up even more and even faster than if they were over-rated and over-driven. I burned one out on 14.0v after like 3 minutes of it just sitting on my desk. It was drawing 0.2 amps until the end – that’s 3 W of power heating up an object which weighs nothing. I think I know why so many of these products have bad Amazon reviews: sadly, people don’t know better.

I desoldered each and every “CANBUS resistor” on each and every one of the 50 white, miku blue, red, and amber LEDs I got. This did not take long, since I had a reflow cannon, but I was peeved to discover that my worst fears regarding inexpensive Chinese van accessories had come true again.

The white T10 units drew 0.05 amps after I was done. That’s more than enough.

The end result is real pretty though.

I changed the master illumination to the “ice blue” LEDs which is really clever marketing speak for my favorite color, Miku Blue.  I also restored all of the small indicators to pure white units so their original colors were back.

That’s enough for silly lighting. It’s still the case that if you want actually reliable LED units, you should still stick with a retail brand name like Sylvania or Philips. They’re going to be pricier, but unless you also have a reflow heat gun and a night to burn and are at least a little obessive like me, just get them.

More recently, I tackled a more reasonable silly old van problem of a broken sensor wire. While doing the fall-to-winter oil change, I noticed a loose wire.

This used to go to the oil pressure sensor (what is with the oil pressure sensor and light as a recurring theme here…) which is located on the bottom of the engine. Heat and oil had stiffened the old PVC-insulated wire until it just broke off inside the connector.

This wasn’t too epic of a fix. I replaced the original wire with a length of silicone-insulated noodly robot wire, up to where it enters the harness and was still quite flexible. This shows the joint and repaired connector before I sleeved it over with heat-shrink tubing and tucked it back into the wiring loom.

Back in place we go!  Excuse the grunge. That is Mikuvan leaking the correct amount of oil my self-applying undercoating system.

I additionally performed some mercy maintenance on the left side. My original body repair on the left rocker panel corners fell off earlier this year. I was kind of expecting this, since I was never able to get the holes in the front (behind the front wheel) fixed and so that repair only trapped water, causing it to fail eventually.

I decided it was better to just leave the lower panel holes open but seal-coat them inside and out. This strategy had been working (and continues to work) for the two holes forward of each wheel, which I coated in Eastwood Goo back in 2014 thoroughly.

So out comes the wirebrushes, in wheel and tooth form. I wire-brushed off all outstanding surface rust first, and reached into the panel holes to manually wire brush off the loose rust inside. Additionally, while I had it up on ramps, I used my slide hammer to try and pull down the damaged lower rocker panel and pinch weld. If you buy a derpy Japanese van, chances are someone’s tried to jack it up by the pinch welds and completely fucked over the metal in the area, I guarantee it.  I only take Mikuvan to mechanics I have talked to and trust for this reason: I don’t trust anyone to know it can only be jacked by the frame. This area came rusty and bent upwards, and had only been deteriorating more. I couldn’t get it completely flat again, but it at least looks better than it was.

Prior to the application of Eastwood Goo, I touched up the paintwork right next to the fuel filler door and immediately in front of the rear wheel. The former had been slowly dissolving due to gasoline fumes and accidental overflows, and was turning the whole area dark and ratty looking as well as causing some of my original bodywork to start chipping off. If I had to point to one thing which crossed my “daily junker” threshold, it was this. I haven’t found a rattlecan product which can completely resist gasoline, so this area will only become ratty again until Mikuvan gets a real paint job.

After the color and clear coat were vaguely dry – as dry as they could get in 40-something degrees, I drew a big fat line with the Eastwood Goo both on the outside here as well as the opposite side, using the extendo-straw to go well into the interstitial space of the panels on both sides.

Essentially I’m just preserving this area from further deterioration. Should I decide that dropping several thousand dollars on a full restoration and repaint is worth it in the future, I will source this body panel either domestically from the southwest/California, or internationally since this generation of Mitsubishi van is still (somehow) in production in various developing countries. Otherwise, an experienced body shop would just strip it all to bare metal anyway. Should I embark on an electrification project, I’ll likely start anew with a donor van in better condition from the same areas (since I assume that if I’m going ahead with cutting up Teslas and Nissan Leafs, that I’m well off enough to have my own garage and lift!)

So that’s Mikuvan’s history for the past 2-3 months. Interspersed with all of this was of course the comparative 800-lb gorilla and relatively white elephant of….


Oh god why do I still own this device. It’s been a year, yet it still feels new and interesting.

As I had sampled a pile of LEDs again, one of the things I did immediately was to retrofit Vantruck too. The incandescent bulbs it came with have long darkened and were sort of miserable looking. The dashboard was so dim it was almost impossible to see even at night.


Well that’s no way to live! Luckily, it uses type 194 bulbs EVERYWHERE. Even the idiot lights. I had to buy another pack of T10/194 type LEDs to satisfy it. (Vantruck is the undisputed king of the phrase “I had to ____ another ____ to satisfy it”)

Naturally, all of the dash illumination went Miku Blue. This was also taken before its 77777th mile party, celebrated by Dane on the road to a Power Racing Series race. Without him realizing it. Hurray, Dane!

By the way, my friends have put more miles on this thing than I have. Since the fuel injection retrofit, it has somehow registered no less than three trips to the New York / New Jersey area and one to southwestern Massachusetts, plus the odd DUDE BRO CAN I BORROW YOUR TRUCK BRO moving trip around town.

I don’t feel bad at all. Buying gas is punishment enough for them.

Along with the interior lights, I also redid the running board lights and forward exterior marker lamps. They were….. you guessed it. 194 type bulbs. I changed the “I am a van” lights by the door handles to Miku Blue since I’m Mr. Vain. It turns out that the bed marker lights are a sealed non-replaceable type, but I can get new ones which are all LED. I haven’t done that yet. I didn’t do the roof lights either – they are fastened from underneath, meaning I’d have to take off the roof liner to access them, which I was not inclined to do.

Notice something else cool? Vantruck now also has LED headlights. They are the same type of unit I got for Mikuvan, except in the H6054 size. They are available in all manners of Chinesium – here’s one example. Just search H6054 LED and don’t buy the 15,000-LED cluster bombss or the fake projector types.

After the LED switchover, I noticed a particularly Vantrucky bug becoming much worse – the lights were flickering hard. LEDs have no thermal mass unlike incandescent filaments. Something was causing all of my lights to flicker, including the dashboard. When this kind of thing happens, there is generally one culprit: a bad ground connection. I dunno whose amazing idea it was to chassis-ground automotive electrical systems, but it’s horrible.

In conducting a test to verify the problem, I connected one end of a voltmeter to the negative battery terminal, and through an alligator clip of sufficient length, to various “grounds” of the electrical system, such as the negative pole of a headlight, the body metal right next to the dashboard where a bunch of grounds for switches and knobs come together, and right next to the battery on the alternator. With the engine running, I captured an incredible 1.2 to 1.5v between battery ground and most things. The worst was, as expected, to the dashboard and interfacing with the body lighting harness in that area. (The correct expectation range I found is usually no more than 50-100 millivolts, and the lower the better just from my electrical engineering intuitions)

Holy crap. Well that explains why the FiTech ECU screen always tended to read my battery voltage as 12.something or 13.something. I verified that from the alternator output to itself I was getting a pretty consistent 14 volts.

The culprit was right behind the alternator – that’s the engine block to battery negative ring lug. I don’t have before photos, but let’s call it “rather pitted and sad looking” and its attachment bolt entirely coated in rust.

My solution was just to epicly wire brush the bolt and the attachment face until they were shiny, and crimp a new terminal onto the 4-gauge cable which was still otherwise in reasonable shape. After retightening, I smeared dielectric grease around the entire setup.

I decided at this point to also give the thing new battery terminals which I had purchased a while back but not installed. I furthermore gave the body a dedicated 10-gauge wire running from the attachment point where (as far as I can tell) the headlight and turn signal harness is grounded.

So I’m not sure if this is an Old Van Problem or is still present in newer vehicles, but it seems strange to me to ground everything to the body and frame yet only give the battery a cable to the engine block. Is the return current supposed to find its way back through to the engine block, jumping through things like bolts and bearings and chains and driveshafts? That just seems extra bad.

I mean, it’s clear there is enough metal contact for it to work for most everyone. Even Mikuvan only has 1 epic ground wire going to the battery from an anchor point on the engine block and nothing else that I can see. Unless I’m missing something, it seems like a dedicated ground wire for the body is really beneficial. It could be that in both cases, there is an actual connection somewhere else on the block to the body, but it’s buried so far in there I have not been able to find it.

Anyways, the moral of this story is wow, I didn’t know all of these lights could be so bright. The ECU display now reads very steady and the correct voltage – 14.4v right after starting and 13.6-13.8v idling when warm. The dashboard is almost comically bright and I had to turn it down with the dimmer for once. Cranking is much faster and less arduous. I should probably go inspect the status of the ground lug on Mikuvan at some point.

By the way, after resolving this issue, I completely reset the FiTech ECU and had it ‘relearn’ the fuel maps by driving around a bunch in mixed regimes. The stable and higher voltage power supply probably helps with a lot of things, so I gave it a chance to re-adapt. Regardless of any other changes behind the scenes, it definitely idles more stably now, so I experimented with leaning out all of the air-fuel ratio targets so it wouldn’t chug gasoline as hard – maybe a few percent less.

Well, over a long distance, that sure matters, because I’m going to a CAR SHOW!!!

the Jalopnik Car Show for Great Justice or Whatever

Delayed once due to being rained out and with the full force of Internet irony behind it, the Jalopnik car show was held the Sunday after Thanksgiving. This would be the first road trip that I myself will get to take in my own vantruck. It would also be the first car show that I actually signed up for. I’ve been to others, including smaller local ones. Everyone has to remember that I am not actually a “car guy”, just a “this one particular silly van” guy.

It was going to be 4 hours on a Sunday in Newark (uhh), which alone is too short of a stay for me to want to drive 55mph the whole way there and back. So I turned the weekend into a general New York City excursion.

With this thing.

If there is some poetry in having a big-block V8-having 9-miles-a-gallon-getting emissions-exempted 21-foot long 65-tons of American Pride occupying a Tesla supercharger spot, I missed it for the funny photo opportunity.

The two Tesla drivers who came in and out while I was hanging around uploading this photo for peoples’ amusement didn’t say anything. Not to me, not out loud. They didn’t dare defy the embodiment of all that is America.

And here I am poking out of a parking spot in Flushing! I’m backed all the way up to the green wall. Actually, it’s pushing the green wall back a good 3 or 4 inches. I felt the contact, and kept shoving a little. Sorry, wall. Sorry, whatever was behind the wall.

So before getting here, I actually drove it straight into lower Manhattan and the Financial District/Battery Park area to try to find…. a location where I could take a photo of it with the Statue of Liberty in the background.


Sadly, that part of Manhattan is too busy and blocked off for any of that to happen. Through friends, I was told that I’d have better luck in Jersey City or parts of Brooklyn. I decided that was out of scope for the day and retreated to Flushing to gorge myself on noodle products by performing a rolling Denial of Service attack on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

Bright and early the next day! They said to show up early. I assumed people were going to start lining up an hour before it starts, so I hustled out of Queens and got into Newark around 10:30. It turns out the organizers had barely even gotten there, so whew.

Well, at least now I have one clean and recent photo of Vantruck before everyone else showed up.


Hey! I brought Chibi-Mikuvan along for the ride, and it was extremely popular. I did some promotion of Power Racing Series, but only when asked.

Originally, I wanted to trailer Mikuvan down, but decided it was simply too much of a production for a 1 day event, and dealing with a now 40-foot long assemblage of vehicles in New York City was a little excessive. If Jalopnik chooses to do a weekend festival of shitboxes or something, I’d happily organize a carrier battle group rollout.

The closer we got to noon, the more interesting things became.


It’s 12:30 now, and we’re starting to have serious traffic problems. Got it – so that’s what “show up early” means!


A Mitsubishi Pajero appears! This thing with a Mikuvan bolted to it is the international 4×4 Delica Star Wagon. They share a powertrain and running gear, whereas the 2WD Delicas (Mikuvan included) share more parts with the 2WD pickup truck.


This Pajero was indeed the turbo-diesel version, and a recent Japanese import. jdm


itp: hipsters

By 1PM, they had to commandeer the neighboring parking lot for all the Chad-come-latelys.

i have money watch me spend it

Okay, okay… that’s harsh. I am sure the owner of this McLaren 720S is a swell fellow. I think what I found endearing about the Jalopnik Car Show overall is that the variety was so not car show, by design.

I’ve been to ones which were Camaro-Mustang-Corvette-Lambo-Stance-Stance-Revolution where every entry was meticulously detailed and shiny and hardly looks like they’re driven. I don’t believe in trailer queens personally – despite keeping my machinery in good running order and generally sound cosmetic shape, they’re not perfect because I use them daily.

In the same vein, I’ll repair and upgrade but never restore Bridgett or Taki-chan, because you create a machine too clean and shiny to be used. Someone else can do that. I don’t want to be hit with regret every time I drop a piece of stock, much like I prefer to be fearless with Mikuvan and occasionally push dumpsters a few feet when the hauling company can’t be buggered to place it back such that it doesn’t block the loading dock.

tl;dr don’t hand me a nice thing

Hey, another truck-like thing! This Ford Bronco is of the first body generation, prior to Vantruck’s year range.  It was one out of only 4 or 5 SUVs/jeep-shaped objects, counting the Mitsubishi Pajero.

And another pickup truck, what a relief to see.

Overall, Vantruck was the only van/conversion van of any type (not counting CMV, of course) and one of only three trucks present, and literally only van-truck of course. Counting CMV, I also had the only van, only cab-over van, and only electric van.

Hell, it was the ONLY electric ANYTHING. If I had one thing to be disappointed about this show, it was the lack of electricity. Surely someone thought about coming with a Model S or a Chevy Bolt or something? Nope.


My other takeaway from this show besides my aforementioned desire to never own a nice thing is that even show cars aren’t all perfect. Again, my only experience with car shows prior to this is ones where everything has an aura of perfection and polishedness along with a nose-in-the-air presentation vibe. So I had a skewed perception of “car people gatherings” as a bunch of perfectionist snobs. I had never wanted to bring Mikuvan to a show since it’s full of my mechanical cockups and bodges.

I think overall going to a show like this was a good confidence booster. Hell, even the Monkees replica car (1st photo, behind Vantruck) had clearly patched and painted over spots where the bodywork had cracked or deteriorated, and a lot of the more nicely finished modified/tuner cars had stuff just hanging off them and random dents and paint chips. However, again, that to me is more honest than a perfect display piece and ‘matching numbers’.

malignant vantruck syndrome

About two weeks ago, I was making my usual patrol rounds using my pre-generated Craigslist searches…

Yes, I have a couple of those in places I often go. Vantrucks show up not that uncommonly – I’d say once or twice a month. But generally they’re either extremely beat up & have sat outside for 20 years, or pretty severely overprived for the condition they are in (e.g. literally over $9000).

This one popped up, though, and it was in a near perfect combo of condition according to the seller whom I talked to on the phone, initial price, and closeness.

So naturally, I had to go and check it out. Portsmouth is but 50 minutes away, or an hour and 15 minutes in Vantruck speeds.



DOUBLE VANTRUCKS! The cause of global warming is right in front of you, ladies and gentlemen.

This one is indeed in very respectable condition. The owner is a retired engineer who has had four of these things throughout recent history. How do I know this? He had a dedicated photo album, each photo laminated and in a pocket, of all of the repairs and modifications he’s done to all of them. I want to say “wow, this guy is like me but with real life pictures” but the magnitude of things is so different I can’t begin to use myself as the reference point. It was, though, very inspirational to see how excited he was about all the ones he’s owned and the customization work he’s done.

Anyways, the best crusty old vehicles are usually owned by dedicated retired owners. This one had a slew of mechanical work and replaced components in the past 25,000 miles that I won’t bother listing here. I did some sleuthing underneath to determine the state of the frame and other bodywork. The interior is immaculate and all of the coachwork is original.

So you might think that I went ahead and expanded my aircraft carrier fleet. Well, kind of….

The trip was actually a scouting mission for a robot buddy, Alex of Wedge Industries, a long time northeastern robot competitor. In fact, me versus him was the Franklin Institute finals in the 30lb class. So now this thing is in the robot family… and Motorama 2018 is going to be certified dank.

I was going to Double Vantruck to go meet him for pickup, but the heavy snowfall on that day caused me to rethink that plan and I instead headed out with someone else who had 4×4 and a not 70/30 weight distribution. Here, Alex stops over in the shop after getting a trailer to tow his own car back with. Have fun with your 9 miles a gallon all the back to Pennsylvania :p

I now leave you with this.