Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ceiling, bearings, leaks

Just another update. I have finally, FINALLY, after two years, put my ceiling in. It's all there now: dropped ceiling, LED lights embedded in, electrical buried in conduit above it, and pink fiberglass insulation stuffed in the plenum. It was ridiculously, mindlessly simple and straightforward-- took me a couple hours including cleaning everything up. That's it-- I'd been procrastinating for years, and it took me a few hours to do.

Now it's quiet in here. REALLY quiet. What a joy! It's like being inside a house, or the body of a really well-insulated modern car. It's very pleasant, home-like. I can still hear what's going on around me, but it's not deafening anymore. The beer-can-thin sheet aluminum just wasn't any kind of insulation; it was like literally living out on the street. At least now it's quiet, and warmer. At last, I have a home.

I had a little emergency last week with my rear bearings. They were destroyed, and burnt up, from driving around on bent rear wheels. That little disaster cost me $700! I have to stop jumping curbs when making tight turns, or just parking stupidly. I'm now shopping for used wheels and some newer used tires. Hopefully very soon-- before I destroy my new $700 bearings. Ouch. One step forwards, three steps backwards: that's how my life goes. I'm OK with that now.

I also finally received the correct metal fuel return lines in the mail from GreaseWorks, as well as Viton short supply hoses, and put them in! Very expensive, but they at least are the correct hoses for biodiesel now. The fuel leaks appear to be over-- for the time being at least, and possibly for good. I had to do that job in the pouring rain and with a bad flu, but it had to get done.

I mounted a little plastic tupperware underneath the inspection cover, to catch drips and leaks. So far so good. There is still some kind of leak dribbling down, but it appears at this time to be oil, not fuel. Possibly from just a poorly-sealing oil pan gasket, or maybe it's from the turbo, I dunno, but it's minor and I'll deal with it when I deal with it.

The engine runs MUCH better now, since there is no longer melted-rubber sludge circulating through the fuel system. Actually, there still is, and I am going to ruin one more fuel filter between now and when that all gets cleaned out. But it idles evenly and has a lot more power. Once I run my tank low again, I have to drain the tank yet again and clean out all that sludge-- hopefully for the last time. The challenge will be coordinating all that with the rainy weather; crawling around on the ground under the fuel tank is very unpleasant in a rainstorm.

The only remaining rubber that I have to replace which contacts biodiesel, are the injector seals. I have all the tools and parts to do that job; now I just need to block out the time and summon the courage to do it.

I purchased the proper coolant to replace all my current coolant, as well as SCA test strips and the correct DC4 pH additive. Before I do that job, first of all I have to find a place to dump the old coolant, but also I've got to track down why my heater doesn't work. If it's a simple matter of reattaching a flap open/close wire, that's great. If I have to pull the heater core, I might as well wait to change the coolant at the same time. The hoses leading to the heater appear to be warm, so I hope that means that it's not plugged.

I'm also going to replace my transmission fluid and filter, but that's waiting until some of the more high-priority stuff is done. This is all basic maintenance I should have done two years ago, and I'm just getting to now. Buying a used vehicle that has been poorly-maintained or unmaintained is a bad idea in the first place, but if I do ever do such a thing again, I'm personally, myself, changing all the fluids and filters immediately upon buying it, not counting on some shop to do it or not.

I'm also eager to move my bed to its new position and put in my sink and counter, and mount my cabinets. I expect these to be fairly easy jobs, and they will make my life infinitely more pleasant. I've got to take care of the wheels first, though.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ceiling good good good

I'm very happy to report that with only half the ceiling tiles in, and no insulation even stuffed in the gap yet, it's a LOT quieter in here! It's so quiet I can even hear the fan running on my netbook. It's also a lot warmer, and, for some reason, a lot drier. Perhaps the ceiling tiles are absorbing moisture, I don't know.

But either way, it feels a lot more like a home: a lot more comfortable, peaceful, livable. I wish I'd done this 2 years ago, but I didn't know what I was doing back then.

Same with the van maintenance: the leak is gone, and I'm on to the next set of issues like replacing injector seals, changing out fluids (transmission, coolant) that have probably never been changed, and longevity-oriented preventitive maintenance.

It's been said about painting a car, that once you've finished the project, you know enough to start it. I guess that's true about the massive projects I took on two years ago and am finally getting settled into: vandwelling, Ford 7.3L diesel repair and maintenance, biodiesel conversion, building out an interior of a custom RV, and a massive self-improvement project too.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Lots of progress

Just an update. I have been very busy these past few weeks.

I removed my fuel bowl and replaced all the O-rings. Getting some of them back on properly was very difficult and I was lucky to have some help when I got stuck. I put everything back together, and, I don't mean to jinx it but it does look like it's finally stopped leaking.

The new fuel return hoses I just put on in September are already melting from the exposure to biodiesel; I finally ordered braided metal/Teflon(tm) fuel lines from a biodiesel shop. When they arrive I'll put them in and be done with external fuel leaks.

The inside of my fuel bowl was filthy. I'm not sure with what. It's either rubber from the melting hoses, or more likely, oil from my completely shot injector o-rings. I already have the o-rings; I just ordered the special tools I'll need to remove the injectors and replace the o-rings. I'm scared of doing it, but I have to do it. Once it's done, every single o-ring on this vehicle which contacts fuel will have been replaced. At last. And I should be able to continue run biodiesel for as long as I can get it, without problems.

I also torqued down my transmission pan bolts; about half of them were almost two turns loose! No wonder I was losing fluid.

And I completed an oil change. It needed one since I've been driving this vehicle abusively: short couple-mile-long trips on a cold engine. For this oil change I was somewhat less of an idiot and didn't overfill the crankcase. I filled it up exactly correctly by accident. My crankcase takes 3.5 gallons of oil, not the 4.5 gallons I thought it did. So I "partially" filled it with 3.5 gallons, then started it up to check the dipstick to see how much I needed to top it up. Zero was the answer: it was already at the maximum of the full line. Next time I'll actually consult my notes before doing the job.

I also fixed my custom rear door so that it slides without scraping the floor (and kind of fits better), put a new tire on my bike so I can ride it again, adjusted its brakes and shifting so I can now get all the gears, finished mounting all my conduit, and... put in 1/2 of my ceiling tiles!! It's beautiful. I'm not even done yet, but can sit here and it's quiet enough that I can hear the fan on my netbook. And I've been busy with work-related tasks, all of which are going smoothly.

It feels like I've made a major breakthrough in my life very recently. I'm starting to learn how to "think like a German": to handle problems and tasks analytically and somewhat coldly and detachedly, to plan ahead, work in an orderly and clean fashion, to approach things with more confidence and without fear. It works.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Black Sludge

I think I have figured out why my van was running like crap: uneven idling, lack of power, hard starting.

I decided to have a look and see why my van is still leaking fuel. I saw that the fuel bowl still appears to be leaking from every orefice (except the ones I filled with new seals). So I decided it's time to pull the bowl again, and this time replace all the seals, not just a few, and do a total fuel bowl rebuild.

I hooked up the handy-dandy new drain hose I put on the bottom of the vehicle, positioned a container under it, and opened the drain plug on the fuel bowl. Boy do I wish I'd done that months ago. A full pint of pitch-black sludge started coming out.

Rubber. My "new" hoses are melting. The fuel bowl was probably dangerously filled with this black sludge, but my "Water in Fuel" light wasn't coming on because rubber isn't conductive, and the water-in-fuel sensor works by testing for the conductivity of water.

I pull the filter. Plugged up and filthy, after only a couple thousand miles. I am a little worried about what damage this might have done to my injectors.

The fuel return lines are literally disintegrating: melting, sweating from the outside. Based on the sludge content of the filter, the insides of these hoses must look even worse. The brand-new ones after only a few months are already in the same condition that the old ones were after nearly two years. Scary, and frustrating.

I located and ordered, from, a proper biodiesel-rated fuel line kit. Expensive: $125, but still less than I spent on the WRONG hoses back in September. I will put a few new but completely inadequate hoses on, just to buy me some time until the correct hoses arrive in the mail (should be next week).

After the correct hoses arrive and are installed, the game plan will be to run the engine for a while on the new filter and new hoses, then run the tank down to empty, drain it, clean out the rubber sludge that no doubt is collecting at the bottom of it, run it some more to filter out all that crap, and finally to change the filter yet again. And... if I did all the right things, not change that filter again for another 30,000 miles or whatever the spec is.

This is my fifth filter in two years. At $35 a pop. I really hope to have finally gotten this right.