Archive for the 'mikuvan' Category

 

All-Vans Quality of Life Rollup – Mid 2018 to Now

Oct 14, 2018 in mikuvan, vantruck

I’ve had a very unexpected life problem lately.

Namely, all of my vans work too well.

(Okay, I mean, they now do). But still, even before the Great Engine Rebuild (Oh, Shit, Again!?) adventure of 2018, there was, in practice, nothing really going on with Mikuvan besides the engine being worn out and consuming oil. Vantruck, too, always started (begrudgingly so) but really has never quit once running, and has repeatedly made its way to New Jersey and New Hampshire and other New states….as well as Pennsylvania again, but we’ll get to that. It’s probably solely responsible for around 0.00002 degrees Celsius of global warming by now.

This is, honestly, rather unprecedented. So what’s someone like me to do now that he has two vehicles which, at first order approximation, start and run without trouble?

Make problems for myself.

Well, I mean, make incremental facility improvements and try to head off future issues… but then again, I said that shortly before changing my timing belts in the dark.

This post covers the smaller potato work that I’ve done on Mikuvan and vantruck roughly between May (when the place finally unfroze) and, like, last week or something. There’s nothing very revolutionary (thankfully!) and the beginning of cold weather* now will see a decline in work again. I also moved house – on purpose close by the shop – specifically to cut my commute to just a few minutes of walking, hence relieving Mikuvan of having to be dailied. This has been unfortunately going on since I left MIT in 2015, so being able to park it for days at a time means opening up more opportunties to execute longer term work on it again.

*i define cold weather as anything under 65 degrees

mikuvan

 

Some time last fall, Mikuvan began developing a clicking sound from the driveline somewhere in the back. It was a classic sound of a degrading universal joint. I’d bought replacements a long time ago, but didn’t feel the need to replace them just yet. At that time, it hadn’t progressed into any noticeable vibration or binding, and without any long trips on the horizon, I decided to just try and see what happens! I mean, worst case, it r/JRITSses itself somewhat or I’d need to redneck tow it to the shop if it got really bad.

Fast forward to spring, and the clicking had evolved into a somewhat noticeable vibration. Finally, the tipping point came after the 2-and-some week Battlebots Season 3 filming – in that time, something finally bound up completely, maybe from corrosion, and the vibration became much more intense to the point which highway use was questionable.

Alright, alright, I get the point. Time to unbolt the driveshaft at the differential input flange and slide it out.

Huh. Well I’m no….mechanical engineer, or something?…. but I’m pretty sure a universal joint like that shouldn’t just stay rigid on its own. It turns out that vibration is straight up the whole thing flexing the suspension parts and transmission/engine mount!

I’d never replaced driveshaft parts up to this point, so I spent a while watching Youtube videos on how to do it correctly and incorrectly. I ended up deciding to do it incorrectly using the Two Sockets Method, a close relative of the Three Seashells, I am told. This just means receiving the lower U-joint cup with a large socket like an impact wrench socket, and pressing the top downwards with a smaller one, in the absence of a dedicated pressing tool.

The first step either way was releasing the years-old retaining rings which had long rusted shut. I decided to go for total war and simply rip them out however I could, since the new joint parts came with clips anyway.

The gore that presented itself I was just a little unprepared for. I’d say that’s a rather r/JRITS universal joint indeed! The rubber seals were completely fried, probably from the immense heat generated from grinding metal rods around.

Here’s where the joint seized up and bunched up the rollers.

Hold on – I said there were “no long trips on the horizon”, right? Nah, this thing went to Atlanta and back in January. Through the Smoky Mountains, even!

I reused the Two Sockets Method to install the new joints. The ends of the U-joints were ever so slightly not parallel, which made the initial press alignment difficult, but it was not enough to affect it once things got under way.

The new joints came with some semblance of grease of unknown vintage inside, but I slathered the entire assembly inside and out before putting it back together. Here I am about to do the second stage install on the differential flange end.

And all finished!

I had a replacement ready for the transmission-side joint too, but it didn’t exhibit any binding or backlash and the seals looked healthy. So I just gave it an external grease slathering and cleaning for now – no need to replace it for the time being, since even though the Two Sockets Method worked fine, it was still a little painful.

It’s late May coming into June now, so the weather’s been warming up (finally) and I haven’t blown the engine up yet. I decided to address something that has always been lurking since I bought the thing, but never presented a problem, nor is it of guaranteed benefit if I messed with it.

I meanwhat else is new, right!?

 

I’m talking about Mikuvan’s secondary A/C condenser. It’s a little radiator that’s part of the dual air conditioning system – only equipped on the dual A/C models. It lives right in front of the passenger front tire, protected from all the spray and road grime and debris by….. like a 3″ tall mini-mudflap. This is to say it’s utterly useless and the whole thing is filled with rocks. The fan motor is long dead and bound up. I was in fact amazed it hadn’t rusted all away by now.

 

As long as I’ve had Mikuvan, the mini condenser fan has been loose and just jiggling under the motor. After cracking the assembly open, it fell right out. The hub was pretty mangled, but it was just a press-in steel insert and not bolted or splined or something.

I surmised that the first good rock that got flung into this thing probably jammed the fan and caused it to be broken off its hub, and from there, this condenser was basically useless. It’s positioned horizontally, so it really doesn’t even get any kind of directed airflow. Not without some kind of assisting duct or control surface, anyway.

The fan motor itself is a little cute 60W nameplate rated axial pancake motor, which seemed to have long ran out of life energy and could be barely turned by hand. Nevertheless, I kind of got the idea of what it has to be replaced by, so I went and did some shopping.

This is its replacement, a 10″ diameter miniature radiator fan from Amazon. I have to take a moment here to stop and praise the sheer ballsiness of Bezos’ magical elf workshop for making formerly very niche car products commoditized and straight up passing the Chinesium into the hands of consumers. This object is $40 and by my judgement quite well made with sharp mold lines (very sharp… ouch) and rigid feeling plastic with visible fiber-fill texture.

I was just going to pull the motor and fan rotor out and bolt it to the existing steel frame of the A/C condenser.

I was pleasantly surprised pulling the fan rotor off because I discovered that this motor was basically identical to the stock one, as in down to the mounting flange and everything. I take it this size-class of fan has just been a form factor staple for decades.

The mounting holes just lined up, but the new one is actually mirrored from the old one. The motor did need spacing off from its mounting bracket due to a different, more protruding rear bearing boss, so I used some spare Overhaul rubber shock mounts to give it that distance. It also gives the fan a little bit of flex so it isolates (what little it had) vibration.

Before mounting everything, I hit the fan mounting plate with a few coats of rust converter and then leftover clear-coat. This should keep it from dissolving away for a few years yet!

I spliced the connector from the old motor on and dropped everything in place. Really from the space available I could have well gone for a full 12″ fan, but this actually shouldn’t be drawing that much power anyway. It’s on a circuit that supported 4-5 amp draw to start with, so to try and stuff a 10+ amp full size blower motor on it might have other consequences in the electrical system.

When the A/C is turned on now, this fan runs with the system. It provided a noticeable improvement in the A/C system’s cooling ability at low speeds (in traffic/stopped) and in general on hotter days.

After Dragon Con this year, with the summer (a.k.a “the three or four weeks you can work on stuff outside”) coming to close and with no more long roadtrips on the horizon for real this time, I decided to address the ever-degrading paint work on the front. I now was in my new place nearby the shop, so I could leave stuff unfinished for multiple days without making one or the other white-collar millennial yuppie upset (I speak as if I’m not one at heart…)

The paint on the front of Mikuvan was ratty and rock-chipped when I bought it – and it sure hasn’t gotten better. It doesn’t help that the front is also nearly vertical, so it will take every piece of gravel (and every bug) head on.  I elected to go for just a repaint instead of also filling dents – it was more worth it to me to just protect the metal more than anything. That’s my general approach now with bodywork – make it not get shittier, and some day when (I’m sure) I sell the company for Bezos-class ca$h-out money, I’ll have everything done over correctly.

 

….right? Right?

I thought the front trim piece was double-sided taped on, but turns out it’s just held in by little snap rivets. I removed it and all of the headlight trim in order to inspect how much I’d have to do here. The plan is to mask off the black window highlights, give a fine sand over everything, use some high-build filler primer on select areas, and then blast the whole thing.

I didn’t invest in any color-matched paint or a spray gun or anything. This whole operation will be a rattlecan bomb with Dupli-Color Chrysler Bright White, the closest shade to what I assume it looked like new (and which has been on all my other questionable auto body endeavors).

Here we go! Masking was a job that took a while on its own, especially since I had to be very careful trimming the black highlights with a craft knife. I masked far enough around that I could go Banksy Overdrive.

I used some 180 grit sanding sponges and 220 grit sandpaper to roughen up the existing paint. Honestly, it’s so degraded that even 220 grit was very easily removing it to the OEM primer layer (as seen in a few spots). I cleaned everything during and afterwards with denatured alcohol.

It didn’t occur to me unti I was more than halfway through the filler primer job that….. it’s black colored. Oh boy, this will take quite a few coats of white to cover up now…. I mostly focused on blasting the extra-sanded areas and the deeper rock chips.

As can be seen, I also had a little too much fun with exhausting the initial few old/stale paint shots. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about spraypaints, it’s never use the first couple of seconds of paint, especially not after it’s been sitting a long time.

 

After the primer had dried, I went back over it with sandpaper in parts where I let it hang out a little too long and it produced some noticeable runs and areas of unevenness.

Then I went ahead and applied the first couple of color coats. I continued this process even as the sun started setting – and had to clean out another Autozone of the color I needed before continuing. I think about 9 or 10 passes of paint total went into it. You can’t spray regular spraypaint too thick at once, since it will run down a vertical surface, so I had to take multiple very light passes.

I let the color coat dry overnight and bake some in the morning sun, then made a few passes of gloss clear coat. I actually used a clearcoat advertised as an engine paint which had ceramic particles (allegedly!) in it; this I got some time ago for another project and had used on other smaller van sections. This stuff, whatever it contains, actually isn’t entirely clear in thick coats – the magic unicorn dust gives it a very, very faint bronze tint. This actually had the effect of color-matching the Bright White with the more weathered white factory paint, so it was a happy coincidence – but just watch out if you actually use it for real things.

In the afternoon, I began peeling off all the masking.

A few tiny runs and undermining of the masking tape here or there, but I consider it all good.

I gave the paint about a week to dry and cure fully before installing the badges again. The “Mitsubishi” logo came off some time in 2016, and I hung onto it. I got a new diamond badge off eBay about the same time, so I finally dug them back out and cleaned everything up.

To align the diamond badge, I looked up some photos of where they were originally.  It seems to either have the centroid horizontally aligned with the top edge of the headlight trim, or the bottom edge of the badge aligned with the same. I’m sure it depended on the year and how drunk the assembly workers were.

I decided to go for the “center aligned” version, so I made a guide with a horizontal solid strip of masking tape. From the center of that tape strip, I tore off a section and applied it again, lowered by the height of the bottom two diamonds. Then I marked off with a pen the middle of the distance between the headlight trims at that height. This gave me local geometric alignment to smash it on with some VHB.

The Mitsubishi text badge was applied much more haphazardly in a location that I thought looked like that it belonged.

At this point, Mikuvan is in a very stable plateau, which I hope I can maintain for a while. I no longer need to daily, and the powertrain is in excellent shape post-rebuild. I do need to get around to re-brushing the front A/C blower motor (…again), but that’s a very minor kibble.

The only additional bodywork I’d like to do (besides everything) is revisit the rear hatch glass, which was the very first rust repair I ever did 5 years ago. It’s been slowly coming apart the past few months and is now bubbled up some in spots. However, without a heated garage, and with further detrioration less likely to advance since it’s mostly parked indoors, I’ll put this off until next spring or later.

Everything else that is/was rusty has been paved over in thick dosings of what I call “Eastwood Goo” – you’re supposed to fill body panels with that stuff, not use it externally. Believe me, I’ve considered making look intentional and doing both sides with a clear masking line.

And now, back to the only-partially white elephant  of….

vantruck

Sorry, did I say it was running well and had no problems and had never left me stranded?

I dunno what BattleBots did this year, but my vans weren’t much fans of me when I got back. Maybe it’s because they got jealous, or maybe all of my equipment actually talk to each other and know I failed at winning miserably, so they’re just all piling on now while I’m down. Either way, one day soon after my return, I went to pick up a few shipments.

All was great going in! Then, when I tried to leave…. nothing. I could hear the starter clicking, but it wasn’t doing much starting. After a classic “hammer on the starter” attempt, it gave maybe one half-assed crank, but it wasn’t enough.

Okay, okay, I get it. You guys really like riding on tow trucks and U-hauls. Vantruck got this habit from Mikuvan, who I’ve had to trailer home more times than I’d like to admit to my friends in order to avoid their judgemental Facebook comments. Something about older siblings being bad influences….

 

I figure the starter is original, since it looks like THAT.

After dealing with a snowflakey, rare Japanese van for ages, it was actually a relief to handle something American. Parts for domestic brands are SO. CHEAP. I’m guessing this is how old muscle car people survive – the lineage of parts for American makes is just so extensive. What do you mean Autozone had something just on the shelf? Such luxury! I had this job done the SAME DAY.

The starter is retained by only 2 bolts, so this job was very quick and painless. Quite possibly the ONLY part which is quick and painless to do on a 3rd-generation Econoline, as far as I can tell.

I took the old starter apart afterwards because curiousity got the better of me. Those are some very stumpy and worn brushes indeed. What didn’t make sense to me still was just how fast the cliff came – typically you can nurse a worn-out brushed motor for quite a while by hammering at it, which has the effect of making the brushes temporarily contact the commutator again. I got maybe another few rotations out of it, not enough to turn the engine over even once. Oh well…

And yes, I absolutely did return it to Autozone as a core in this condition. They took it.

Hey, it saves your rebuild house some labor time!

The interesting thing is, I used to have two of this kind of Ford truck starter. In early high school, when I went to a junkyard the first time to the utter horror of my parents who were desperately trying to keep me on the path of being a doctor or something, there were just two of them lying on the ground next to a bunch of other pre-pulled parts. I got them both for something stupid like $20. I didn’t know what they were at the time (only that they ended up not being good for robots), and eventually they were lost to the cruft seas of time and moving house, given away or left behind. The last positive memory I have of them was in 2006 or so when I finally had to reorganize my every-growing cruft stash.

This just confirms my belief that you shouldn’t ever throw anything away, ever. Because I could have REALLY used them just now.

Whatever, it starts again. Here’s a picture of the bottom pan of a Gear Vendors overdrive unit – I wanted to stop it from dribbling gear oil slowly since the gasket was damaged. I scraped off the existing one (the green junk) and put on a new one I ordered from GV directly. The only trick to this I encountered was the oil pickup tube didn’t want to stay in the upper half of the unit, not even with a new o-ring. So you kinda have to place it just right in the tray and wiggle it in as a pilot alignment feature before putting the oil pan bolts in. There’s no other retention for it I can see.

By now, it was late May, and Vantruck’s true calling of being an internet meme was well under way.

Yes, that is indeed Alex and myself at the first Regular Car Reviews double-review. If you haven’t seen it by now…

….don’t click on it unless you have headphones, have very understanding bosses, or own the damn company.

This was a cool experience. I’d been following RCR for a while now, and so to be on the show was an exciting opportunity. We presented the idea of Double Vantruck Party to him some time in April, after BattleBots was all done. The whole filming was a one-day affair – meet in the morning, take some sweet video, and then roll home in the evening. I’ll say that Mr. Regular really opens up personality-wise after a few beers. He’s otherwise a very unassuming person, someone you wouldn’t associate with the #1 source of brown on the Internet.

 

Some time in June, I was trying to change the alternator belt when I realized that there’s just way, way too much going on in the engine bay. A lot of the mess is the 1980s California smog package. It has two air injection pumps that run off the alternator belt, about 2 miles of random hoses and vacuum lines connected to a few check valves and delay valves and thermally-triggered valves and blah blah blah GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE

All of it. Out and away.

I wasn’t merely doing this for the purpose of easier belt changing, but also I wanted to get to the root of the Weird Idle issue that has plagued Vantruck since forever, at least since the installation of the EFI rig.

Basically what would happen is, upon reaching warm idle, the exhaust AFR becomes very rich on the order of 12.5 to 13, and the EFI unit tries to trim down as much as it can, but it’s not enough. Some times it feels like it’s missing a cylinder. It clears up if you rev at all, and it’s never misfired or exhibited bad behavior on the highway. It also doesn’t happen when it’s cold started or just warming up.

This led me to believe that there was a remnant temperature-triggered emissions device which, no longer needed or with its connected system removed, was now simply causing problems. I removed and plugged every single vacuum fitting I could find, and also plugged/capped the air injection manifolds.

Jokes about global warming aside, when it’s operating outside of the “Weird Idle”, the AFR is maintained very tightly. I strongly think the EFI retrofit makes the emissions more controlled than any analog vacuum cleaner contraption ever could.  They did the best with what they had, now it’s time for it to disappear.

I kept all of this gadgetry in a box – if you want it some some reason, let me know!

 

It’s actually reasonable in there now!  I always thought this engine bay was never designed to fit the big-block series engines and they just smashed them in there because marketing said they had to.

In the same session, I also retimed the distributor slightly. I figured that one of my Weird Idle causes could be too low initial timing – the FITech dashboard screen shows me the manifold vacuum, and it was always suspiciously low in the Weird Idle state, often on the cusp of around -15 to -16 inHg, whereas The Internet suggests that a higher (-18 to -20) value is more common.  So either way, I decided to double check.

By the way, if you’ve know me recently, you might have heard me say that “X or Y is the Distributor Wrench of Z”. This is because it took me THREE. HOURS. of dismantling things to get to a point where I can wrestle some abomination of a crows-foot wrench, a universal joint, some kind of socket extension, and a wobble-drive to get to the stupid bolt that locks the rotation of this thing.

Then I found out they make a single-purpose U-shaped bent wrench, JUST for this purpose. It has no reason to exist besides compensating for shitty engineering and cost-cutting. It is, truly, the Distributor Wrench of distributor wrenches.

This is not okay. It’s the literal opposite of okay.

This was the first time I got to play with my own timing light and know what it meant. There was a timing light someone busted out when the initial exorcism of Mikuvan was happening, but my only conception of timing at that point was about stator flux and that motor sure didnt look very electric.

I verified that the base timing of the distributor was only 4 degrees – even lower than the 8 degrees indicated in the manual, and far lower than the 12-16 degrees The Internet™ claimed that Ford big-blocks liked. Feeling edgy, I set it to 16 degrees. Unfortunately, it had little to no apparent effect on the Weird Idle.

Whatever the root cause of the Weird Idle might be, it wasn’t causing any problems really besides making people judge me while in traffic – but I’m used to that anyway.

Among other adventures, I went on a van assist mission to work on Cassandra’s van in New York. We had a number of things to go over during the day, and I figured I’d bring Vantruck for its towing capacity juuuuuuuuuuuust in case.

This trip taught me that all American full-size vans are abominations of packaging and manufacturing, not just mine. They were never made to be serviced – you were supposed to buy them for your contractor business, drive them for like 40 or 50,000 miles, then get a new one. Problems wouldn’t really come up in that time interval, and when they do, you just junk it and start anew. This is how American van design hasn’t really changed since the 1970s. Even a modern final-generation E350 shares underpinnings with this generation, and GM has been making the same van now since what, 1994?

So what’s on the horizon for Vantruck now?

I’ve been doing some research on how you remedy Ford rain gutter rust, and the answer is “You Don’t”. Not without custom metal fab, and definitely not cutting these off because that apparently makes the whole roof just pop off, because the rain gutters double as the pinch-weld which attaches the roof to the sides. Gee, thanks Ford.

I have a few bright ideas about cutting them off just enough to weld on some strip patches, and have talked to two or three auto body places regarding it (and to have them on standby for when I inevitably fuck up).

This work is kind of indeterminately scheduled right now – I’d like to remedy this entirely before trying to paint it or make any additional restoration fixes.  For now, the rust is arrested with converter compound and clear-coated over, so this (along with 2 or 3 other patches on the roof) at least won’t get much worse. Realistically, the fleet is in good running condition day-to-day so I will likely back off on Van Stuff for the next few months.

However, I’ve decided that Vantruck will be my target for more extensive buildout in the future in terms of restoration and “enhancements”. It goes back to what I said earlier about Mikuvan being just too much of a snowflake; parts beyond powertrain are difficult to find if I mess something up, or expensive if I do find them since they often need to come from overseas where the platform is still being supported. Vantruck – while “special” in its own way, is still an older American truck built like a Lego set. 3rd-generation Econolines show up on Craigslist all the time for cheap. Parts are everywhere. I feel way less bad diving into it and modifying it for this reason.

As for what plans exactly, I’m not sure yet. I definitely want to repaint this thing fully white with black accents much like Mikuvan still; as much as the three-tone brown-on-Brown-on-b r o w n is endearing, I’d prefer a more consistent look – most people pay good money to have three-tone paint, but I get it for free! It’s brown, less brown, and white!

Recall the original Vantruck repaint concept I posted way back when:

I’d like to make some very mild changes to this based on inspiration I’ve seen from other trucks, but it will resemble this at a high level. It replicates the window blackout highlights that Mikuvan has, which I do like.

I’ve also been playing around in Solidworks with other “additions”:

That is a very idealistic mockup of what I call the “Bovine Interdiction System”, or a cowcatcher/bullbar setup. The inspiration was largely from semi-tractors with the broad chromed front bumpers, which I learned were called “Texas Square” bumpers. It also turns out that the elaborate marker light arrangements on some trucks and trailers are called “Chicken Lights“.

It would then seem, at first approximation, that truckers have as many meme-names for thing as I do. Because I sure as hell didn’t get any useful search results for “those lights that truckers put all over their running boards and trailer sides”.

Anyways, I’m highly unlikely to build that monstrosity, but its design will probably evolve. I would like front and rear upgrades to this thing eventually, and paying $1000+ for a commercial brodozer bumper is just unfathomable in my mind (Plus literally nobody makes them for 3rd-generation E-series vans, because why would you.)

In general, it gives an idea of the direction I want to pull this thing, which is “mildly brodozer” in aesthetic without sacrificing usability; I’m not inclined to lift it beyond the point of usefulness in towing the company’s equipment trailer, but a bed-mounted toolbox would be nice, for instance.

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.

 

Once.

 

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.