Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sea Trials

It's a little off topic, but it just wouldn't be fair to post without giving a big set of hugs to the fine group above that took in the annual Sasquatch Festival last weekend. Over the last couple of years, I've been fortunate enough to rekindle my passion for great live music. Thankfully, between this festival, and Bumbershoot over Labor Day weekend, plus some local shows that pop up every now and then, I get ample opportunity to get my fill of bands locally without having to travel. But, if I follow my 'bucket list', don't be surprised if you see me at SXSW, Bonnaroo, and New Orleans Jazz Fest someday.

The revelry with crazy fools above is also the reason that I still have no FM reception and a transmission fluid filter sitting on my desk at home. Nonetheless, I've done enough work on the car where I thought it was prudent at this point to do a real drive test - to get out for a few miles on the highway and check some of the systems and comfort levels on a longer excursion.

For my job, I have occasion to travel on local road trips, so I headed up to Whidbey Island this afternoon. It's about 100 miles round trip, mostly highway, so I got a chance to experience some good cruising mileage. I made the following random observations:

- Cruise control works. It's not smooth, and you can actually get a little seasick because the car accelerator pulses slowly. Lubricating the throttle linkages and cable may help (Ah! a new thing for the list...)

- Cigarette lighter works. I don't smoke, but with the few roadtrips I have planned for work this summer, I'll need to have power for the GPS unit and phone.

- With the top up, the road noise makes the radio useless. I'll definitely need to think about this before we do any sort of stereo mods.

- I have a BMW hat (see photo above), but not a Mercedes-Benz Hat. Father's Day is coming up.

- An 85-MPH speedometer just looks weird. The car is an '82, built just after the Iran Hostage crisis, and oil then was around $38/barrel (that's a lot for 1982 - trust me). The 380 was built as a more fuel efficient alternative to the 450, the original SL of this generation, made from '72 - '80. Remember the Honda CVCC and the Toyota Corrolla? It's a fun little history lesson to read the owners manual. It says stuff like 'Don't idle while standing still!' and 'Don't use the Air Conditioner - just because you LIKE to travel in comfort doesn't mean you should!' Still, this speedo cracks me up.

- The seats and the ride itself are pretty comfy.

- I hear engine knock. Thought I could get away with the cheap gas. Nuts.

- The car is very eager to engage a passing gear at higher speeds and seems more at home on the highway vs. the city streets. The burble and squat are actually startling.

A quick explanation is due here.

The web site message board I frequent for this model refer to a 'Burble and Squat' produced by the 380. The burble is the noise the engine makes starting at about 2500 RPM. It's a nice little V8 growl that sounds like a kid blowing bubbles in her milk through a straw. The squat is the result of the torque being delivered to rear wheels on soft springs; the car hood rises about 6 inches into the air and it kinds feels like you'll go airborne. Disconcerting the first time, but neat once you get used to it.

Step on the gas - burble and squat.

Unfortunately, the skies were not quite sunny enough to go through the exercise of dropping the top. The dark clouds in the photo below were directly on my path home and it wasn't worth the risk. But, a great road trip for sure.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cars vs. Computers

Well, we had to shift gears this week. Haven't touched the Benz since Sunday. It's been cold and a little rainy, so nothing lost. The big distraction for the week was the temporary loss of the main home computer (shown above). Little known by the public, most of the blogging here is done on a Sony laptop (Pentium III, circa 2000). It runs XP, iTunes and little else, and does so without trouble. I don't ask it for much, and it does a fine job for what I need it to do. A long time ago, I used to work tech support for a telecommunications supplier, and one thing I learned about electronics - the darn things worked pretty well when you didn't mess with them. You start to do too much (software upgrades, added features and functionality, etc.) and they get a little finicky. When there was a problem with a phone system, the first question we asked was: 'What were you doing when it crashed?' The answer was usually a) Testing, or b) A software upgrade. If the answer was, 'It was working just fine, then it died,' our B.S. detector sounded the alarm.

Anyway, the computer shown above is the one my wife uses for her work-from-home job. I built it myself four (or five?) years ago. I went through the process because I felt it would be helpful to be able to do upgrades and maintenance on it. Since I built it from the ground up, it theoretically should be easy to maintain since I know how it went together.

Therein, as they say, lies the rub.

Today's software, as you are likely aware, continually updates itself, downloads and installs companion code to join the party, and is always undergoing some bizarre Artificially Intelligent cyber-evolution. Thus, my ability to set a computer up to do what I want and have it maintain that functionality within my sphere of control is impossible. I haven't written a smidgen of code in years, and my lack of understanding of what goes on in that world prevents me from really being handy with computers. Putting the machine together was pretty easy. 4 or 5 years of cleaning up an auto-updating software suite is a different story altogether. So, the box is off site, undergoing an 'Operating System Reload,' after which I will spend a few hours, or days, getting it back to the way it was before.

Which brings me to the car, and how I am finding a new appreciation for the simplicity it has. Yes, there are electronics involved, but it's mostly motors, or spark, or lights. No networking, or firewalls, or viruses, or ports, or TCP/IP addresses. Identifying problems with cars is usually no more than a survey of your senses. A change in engine sound. The smell of a bad wheel bearing. Feeling the car pull right or left when braking. Common sense and intuition can take you far in the world of car repair. The computers? Well, it's tough to hear or smell an Operating System die.

Still planning on getting to the radio to check FM reception and changing the tranny fluid, but yardwork and the annual Sasquatch! music festival this weekend will get in the way of any lengthy repairs. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Taking the Weekend Off

It was difficult, but the great weather we had over the weekend ensured I didn't risk taking the car apart this weekend. I just had too many visions of it being so warm and sunny, all with the car inoperable because I was missing some hose, gasket, washer or socket to complete the repair. I was going to try and take some photos around the water, but the traffic and other goings-on this weekend ensured I didn't have much extra time. It was nice, but the lack of FM radio is starting to bother me a bit. I may have to rearrange my repair priorities.

Monday, May 12, 2008

It's A Gas (Part II)

All done. I got the copper gaskets I was looking for today. They were such small pieces, the store didn't charge me. I felt bad so I bought some wiper blades, in case I ever drive it in the rain. Took about an hour to get it all together again, and once I got it started again (tricky, because there is a big air bubble in the fuel line after this operation) I verified that there were no leaks. To illustrate my confidence, I had Kim drive it to a board meeting tonight to make sure it runs right. I also noticed that the fuel pump whine from the back seems to have quieted down. I am not sure if it's my imagination, but wishful thinking says if the fuel filter is clear, then the pump needs to work less. I like the thought, even though that may not be the case.

Let's review:

Items Done:
Timing Chain Replaced
Oil Change
All Accessory belts changed
Rotor/Distributor Replaced
Sway Bar brackets tightened and replaced
New Coolant
Differential Fluid Changed
Interior/Exterior Detail
Wheel Nuts retorqued

Items to Do:
Transmission Fluid/Filter change (have parts - need time)
Flush Brake Fluid
Check/Replace Spark Plugs if needed
Fix dashboard light over tachometer
Troubleshoot FM reception
Check steering wheel play
Install new wiper blades

It is supposed to hit the 80s this weekend. I have an engagement tomorrow, and a friend in town Wednesday. I guess if I can keep from taking it apart this week, we'll definitely be crusing this weekend!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

It's A Gas (Part 1)

First of all, let me apologize for that previous interruption. Not quite sure what got into that one, but suffice to say, I'll be changing the password here a little more often. More importantly, I actually need the Bimmer this week, as the Benz is at this point completely disabled. I've got another busy few days, and I'm going to need some cooperative wheels.

The photo above is a shot of the fuel pump, above which normally sits a fuel filter. You don't need to know much about auto repair to see that this car is going NOWHERE in it's current state. I got this far before family obligations (remember, it's Mother's Day) and a lack of parts put a halt to the project. There are two small copper gaskets that go around one of the bolts, and every procedure I've seen says I'd better darn well change them out. This is a FUEL line, and if I need to spend a buck on two new gaskets in the name of safety and leak prevention then I'm all for it. Kim was nice enough to go to two stores before giving up, and I'll have some time in the afternoon tomorrow to check a couple of spots.

Overall the procedure wasn't too bad. Generally, it's recommended with a fuel injected car to relieve pressure in the fuel system before disconnecting lines. Usually, this is done by pulling the fuse for the fuel pump while the car is running. This car doesn't have a fuse, but a relay that sits behind the glove compartment. This relay has been known to go bad in these cars and is often a culprit in fuel delivery problems. If you read 'located behind the glove box' and pictured something really hard to get to, you are correct. Luckily, it's only a matter of removing the lower panel and once I was able contort myself like a Chinese acrobat (hooray for Yoga!), I could pull the relay. Then, it was just a matter of disassembling the connections to the filter, and letting the fuel in them run out. There was still some pressure built up in the system, so for those of you trying at home, wear goggles and gloves, and have a drip pan handy. If all goes well, we'll pick up some gaskets tomorrow and have her back together soon.

One more activity earlier this week was getting the nail puncture fixed. The tire was a son-of-a-b***h to remove. So, I bought a 24" breaker bar and re-torqued all of the lug nuts for giggles.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Guess Who?

You're wrong. It's not Chuck, it's me, his FORMER daily driver, the seldom-mentioned 325i that first turned our favorite blogger on to the fine artistry that is a German Auto. Yeah, buddy, I saw the post. You've obsessed about me for years, pal.

Look at the thanks I get.

First of all, how, do you ask, does this happen? A renegade blog post by a car? A machine? What is this, some twisted Asimov short story?

First of all, people. Cars are not as dumb as you think we are. Have you seen the stuff I need to keep track of? Wheel revolutions per second (all 4 tires, thank you!) throttle position (yeah, I drive by wire...) atmospheric pressure, fuel mixture, steering angle, not to mention taking care of valve timing on not one but TWO camshafts? Several times a second?!? Can't count how many times I've saved this guy's bacon with all of my technical wizardry. Hell, when we go through emissions, I don't even have to go through the indignation of having that tailpipe sniffer shoved up my privates. Just plug me in - I'll get ya the 411. Oh yeah. I pass. Flying colors. Every time.

You think hacking into this dork's blog is so difficult?

Here I now sit, driven what, ONCE a week? If that? I'm not quite sure what went wrong between us. I mean, I was getting a regular oil changes, dealer service, a nice rubdown with a clay bar twice a year, a gentle exfoliation with that wonderful fine cut polish....

And then SHE showed up. A Benz, too, of all things. Et tu, Brute?

For months, I shared my space with bikes, strollers, junk in queue for the next dump run. All of the sudden, the garage is spotless. New tools and fresh fluids lined up on the bench. Place looks like Jeff Gordon's garage. Who would have thought our guy was so handy? My differential had some issues too. So, I leaked a little bit. What happens to me? Do you take the care to work with me on it? NO! You just wait until I mess the floor and send me away to some cavernous garage with all of the other sick BMWs. I'm surprised you ever came back to claim me.

I know her type. She's all looks and no substance. No ABS, no OBD. No Traction control, or DBC/ASC or Double VANOS. She's got power windows, locks, steering, brakes. That's it. It's hilarious watching him try to put that top down. My nieces and nephews? One button and 16 seconds to sunshine. Oh, and what? She gets 16 mpg city? 25 Highway? Real help there sister, with gas at $4. I kicked off 32MPG at 80 mph to Spokane once. Those were some good times.

I am making some headway though. The wife has been taking me around this week. I think I got their attention last night when I failed to start 3 times in a row. I've only had to pull that trick once before (luckily, I remembered to keep that fault code handy in the computer, so Chuck had to fork out for the 'Software Upgrade' at my last service! Hahahaha!!). I've also been spending some time on my bird calls - that has been working great! I got some pigeons to hang out with me the other day - and those guys did a real number! Their aim was perfect! Of course, our guy responded, promptly wiping up the mess and giving me the love I need (took several ounces of cleaner and three cloths to take care of it all!). I think I have been able to get my point across. Case in point - Chuck had to drive to work today, and take a meeting in Renton this afternoon - guess who got to drive! It was nice to blast down 405 - no traffic, keeping with the flow, my inline 6 letting fly with that wonderful guttural baritone I love to sing. Just like the old days.


I had to help him cart home 8 quarts of new transmission fluid. I've got a bad feeling it ain't for me.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sunday in the Garage

Had some great sunshine today, so I actually made my first drive in TDWD (Top Down, Windows Down) Configuration. This is how I spent my day:

9:15 - Gratuitous drive around the beach with top down. Freeze.
9:30 - Car warmed up. Get coffee at drive thru.
9:45 - Continue drive. Celebrate 1st annual Sustainable West Seattle Fair by burning some extra fossil fuel. (Before you freak out at me, I take the bus to work 15-18 times a month, so I feel like I do my part and am entitled to a little Sunday cruise every now and then...)
10:00 - Guitar lesson - work on some Ted Leo solos and the acoustic version of "Psycho Killer"
11:20 - Wrap up lesson
11:23 - Receive first in-transit vocal complement from pedestrians. Euphoria can't prevent me from nearly running over traffic circle.
11:45 - Auto parts store. Deliberately park next to new black SLK 320 with its top up. Shameful.
12:00 - Leave with gear oil and air chuck for compressor (I now have 12 auto tires, and 6 bike tires - time to make the investment).
12:15 - Arrive home - eat lunch.
12:20 - Begin interior detail
12:25 - Wife returns with kids from the park. Hide stomach ache that resulted from eating lunch in 5 minutes. Wife laughs at my collection of detail equipment and starts snapping photos.

2:00 - Interior detail done. Found 2 pens, a fuse holder (note to self - look for non-functioning electrical equipment), several candy wrappers (Nana had a sweet tooth) and Nana's keychain with the Norwegian flag. Find excuse to do another drive
2:20 - Go to hardware store. Buy 8' of 3/8" rubber tubing
2:40 - Return home. Wife is leaving with kids to go on a bike ride. They offer help when they return. I accept.
2:45 - Go through process of opening fill plug on differential - (Pull on wrench, nearly burst blood vessels in head, go to basement for bigger wrench/breaker bar, repeat 4x)
3:05 - Differential is finally draining. Discover that used gear oil is the aromatic equivalent of rotten mushrooms steeped in turpentine marinated in a dirty baby diaper.

3:25 - Wife and kids return home. I am too cheap to buy a pump, so we use aforementioned rubber tubing to fill differential. New gear oil doesn't smell much better than the old stuff. Our 5-year old is the only one with a free hand, so she takes the picture. Create your own caption.

4:00 - Car is put back together, and I take one last test drive. Differential is not making noise. I take pride in completing a successful $13 gear oil change.
4:30 - Return home, put up soft top. Just as I'm packing it in for the day, I find one more thing to have taken care of...

5:00 - Leave instructions with wife to get tire fixed. Enjoy dinner out with the family.

Friday, May 2, 2008

She's back...

All put back together. The work discussed below is done. Those were the big things to worry about, from my perspective, so I'm moving on to the simpler maintenance now. For giggles, I called the local dealer to see if they had fuel filters in stock, thinking I could pick one up on the way. They did, but for $54. On the internet, they are $19. Looks like I'll be buying a lot of parts online for this thing. However, with that, comes the risk that it will be all taken apart, and then I'll need something else to fix whatever I'm working on. So, we'll just drive it for now. Maybe I'll get to that interior detail this weekend, and order a couple of parts. On the short list:

- Fuel Filter (I'm foregoing the pump at this time, after consulting with Hot Rod Devin.)
- Transmission fluid and filter change parts
- Brake bleeder (purchase - I'll get some use out of it) and fluid change
- Spark plug check/replace (the engine felt like it was missing a little bit on the way home).

Sunny and 63 on Sunday? Let's hope so.