Archive for April, 2019

 

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.

The Long, Cold Winter of No Posting Ends: Awaken the sadbot2019

Apr 16, 2019 in Bots, Overhaul 2, sadbot2016

Is this thing still running?

Needless to say I am a little less than proud of the longest post drought this site has ever seen. I’m still alive! Just preoccupied largely with getting the company product technology to a stage where I can at least be assured the tunnel will end eventually, even if I haven’t seen the light yet. Along with this gradual better-scoping of product tasks, it’s taken me a while to get used to not just working on dumb projects all the time in big blocks of work, but learning how to divide up tasks and think about their dependencies more, such that I can pick stuff up and drop it back off easily. I brought this up a bit in the preamble of the Great Mikuvan Engine Rebuild Scandal of yesteryear. Whatever, it just means hopefully I can get back to working on stuff, but until the day I exit the company and become a full time bad idea investor, the pace will inevitably be slower.

I believe the real world calls this “Adulting”.

Anyhow, adulting is dumb and robots are cool. Let’s revisit Sadbot, which was left kind of functioning last year some time before I sold the pokey dingle to a west coast team. Then, incrementally more parts started coming out of it until there wasn’t much left but Overhaul 1′s drive system and a steel box. With the coming of BattleBots season 4, I figured I had to at least work on something, and I should probably consider repairing my wreckage instead of creating new wreckage.

Oh, if you notice the timing of this post – I’m clearly not competing in Season 4 with Overhaul.


I mean, if I didn’t even clean the barbeque out of it yet….

Ultimately I didn’t think I could muster up the time and resources to do the bot justice, and enough of the team has split off to get real jobs (among other things, I mean) that i would have had to rally up a new crew. So, perhaps next year, and maybe it’s a blessing in disguise because now I’ll work on Sadbot out of FOMO and remorse, perhaps discovering something new about Overhaul in the mean time!

Next season, though. I promise I’ll be Bach.

So I set out to change up Sadbot in a fashion that would reflect the mods I want to make to Overhaul for next season. That in detail is itself an entire blog post for when Overhaul is modified for #Season5 one day, but in short…

  • Change the drivetrain to the 80mm “melon” motors – Sadbot being a single motor per side, it will 100% reflect the drivetrain setup I want Overhaul to have in the future, as in my post-season assessment the dual motor setup has not been as reliable as I wanted.
  • Using this opportunity to make sure the 12FET Brushless Rages weren’t actually trash, but were not utilized right the first time out. I had some more testing and changes I wanted to make after Season 3 that I hadn’t gotten around t
  • Finally doing the tractor pull contest between Sadbot and Overhaul which never happened. While the bot had “more” traction than Season 2, it wasn’t that much more, just more linear and predictable. I want more, something which I suspect is beyond the capabilities of my current bot architecture.

The first step is putting the damn thing together again. To do that, as usual, it has to come apart more first!

To retrofit the 80mm outrunners, I had to re-introduce Overhaul 1′s intermediate drive gear. The previous motors in Sadbot were 59mm SK3 outrunners running into Banebots P80 gearboxes, so the motors were already geared down and only needed the center sprocket.

To get the ratio I needed using a gearbox would have made the assembly too long to fit into the frame, so I needed to directly attach the motors to the face, needing the extra ~3:1 the intermediate gear provides.

I machined these gear-sprocket combos late last year. They’re waterjet-cut 12DP gears that are pinned into the sprocket face such that the assembly rotates on a dead shaft (pictured mounted in its former home). These were virtually identical to Overhaul 1′s (which were long disassembled or I’d have used them again!) but a different ratio.

New socket cap screw holes sunk into the drive plates – now featuring THREE bolt patterns! P80, 3″ Ampflow/Magmotor, and 80mm C-series outrunner.

Modules taken apart, cleaned, regreased/re-threadlocked, and reassembled.

At this point, the ‘skateboard’ of the bot weighed 163 pounds without batteries or the controller housing. This began my contemplation for bringing back the pokey dingle. I’d sold it because I didn’t like the design any more and someone else was going to incorporate it into another bot, so what better way to force me to start over?

Originally, Sadbot was going to be 220lb (nationwide Heavyweight class) without the pokey dingle, functioning only as a pusher/brick bot, and 250 pounds with it in order to simulate a BattleBots practice opponent. I was, after this weigh-in, now convinced I could make it close to 220lb even with a weapon, which would let it compete in the rising amount of “Heavyweight Sportsman’s” events around the country. Or at least I’d get it close enough that the laid-back nature of these events would make them take it anyway!

Next up, assembling the control deck. These were parts also designed and cut out last year – a basic polycarbonate tabbed box and nutstrips to make a second floor. Batteries will be mounted on the first level, and the aluminum plate mezzanine will house the brushless Ragebridges.

Originally, I wanted to use the Overhaul 1 batteries after being decomposed from the modules. However, they aged poorly and the cells have high internal resistance now, so I put together some of the Overhaul Season 3 batteries (Hobbyking Graphene bricks) instead. I greatly enjoyed how these worked in Overhaul, and while it packed four, I think two would have been plenty. Well, it’s time to test that!

The batteries are secured on the bottom with a few acres of Dual-Lock – think gender neutral Velcro for the woke Millennial – and then pressure-retained downwards by the 1/8″ aluminum plate with the adhesive-back foam rubber pad.

I forgot how easy wiring a 3-motor robot was. That’s it! This is the whole wiring harness, minus the battery-side mating connectors.

The rest of the wiring was built up over basically one evening. I had two leftover Whyachi Switches, one which I’ll set aside for the New Pokey Dingle weapon and the other for the drive. This keeps the activation process similar to what’s expected for BattleBots and also just allows me to test one system or the other.

And that’s all, really! This build was quite short and pleasant, occurring over several nights in about a week and some. Sadbot at this point weighed just under 180 pounds, which only left me around 40 for the entirety of the New Pokey Dingle. Difficult, and I decided at this point that the 220lb max goal was probably not that important, but I’ll give it a try.

 

I knew the parts I wanted to use already – an Overhaul lift gearbox (Banebots BB220 16:1 and SK3 59mm 149kv motor), enough reduction to get to about 180:1 which is the same ratio as Overhaul, and that the end effector should still be the Harbor Freight “manual slide log splitter” / toe destroyer. Furthermore, last time I permanently welded the tool to the output shaft, but this time I intended to make the output a socket to potentially make interchangeable ends.

I started flowing plates around some initial component placements. The output sprocket was only going to be able to get so big, so I fixed that first (48 tooth) and gave it a position that had some clearance to the electronics box, some clearance to the ground, but high enough to allow the motor to tuck underneath with some semblance of an intermediate stage. The width was fixed by choice at “Between the Melons” – one of the things I didn’t like about the last Pokey Dingle was how wide it was for what it did, and I had some ideas which involved moving the sprockets around to make the while thing narrower.

Here’s roughly what that looks like. The chain stages are very short and all overlap. Technically, I could have made this just open gearing, but chain drive is more available and serviceable – all of these sprockets, save for the output, are off the shelf parts.

I was contemplating how to make interchangeable “manipulator” sockets compact enough to fit in the confines of the side plates. I played with a couple of ideas including welded machined parts, making it a live shaft again (but with a socket tube welded to the shaft, and so on. All of these ideas turned out to be either too wide or, after a moment of …. brilliance? too tacky and complex.

Why not just weld the damn square tube to the plate sprocket, using the bushing as a locating feature!? The  wall thickness of the tube certainly permitted any inserted attachments to not come in contact with the drive chain, so that was really all.

I also utilized a chain tensioning approach which I remembered, but couldn’t place where I learned it from. Typically with a slotted mounting system you’d place the slots parallel to the direction of tension needed, e.g. slide the motor away from the shaft perpendicularly if you need to adjust the chain/belt spacing.

However, this arrangement doesn’t resist the normal forces that chain tension plus torque puts on the sprockets, which tends to force them together and loosen things up. At least, not all that well unless you had massive fasteners. Instead, I angled the bearing mounting slots at 30 degrees from the perpendicular to the axis joining the sprocket centers. This means I move the sprocket more “up and down” relative to the other one, but there’s that 0.5x component introduced by the 30 degree inclination which adjust the actual tension, and also reduces the effect of the tension “attractive force” immensely.

The downside? I have to have two chain pitches (well, sqrt(3) / 2, so basically 2) of vertical free movement in the chain to gain that horizontal spacing. That’s not all that much when considered, so only a little geometric squishing was needed to get space for everything.

Initial positioning in the bot  yielded some more Geometric Squishing to get the parts to all clear. I went out of my way to make things actually parametric and geometrically related instead of hard-coding dimensions, enabling some click-and-drag placement.

The final assembly by itself modeled with shaft and bearings for a realistic weight. It looks like this thing will weigh a little over 40 pounds after all. I added some cutouts to remove material where it wasn’t really needed, but the final bot will still end up around 225lb.

About a week later, this showed up! I sent these out to a local shop which the company has built up some rapport with, and they laser cut it from 1/4″ regular-ass P&O steel. Nothing too high tech going on here, though I recommended they stock up on ARx00 steel for future robot seasons…

Because I wasn’t in control of the machine any more, I very liberally oversized all the slots and shrunk the tabs – I went 0.015″ oversize in X and Y for planar square slots, principally. This turned out to be a near perfect, slightly jiggly fit. Laser cutting generally has a less clean finish than waterjetting, plus I couldn’t order them to “move the laser inwards 5 thou” like I typically fudge nozzle offset distances when waterjetting personally.

 

The machined parts needed for this new Pokey Dingle was really just the output dead shaft/epic standoff. I used some 1″ precision ground shaft leftovers and end-tapped both sides.

It was then used as a welding fixture. The P&O (pickled and oiled hot roll) steel was very clean from the get-go, not needing the intense sanding/brushing typical of A36/A514 hot roll or tubing products.  So it was literally just 10 minutes of MIG blasting here.

I modified the Harbor Freight Robot Tallywacker this time by cutting off the heavy punch weight at the back – it’s just a 2″ steel billet chunk. Previously I drilled a 1.25″ hole into it and welded it to the output shaft. This time, the 1.5″ main body section is more interesting, since it will be cross-drilled and bolted to the tube socket.

 

I then proceeded to get carried away.

It started out innocently enough wanting to paint the frame of the New Pokey Dingle my signature Overhaul Miku Blue – and then I discovered I had a Miku Magenta can I never used!

Yeah, well, this is what you’re getting now. aestheticbot9001

I was also tempted to paint the frame itself a light pastelly purple, but by this point didn’t want to disassemble the thing again.

Marking and drilling the front mounting holes for the NPD which brace the thing against the massive C channel section of the front of the bot. Another reason I didn’t like the old NPD – it only was bolted to the bottom of the the bot, meaning a hard enough hit and it will probably just bend. The New Pokey Dingle acts as a truss structure to past the center of the bottom plate – hopefully this will yield substantially more rigidity.

Drilling the holes themselves was an adventure. It was too heavy to put on a drill press, and too tall for the Bridgeport. So hand marking and drilling we go!

I’m rather fond of step drills. For hand drilling in steel, twist drills are almost inevitably too aggressive and tend to either spin in the drill or catch and throw you halfway across the room. Step drills feed more controllably and never dig and then slam the drill into your kidneys.

I machined a small donut piece to bridge the gap between the shaft bushing and the plate sprocket’s 2″ bore.

The same annular cutter I used for the original Pokey Dingle (as well as Overhaul’s gear holes and a lot of other parts) was used to put in the 1.25″ bushing hole. Really that was the only operation needed here! Just a single, albeit massive, cross hole.

Then you clean the parts and MIG-smash them together!

Here’s how it is going together. Since I don’t really care about the precise alignment of the socket tube, all the bushing has to do is center it. I put a few tack welds around that end first and more solidly welded the other side (carrying most of the load) – welding too much around these bushings would deform them due to the lower melting point of pressed-together bronze particles (not to mention sweat oil everywhere!)

Installation was simple, with just a few shim washers needed to space everything out.

Well, I ended up taking the whole bot apart again anyway, so maybe I should have painted the frame purple. But here’s how the New Pokey Dingle elevator machinery bolts in – a line of nuts on the bottom, and the four big bolts on the front.

I broke into the electronics enclosure again to add the 3rd Brushless Rage. I ran out of production-spec boards at this point, though, having packed the majority of them already for product shipment and BattleBots, so I pulled out one of the previous version power boards (The signal board is the same production-spec one though, just an older power end revision).

The 1″ UHMW top lid had to be modified a little to clear the new sprocket placement, which was a simple jigsaw job with drilled holes at the vertices to turn the saw around.

And here it is put together! The final weight? 226.5 pounds (with the top plate, which isn’t on here). I could probably knock 6 pounds out of it somewhere, but that’s not really the point.

So that’s where Sadbot sits now! It drives great withe dual 80mm “melon” drive, but I haven’t fought it against Overhaul yet or otherwise substantially battle-loaded it. In between the first photo and now, we actually moved shops again, and Sadbot is still hiding behind a few pallets. So, watch for both a post about the #NewVapeShop(tm) as well as some more testing and driving videos.