Friday, September 26, 2008

Food and Energy

One of the more enlightening (in many senses of the word) of vandwelling is how much it has caused me to be in touch with my body and what's going on with it.

It seems like a silly thing to point out now, but it's a new revelation to me: the bigger and better meals I eat, the more energy I have. Well duh. But I'm a nerd and artist, and I live in a very abstract, absent-minded-professor kind of world; this kind of very basic thing never occurred to me.

It's very predictable. If I eat small, simple, kind of weak meals, then I'm tired all the time. If I load up with a huge burrito, a full meal of Indian food, or a big greasy burger, then I can work all day and all night.

This also gives me a new perspective on the brutal wrong-headedness of right-wingers and rich people who consider the poor and homeless to be "lazy" and "shiftless". I'm sorry, if you don't have enough food, you ain't gonna be able to do a whole lot of work or take a whole lot of initiative to turn your life around.

Feeding the hungry has to be priority #1, no matter what. With a couple good meals in you, then you can accomplish anything. Without that, you're unlikely to be able to accomplish anything. Just like a van: it ain't going anywhere unless you put fuel in it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Turns out that the rip-off artist I paid $2000 to in February to fix my brakes, screwed it up. The guy put the racheting gear on my self-adjusting rear brake shoes in backwards, so the thing wasn't self-adjusting, it was self-loosening. He also charged me for removing the axle when that was not necessary in order to access the rear brakes.

I found a reputable shop who put the gear back in the right way, flushed out my brake fluid, and replaced my both rear calipers, all for $450. Still a lot of money, but I've been advised not to mess around when it comes to brakes. I do after all have literally a ton of mass to stop, and the rains are approaching.

I still have a spongy feeling in the brakes. I'll have to take it back to them, to probably replace the valve that balances the front and rear brakes, and maybe the master cylinder, depending on where the sponginess is coming from.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The U-bolts

The box that I live in is attached to the van that I drive, via a half-dozen U-Bolts wedged to the van's frame via a bunch of long peices of 2x6 lumber.

The documentation on the box says to torque those U-Bolts every few months. I'd been procrastinating from doing that, because I didn't have the right size socket. Well last week I was under the vehicle checking stuff, and noticed that the bolts were loose enough that some of the wood had worked its way out! Yikes!

The danger there was that if the wood fell out, the box could collapse suddenly a few inches, and flip the whole van on its side! Scary stuff.

So I bought a bottle jack, loosened the U-bolts, jacked up the box somewhat, managed to slam the wood a bit further into place, and then correctly torqued the U-Bolts back down again. A couple of the split washers were crushed, and I bought some flat washers to replace them.

Over the next week or two, I have to do a better job (with a friend's help and equipment) of jacking up the box, and then really get those peices of wood into the right place, and then torque the bolts back down again.

As the rainy season soon approaches, my priorities will be checking all my fuel hoses for leaks or rubber disintigration, then correctly torqing my U-bolts, and then re-caulking the van box's connection to the cab. Sometime in parallel to that I may also finally Kool Seal primer/elastometric up the damaged corner of the box, which leaks a bit still.

Friday, September 5, 2008

How not to do an oil change

After changing my glow plugs, I was wondering if I'd done any damage to my engine by starting it so hard all the time (it took 3-4 attempts to start it every morning, before I put new glow plugs in).

A knowledgeable friend and fellow van-dweller, who used to be a professional truck mechanic, suggested that the smartest thing I could do is change the oil, even if I hadn't reached my change interval.

So I bought some Rotella, and did the oil change, using an excellent procedure I found on a PowerStroke website.

I made one very stupid mistake that the instructions didn't warn me against: I calculated the amount of oil needed, instead of checking it empircally. The docs on that website said 4.5 gallons of oil. Great. I bought two cases of 3 gallons each, figuring I'd have extra.

I filled up the filter before putting it in. Great. Then I poured in 4 gallons of oil. Then I thought, "Cool, I already have a half-gallon sitting here!" So I poured that in to get 4.5. Are you discovering the math error here?

Anyway, I overfilled the crankcase, big time. I had to get underneath the vehicle, pull the plug, and drain a half-gallon out, to cover the half-gallon I'd already put into the filter. Checked the dipstick, and, whoops, it's still too full! Pull the plug again, pull out another GALLON. Gallon and a half of expensive diesel truck motor oil, wasted and off to the recycling.

The problem is, that on this PowerStroke, the motor oil is used as part of the fuel injection system. So, when I drain the oil, I'm not really draining all of it. There's still a lot stuck in the fuel injection high-pressure pump and lines to the injectors.

The correct procedure, which I should have done first off, is to ONLY put in a little oil at a time, and then check the dipstick. Then pour in some more, check the dipstick again. It looks like this engine may take 4.5 gallons of oil, but when changing it I'll only need maybe 4 gallons, maybe less. That will save me money and time the next oil change around.