Archive for the 'van' Category

 

The Most Curious Story of Sadvan

Apr 29, 2019 in van

On a bright and breezy day in October 2018, I found myself on a two-lane country road somewhere in the bucolic expanse of the Delmarva Peninsula. Well-trimmed fields being prepared for winter fallow were punctuated by leaning, creosote stained electric poles, and the occasional faded goldenrod crossing sign informed me of places known only to their generational denizens.

Sassafras?” I snidely remarked at the passing visage at the side of U.S. Highway 301. “Where the fuck is THAT?”

It struck me as a fantastic dupe by the locals, a name you mutter about having pressing business therein when the unfamiliar out-of-towner violates your shallow interest in their affairs, like “Westchester County, New York”. I was a man whom Fate herself had drawn here this day, far out of his raucous urban mechanical sophistication. Never known for being well-traveled, it mystified many as to why I would abscond well before the morning light to a backwater which, well after the first glance, seems to have nothing to offer me.

But, as the trite phrase goes, I was a man on a mission.

I was here to buy a van, dammit.

Okay, enough with the Millennial Thoreau. This is really the story of how I stalked a van on Craigslist for over a year, drove a total of 18 hours to get it, and in the end sold it to a van-mongering stranger. Yet it existed in my life briefly as a sort of practice for well-scoping your automotive projects, which is something I touched on in previous posts.

This story really begins in the fall of 2017 when I first saw the Craigslist post for a 1988 Mitsubishi Van, in Still Pond, Maryland, for $1500. Allegedly, it was parked over 10 years ago with “rod knock”, and of course it Ran When Parked. Sadly, at the time I didn’t save the post since I never counted on this happening. As is par for my course, I offered $600. It was declined.

Every few months throughout the next year, I would periodically see it re-listed for incrementally lower prices. $1200.

Then $1000.

Then $900.

Each time, I offered $600 with pickup the same week. Eventually, the seller simply stopped responding to me. But a few weeks after Dragon Con, in Mid-October, it came up again.

$500.

At this point, it was worth more to me in the parts I could pull off of it for Mikuvan, looking rather intact from the photos. Or maybe I’ll just try waking it up and seeing how roddy-knocking it actually was. This time, I called the seller so he wouldn’t associate my email again, and got an agreed upon pickup day! There wasn’t even any chance to offer $600 again, because it was now lower.

So a few friends and I rolled out of Boston at around 6 in the morning with Vantruck. We picked up a one-way U-haul car trailer on the way in Delaware and arrived at the agreed upon back yard in Still Pond by around 2 PM.

This thing has obviously been used (as expected) as the guy’s storage unit for those years. It was absolutely crammed full of unrelated car parts, building materials, and household goods. It also clearly suffered from the Delica Windshield Leak I wrote about, because “moldy” didn’t quite start to describe the interior, and the floor carpets especially were basically solid with some unspeakable sediment.

Whatever. Remember, I was here to cart it home no matter what at this point. So we began the 30-minute long process of removing all of the guy’s worldly belongings or whatever from the interior; while doing so I got a chance to appraise more of the interior conditon. Downside? I didn’t come with a winch, which in retrospect should be in all van-retrieval crashkits, so the seller and his friend hoisted it up the trailer using a parallel truck and a hill, then gave it a bump with (of course) his rolling wreck of a forklift. I greatly enjoyed this double-truck operation.

And that is the background of this fantastic aesthetic van train. The ordeal was all done by 5pm, but it took us a good 10 hours to get back into Boston due to traveling slower with the trailer and avoiding the hell out of all of the Northeast’s toll roads and bridges for which I’d have lost another 20% of the purchase cost.

Honestly, the cost to acquire was greater than the cost of the van itself. Fuel alone was nearly $350 because 8.5 miles a gallon and the one-way trailer was $150 or so – maybe I should have gotten a round-trip trailer instead, but I just didn’t want to deal with the additional drama of a trailer if I didn’t have to. Add in the tolls I didn’t avoid on the way down, and incidental costs like food too.

Aaaand dropped off in the neglected back corner of the old shop parking lot. I stashed it here since it was most out of the way of the landlords should they visit, and also the most out of the way for parking lot use in general.

I gave it a real wash later on, and once the plant growths and grunge stains were removed, the paint was actually in remarkable shape. Certainly smoother than Mikuvan in many areas, even. The massive black snout plastic was more aged and faded, however. Likely because the work van trim leaves these unpainted.

And that’s how I ended up with a fleet of three.

Well, two and some I suppose, because it didn’t run at this point. We called it a variety of creative names like “shitvan” and “sadvan” and “the gray van”. I figured “shitvan” wasn’t the most public-friendly name, and come on, it wasn’t that shitty in the end! So I more referred to it as sadvan.

It was time to start digging in. Check out this triple van service day!  Our goal was to get it at least to being able to start, or try to start, because I was wondering about the condition of the engine. Mikuvan’s engine rebuild saga wasn’t that long ago at this point, so if the engine were in remotely competent shape, I’d pull it to keep as a core. By this time, too, I was also no longer afraid of “rod knock” since I’d seen how to pull the crank and rod bearings.   But first, a more thorough mechanical inspection was in order.

One of the niceties of the work van trim is that it basically doesn’t have interior body panels. It had some pieces of MDF which used push rivets to secure to some holes where the interior trim would otherwise be. The benefit to me was that I finally got to see how many of Mikuvan’s interior fittings work. I need to service my power lock actuators eventually, so it was good to see the lock mechanism and how its cables and pushrods route.

In fact, with the initial inspection I did of the sliding door (whose handle wasn’t engaging), I was also able to identify and lube up a cable which on Mikuvan was somewhat rust-seized, causing the sliding door handle to stick at times. I then back-propagated the fix here while I made the little pushrod adjustment which allowed the handle to disengage the latch all the way – it seemed to be just worn plastic parts from usage.

It does make me debate the merits of having multiple of one vehicle, especially with different psychological importance assignments so there is one you don’t feel bad experimenting on.

I did roll around on the ground a little in Maryland, but didn’t identify anything I was too concerned about. It’s below the Salt Belt of the northern states, so there was some Almost Rust but absolutely nothing concerning on the underside.

Look how empty it is! No A/C. No power steering. There is ONE accessory belt:

…and it only handles the alternator and water pump/fan. There’s not an A/C condenser and cruise control gear in front of the radiator. With this barebones honest work truck setup, this thing was perfectly serviceable!

I drained the radiator through its bottom fitting revealing some rusty water, then off-color coolant. At least it wasn’t chunky, and the fins on the inside of the filler cap did not look too corroded. The oil level was off-stick low, so I added most of it back in 10W-40 Walmart-special conventional oil. Hey, if it does have damaged engine bearings, at least it would get a fighting chance.

The exhaust parts had some rust, but nothing like the dissolution typically seen in anything which has spent time in the north. It actually seemed plausible to back out those catalytic converter bolts. The rear interior was fairly beat up from usage as a work van, and the hatch needed a little slamming to close, but otherwise all of the fittings therein were functional.

There was, however, the aftermath of what I warned about in the Delica Windshield Leak post.

I’m sure years of leaking down into the floor plus sloppy work boots is responsible for this, and you can see exactly where water splashing from the front wheels and water pooling from the Delica Windshield Leak took their toll. The driver’s side floor was, shall we say, transparent. This is the extent of the scab picking – I thundered through this area using an aggressive twisted wire brush wheel and steel body hammer. Quite a lot of barely-structural metal was removed. Luckily, the frame rails underneath were sound. I planned to think about what to do here, while we picked through the rest of the thing to get it to run.

The first step is to hook up a battery and see if it does anything. I’m happy to say that all the electrics appear to work fine, though the door open buzzer was initially unhappy. It even still had functional central locking. I don’t even have that any more.

Actually not bad. The idiot lights were all functional  upon key-on, but the fuel gauge was stuck on full. Knowing this thing sat for indeterminate periods of time, and having previously experienced fuel system deterioration in vantruck, I knew that the fuel system was no matter what fuckered (that’s a technical term)and would require removal and possible complete replacement.

Cranking tests showed that nothing was making weird noises, and cold compression testing also returned high 90s PSI, which honestly was better than what Mikuvan started with. I inspected the timing belt through the upper cover, and it seemed to also be in decent shape. After a dozen or so cranking sessions, I drained some oil to check for metal particles – there were none.

Honestly, at this point there was nothing indicating to me there was anything wrong at all with the engine. I began to wonder if low oil caused the hydraulic valve lifters to begin ticking, or they began doing so due to being worn out, and the sound being located close to the driver  with the engine located in the center was mis-diagnosed as “rod knock”.

Testing the fuel pump terminals showed there was no continuity, so (again, from Vantruck’s front fuel tank adventure) the interiors were probably rusted apart. We spent a few hours pulling the fuel tank out, which was 4 bolts and several hose fittings on the top side

First off, it was heavy. Fearing the worst, we pulled off the filler neck first and drained the contents a little.

It was BROWN.This decision was immediately regretted, and the tank carefully removed with the filler hose attached at the base so no more would spill. About 8 gallons of brown were emptied into two buckets. Not knowing really what to do with this substance, I just let it hang out in the open air behind the building. That, plus the amount we spilled onto the parking lot, made the whole area smell like freshly-finished wood furniture for days.

brown

Turning the tank upside down and shaking it out made clump after clump of brown fall out of the bottom. The fuel pump and sender unit, as expected, were basically rusty coral reefs. In my assessment, there was absolutely no value in trying to restore this tank. Over the next few days, I made a few calls using car-part.com as a reference to see who could possibly have a whole fuel tank unit from this obscure model of 80s van. A few turned out to be imaginary or were catalog mis-files.

However, in the end, Burlington Auto Parts came through again! I went to them a few years ago for a replacement headlight bezel. This time, I went in with a more determined attitude to try and score all of their Mitsubishi Van leftovers, and besides the fuel tank assembly, I walked out with a free pair of taillight modules! Allegedly, there were more interior parts and other fittings somewhere deep inside a warehouse off-site; maybe I’ll call back some time.

Hey, taillights are basically consumables around here. I’m quite giddy about any duplicate part for Mikuvan if I can get my hands on it!

In the duration of the few days it took to get a confirmed part hit for the fuel tank, I occasionally filled up the fuel injection rail (with fuel fitting removed) with various cleaning-oriented petrochemicals like Seafoam and straight acetone-based brake cleaner and would ‘crank through it’ i.e. have the injectors fire and cycle the solvents through some. My hope was this would tend to break up anything sticky that had formed in the fuel rail and injectors, and make the initial start and running more deterministic.

After we finished the fuel system fitup, it was time to install a more permanent battery, hold the key down and let nature take its course:

As you can see, the test was conclusive. After a few seconds of cranking, the new fuel system primed and off she went.

Again, I couldn’t hear a single thing wrong with it. I let it idle to full warmup (discovering that the temperature gauge wasn’t reading) to purge the cooling circuit, topped off the coolant thereafter, checked the oil level, and closed the lid. Then I ripped the inaugural burnout seen above, to great fanfare. The thunk at the end was the entire collection of tools and equipment left inside meeting me up front all at once.

That was the last time I touched the engine in any way for running condition purposes.

 

Over the next few days, I would think about what to do with Sadvan while casually improving small aspects of it, such as installing a new light bulb in the 3rd taillight, and replacing the temperature gauge sensor with a spare from Mikuvan (that was the only thing wrong).

I was going to rip everything out that I cared about and put the husk up for adoption or scrapping. Yet here I am again, with a now functional and running endangered species. Do you eat the whale or save the whale? Hell, I even began to consider having a 3rd member of the fleet.

Sadvan did have its shortcomings, such as no power steering or air conditioning, plus (as of then) a classic rat’s nest filled front heater blower, which I would later resolve quickly with pulling off a duct and jamming in a Shopvac nozzle. It also had “no weight over the rear wheels” syndrome where it, like many light trucks, would break the back end free at the slightest provocation.  Hey, I actually liked that last one. Without an interior and power accessory drives to pull around, arguably it was even faster than Mikuvan by a fair margin!

Whatever – while thinking of either selling it as a whole to some other enthusiast or hanging on to it for later amusement, I kept moving towards improving the facilities. That’s my problem, really – give me some mediocre device or machine and I have a habit of making little improvements here and there as I think about whether or not I should be doing them in the first place and is it worth my time.

One of them was thoroughly cleaning the interior. Pretty much every plastic surface was covered in unknown organic grunge, and some of the surfaces were obviously moldy. The carpet was all-around disasterous. I invested in a few different auto detailing products like foaming carpet cleaners and interior cleaning solutions, after being declined by 2 local detail stops since they did not (rightfully!) want to handle the potential mold.

I guess they just want to polish BMWs all day long or something. Whatever, 3 of us had this thing fresh and shiny in one evening. The passenger-side floor did get wet regularly from the Delica Windshield Leak, however; in some of my inspections through the area, I tried to hammer on the baseplate here and chip at it from underneath to inspect for weak spots and rust holes. All told, I couldn’t find any here – it doesn’t mean there aren’t any critical rust spots, but that it was not a priority.

The driver’s side Transparent Floor though, was more pressing. If I were to adopt and register it, this wouldn’t even begin to pass the state inspection. I at least wanted to arrest the rust development until one or the other path (sale, repair, part-out) became reasonable. So I approached with my usual formula of rust converter compound followed by top-coating with something disgusting and goopy. I gave the area another wire brushing to expose as much remaining surface rust as I could, then emptied most of the can of rust converter shown onto it.

Once that cured (turns dark brown/black and the clearcoat-ish component dried, I followed up with my preferred Eastwood Goop. This stuff dries to a waxy consistency and is supposed to be easily removable by solvents later should you want to return to the area to do things, like, correctly. If not, well, this substance comprises a substantial portion of Mikuvan’s underside in the same fender areas!

I masked up pretty high since there was a substantial amount of material to cover.

In the midst of several coats layered both top and bottom here. I also painted manually in the edges where the body is made of multiple sheets together. At least for now this part won’t get any worse!

I still had to cover the gaping hole with something, though, and in the same vein as a lot of the work on this thing, I wanted to pilot something for Mikuvan on a clone that I didn’t have as much paranoia digging into.

Because of the water intrusion, the carpet is pretty deteriorated in both of them, and I had wanted to completely de-carpet the front of Mikuvan. However, what would I replace it with? One day while at Home Depot, I noticed they had big reels of thick particle rubber mats – think certain gym floors and playgrounds which are covered in that chunky rubber stuff, usually made of shredded tires and other rubber detritus. It’s like the Spam of rubber, sold in sheet form – if only they sold mystery sausage meat in large sheets and spools!

This stuff was both flexible enough to bend around but cut with (okay, heavy duty) scissors. What if I just made a giant, epic floormat that covered all of the shortcomings? Mikuvan could also use something similar albeit less epic.

So I got a spool of the material and got to work making a pattern to cut it out of. To do this, I cut up the carpet on the driver’s side of Sadvan and traced its general shape onto some wax paper (I later got real tracing paper from an art supply shop).

As you can see, it took a few revisions to get the shape to line up. My plan was to just cover most of the area I gooped over, including the Flintstone Hole.

Each tracing paper implement improved the fitment until I was confident the last tweak could be committed to rubber.

 

And here it is! This is how it looks just shoved in place without any fastening. Not bad! I was planning to later put a few screws through it to conform to the wheelwell better. This looks plausible enough that at least now my usual favored inspection guys would at least just sigh. Contrary to popular belief, none of my regular fleet have ever had to fib a state inspection in any way, so out of respect I would try to not pass anything too absurd along to them.

At this point, Sadvan had actually been wearing Mikuvan’s license plates for a few days and I had been casually using it for grocery and lunch runs. What!? WHO’S GOING TO KNOW? I saw it as quasi-destructive testing: If there were any engine problems, surely me being able to continue a one-tire fire into 2nd gear and revving everywhere gratuitously would reveal them. But nothing indicated any kind of imminent failure. At around 100 miles, I did an oil change – this time back to my preferred Rotella 5W-40, and once again tried to inspect the drain pan and oil filter for chunks of rod bearings or whatever, and still could find none.

Really, all that my friends and I did after all this was just bleed the brakes since they felt a little soft, but not dysfunctional. Sadvan was otherwise about as good as it ever would have been.

At this point, we made the mental decision to just put it up on Craigslist and Facebook and see what happens. If we were able to turn a profit, we’d split it and put it towards the next van some day. If not, it would join the fleet.

Here was just one of the few glory photos of the sales post. We picked up a set of cheap hubcaps to clean up the slightly rusty gray steel wheel look. Not bad if I do say so myself.

 

Alas, the wholesome story of Sadvan ends with Jonathan here, from Rhode Island, who is a motoring enthusiast and all-around van bro. So if you ever see a small gray Mitsubishi van running around the vicinity of Providence, Rhode Island, you will know its humble origins. He’s since built it out to be a ski- and motorcycle-hauling machine with lights, racks, knobby tires, the works; and has gone on adventures as far as North Carolina. What’s the automotive equivalent of a Cinderella story? A #RanWhenParkedIKnowWhatIHave story? That doesn’t roll off the tongue very well…

How to Remedy Your Mitsubishi Delica’s Leaking Windshield: A Pictorial Guide; Or, Van Facility Improvements Late 2018 to Nowish

Apr 24, 2019 in mikuvan

It’s well known that every 3rd-generation Mitsubishi Delica produced, for any market, has the Delica Windshield Leak.  This manifests as rainy days or water from car washes/even window washing dripping into the front of the cabin floor by the outer corners, making the floors wet. Left long enough, besides amplifying your foot dank, it will rust the floors out.

But it’s a trap – the “windshield leak” isn’t a windshield leak at all. You can have the windshield replaced and resealed as many time as you dare, but it will still happen. That’s because the actual source of the leak is from a corner body panel immediately under the windshield! After learning of this condition from the delica.ca forums, I…

…waited like 3 years and did nothing in particular about it. I was leery of taking off body panels since there wasn’t a guarantee I could get them back on in due time, if at all. The ensuing “not having an indoor facility of some sort” was also a psychological damper. So on rainy days I usually stuffed some shop rags into the corners and used them as diapers. Well with the facility issue resolved, and with Mikuvan really just running too well lately, it’s time to make myself some problems again. Here I will show step by step how to remedy your Delica Windshield Leak That Isn’t Really A Windshield Leak.

I hope you hipsters in Somerville all don’t see this until it’s too late.

Not that I’m bitter or anything, but with the 3rd generation Delicas becoming more and more legal to import into the U.S., I sincerely think there are more here now than the USDM ones! I’m now outnumbered in the greater Boston area by at least 3 known-to-me and possibly more imported late 80s, early 90s 4×4 Delicas. Does this make me, in fact, the original Mitsubishi van hipster? I think it does! Anyways, before the word “Hipster” loses lexical meaning due to saturation…

Okay, first, this story begins with a national tragedy in the making.

That is a dent in the side of Mikuvan which somehow missed both doors. I was going to the #NewVapeShop on a side road when, at a 2-way stop, someone just straight up rolled their stop sign into the main road. Which I was crossing at the time, of course.

It was a gentle bump, and I remember thinking to myself “Really?” before the sound of mashing plastic. And guess what!

IT’S ANOTHER NISSAN!

Well that makes 2 of 2 of my vans which have been attacked by Nissans in some way. Maybe if I buy a Nissan Van, they’ll go away. What the hell is it with Nissans?

I think the sheet metal damage on the side was actually solely the result of mashing the license plate holder off the front of this Altima. They more or less hit the tire/rim first (destroying one of the hubcaps) and then slid backwards some. Besides the dent, there was no other damage to anything save for the hub cap.

 

bump

I’m just glad it was a gentle bump. While I generally consider myself very cautious, and try to ‘drive ahead’ instead of be reactionary, it’s a clear demonstration that some times, crashes just come out of nowhere. Apparently expecting someone to see a stop sign is too much to ask. My guess is phone, of course. Someone once said that driving a classic (or just old) car requires the same caution as riding a motorcycle; you have to anticipate the mistakes of others before they make them, because you’re not getting any protection from your own ride.

Maybe I could have staggered into that intersection a little more (I was following a loose line), or maybe……… someone can look at a stop sign. Oh well, I’ll let the paperwork elves handle this one.

Anyways, after this facepalm-worthy occurrence, I decided it was time to really give Mikuvan some attention again. The Weird Idle Problem of Vantruck had recently been resolved, so it was no longer in an awkward state of “is it REALLY running, though?”.  Now, with BIG CHUCK’S ROBOT WAREHOUSE AND AUTO BODY CENTER established, I had a place to leave unfinished work for indeterminate time periods (uh oh… so it begins).

In we go! Big Chuck’s Auto Body (as I keep calling it now) is just deep enough to put Vantruck in wall to wall, with around 2 feet of clearance. Mikuvan though can just about whip a U-turn inside.

So here is how we begin. The big steps are

  • removing the headlight bezel, then
  • finding and undoing the corner panel screws, then
  • remedying the aged and likely crumbling body seam sealant.

It helps first to remove the bottom windshield trim, which I didn’t know how to do correctly so I just pried until the little plastic clips popped off, some cracking in the process. I ordered a bunch from this website, and you should probably too before starting.

Two of the screws for the corner panel are hidden under the headlight bezel:

And one more behind the A-pillar inside the doorframe:

And finally, one last one – the most irritating one, in my opinion, since it’s highly possible that the cross drive screw will be rusted in place.

These screws are all going to be JIS type screws, but a good quality #2 Phillips driver will also fit and drive with downward pressure.

I found that heat cycling the screws a few times using a heat gun, then using an impact driver (electric or hammer), was effective in freeing up the stuck screws. Honestly, they weren’t rusted in place so much as just aged together.

The two on the bottom side of the headlight bezel are probably better off done with an electric impact driver because of the awkward angle of approach. If you strip the heads out, you’ll probably have to cut straight slots into the heads and use a large flat-drive bit instead.

The driver’s side windshield trim screw on mine had some Natural Loctite holding it on, but heat cycling did the trick. It’s interesting to see that the body was seemingly assembled with these screws, then painted.

A little bit of wiggling to release two pieces of rubber foam trim strip and the panel will slide off to reveal the abject horror underneath. That’s some pretty deteriorated sealant there!

One of my diagnostics to determine if I had the Delica Windshield Leak was pouring some washer fluid into the corner of the windshield, then heading inside and sniffing around for the mildly-sweet methanol smell and the colored drippings. Sure enough, it was leaking profusely.

Most of the sealant will be so deteriorated they come off with the poke of a screwdriver. I didn’t even really need to break out chisels or scrapers here.

It’s highly likely that the sealant will be hiding some rust, so wire brushing it off and treating it is part of the order. I used a few sizes of wire wheels on a drill to knock as much of it off as I could, manually wire brushed the rest, and applied a little bit of rust converter compound into the gap.

The area after a cleaning and wipedown is ready for new sealant.

I painted the sealant on in a few blobs first, then smoothed it out into the gap. Make sure to also smear some up top where the windshield seam begins, since that is probably where weak spots will start growing.

I waited for the first pass to dry a little and then went on a 2nd pass to give plenty of material and a healthy fillet in the gap area.

The day after, when the seam sealer cured, I did a water bucket test where I just poured a whole lot of water down this area and watched the inside for signs of dripping. I’m glad to say there was none!

You’d want to cover all the bare metal exposed by the brushing, so I painted on some POR15 in a much more widespread area – I decided to go ahead and hit some of the other surface rust around this area while I was at it.

Give a day for everything to dry, and the corner goes back on. You can also replace the rubber weatherstrip foam, but I didn’t.

I also didn’t put the screws back by color – instead I put them back by which one was least stripped and would require the least effort, or most accessibility for Unconventional Screwdriving tools, to get back out. So the more damaged screws went on top and by the door, and the screws which were quickest to come out went on the bottom.

I later picked up some #10 truss-head sheet metal screws in 316 alloy stainless steel and replaced some of these screws with them.

On the passenger side, I ended up having to Dremel a slotted drive into the former cross head, which had deteriorated so much that it basically stripped the instant I tried to torque it.

Yikes, this side looks substantially worse than the other, even!

Same procedure in progress! Scraping off of the old sealant (barely any effort required here… it all sort of fell off), wire brushing and rust conversion, and then application of sealant and protection of the area.

I went a little more gung-ho on this side with the seam sealer use, doing it in one run instead of two.

And went a little more crazy with the POR15 on this side, just sort of coating the whole area top and bottom.

I said earlier I ordered some 316 stainless steel screws for the reinstallation of body panels. I also got these M4 pan-head machine screws to replace the headlight retainer screws, which were otherwise rusty and deteriorated. They did come out with some effort again, so I figured they’d been reused enough times – the threads were almost completely gone – that I should just replace them outright.

Luckily, the completion of this timed well with 2 or 3 days of rain. I purposefully parked outside all day long to try and see if I got any more water intrusion. Suffice to say, both sides were dry to the degree that I couldn’t tell if it was just condensation or not. The driver’s side had a very confined moist region which I’m not sure is water intrusion or a worn out window/door frame seal. I’ll keep working on figuring this out, but for now, one of the biggest annoyances of driving in the wet has been remedied. It always felt kind of ridiculous to have a van that isn’t waterproof.

There are other known sources of water intrusion into this area further back by the seat which only is a problem when the tires kick a lot of spray up. I think it’s an unfilled screw hole or plastic snap rivet hole. I know where it is, so maybe it’s time to do some more exploration!

Operation RESOLUTE BROWN: Conquest of That Weird Idle Problem

Apr 20, 2019 in vantruck

And now we return to another chapter of Big Chuck’s Auto Body Center! This time, I’m happy to announce the eradication of something which has plagued Vantruck since not long after I installed the FITech fuel injection system: That Weird Idle Problem.

For almost a year and a half now, Vantruck has never idled correctly. The air-fuel ratio would sink to as low as 10 or 11:1 almost as soon as the engine was started. This meant it stank of unburned fuel, adding to its absurd reputation. Hot starts were strenuous, needing foot-to-the-floor and gentle nursing afterwards (oh, but it would start with one key bump on the 10-20 degree winter mornings!). When it idling, it always sounded like it was missing one or two cylinders. Yet on the highway, or even anything-but-idling, it was great! It really behaved like a carburetor flooding issue, and my friends would quip about how it still acts carbureted, even after conversion to fuel injection. You will never truly take the brown out of the vantruck.

I did numerous dives in to try and figure out what was happening. Theories from people abounded, like a localized vacuum leak of some sort affecting combustion only in 1 or 2 cylinders, or some component of the California smog package still being active (which was the real motivation for its epic dismantling a few months ago). I also replaced the spark plugs (let me tell you about THAT some time), the distributor consumables, and the plug cables. Hell, someone even guessed one (and only one) of the distributor electronic ignition points (the reluctor wheel) was just far enough out of spec to not trigger the ignition module. What are the chances of that? Who knows!?

Honestly, through all the Car Guy Advice, it was clear  to me something was overfueling, so I even did things as dumb as turning down the engine displacement parameter in the ECU. None of these attempts had a first-order impact on the behavior, so I surmised it had to be something very fundamental; something as drastic as tricking the ECU into thinking the thing was only 250 cubic inches and not 460 should have at least had a palpable effect.

One of the hallmarks of a strong debugging heuristic is obtaining a mental model for how sensitive the system is to certain changes; but the other is… well, if something is in the last place you looked, check that you didn’t step over it in the first place, right!?

So I stuck a camera, finally, down the bore of the throttle body. I had a vague idea of what it should look like, and hoped that I would be able to tell if something just looked wrong.  Why didn’t I do this before? Well, you can’t exactly stare down the barrels in these damn vans by putting your head over it. I have to either put an inspection camera inside the engine closet, or in this case, hold my phone inside and try to crank it. Great!

So here we are right after the key is turned to the ON but not Start position. Looks okay so far – barrel 1 (is it called 1? I’m calling it 1) looks a little moist, so maybe we are getting somewhere. The others are pretty starkly dry.

….and immediately on cranking and starting. Oh, my.

Well that’s no good. The injector handling this barrel is basically stuck open, so the thing was getting fuel for 1/4 throttle while idling. How it ran at all, then, was a complete mystery. I attribute it to the 460 being so stupid it didn’t know any better.

So why didn’t I home in on the injectors initially? Well, honestly, I didn’t even know they could leak!

In principle? Yeah I could see that happening. Never dealt with it, though, and a forum full of carburetor bros is surely not going to say “Fuel Injector”. After some research, I found that this generation of FITech head unit was from shortly after changing injector suppliers, so they experienced quality problems. It was covered under warranty and they would send you a new set of injectors.

But I was impatient.

 

So out it comes! The nice thing about these throttle body injection units is you just unplug a few things  and out pops the whole head unit. So if you route your hoses and cables carefully, the installation can be under 5 minutes, really.

Come here, you problem child. My plan was simply to plug up the leaking injector and throw this thing right back in.

To dismantle the FITech unit’s pressurized fuel rails, there are two large 1/4-20 socket head cap screws on either side that need to be released, and then the things pop up upwards at a 45 degree angle. Not straight back or straight upwards. O-rings towards the front and back of the unit get squished into grooves in order to seal the fuel rails; these look like they should be replaced every time you do this, but I elected not to for now.

On the throttle linkage side, the throttle lever cam itself has to be removed to clear the fuel rail half.

To plug the leaking injector, or at least head off its flow to a point where it didn’t really contribute, I resorted to abject terrorism and shoved a cut-off piece of vacuum fitting cap into it. I don’t care if this thing swells or distorts with gasoline contact – so long as it sufficiently reduced the fuel flow!

And the truth reveals itself after a full ECU reset to clear any memory of the incident – now, the idle is far smoother and more stable, and the AFR ratio is very tightly managed. Hurray!

Sadly I didn’t have the foresight to also swap one of the secondary injectors with the blocked primary injector, since it pretty much only uses the primary barrels for low throttle. That means it was missing half of its injection capacity, so stepping on the pedal quickly would overwhelm the other injector and cause it to lean out and stumble. But if I kept it gentle, I was even able to highway drive reasonably well since the secondary barrels kicked in the difference.

Nevertheless, it seems like the issue was resolved. It was now time to call FiTech up and ask for a new set of injectors.

Fast forward a week and so and I’ve dug the thing out again to replace all four injectors with the newest revision parts, replacing the fuel rail O-rings in the process while I was at it. The new injectors get a small smear of grease to facilitate installation, and then the whole mess was unceremoniously stuffed back in. And it worked! My goal was to get this surgery done before Motorama 2019, and I put it together a few days beforehand.

So did the gas mileage get any better!? Well, not really. See, the leaking injector would only really manifest itself at low throttles. On the highway, it’s basically running in that state constantly anyhow. If the ‘city’ mileage improved, I sure as hell haven’t noticed. But at least now it starts quickly, idles less asphyxiatingly (more long-term lung cancer now, I suppose), and responds much more crisply.

With Vantruck now driving competently, I can now turn my attention to the next steps in making it more gooder. One added bonus?

I managed to secure a garage space across the street from the (now previous) shop. You know what? A garage is a garage. It’s enclosed, heated, and has a modicum of power and lighting. And even a mini functional bathroom. You’ll be seeing more and more of the now-real Big Chuck’s Robot Warehouse and Auto Body Center in the future.

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.