Thursday, June 23, 2011

Massive work completed

I just completed what is probably the most massive and productive batch of maintenance I've ever done on my van. It went very well.

The secret was to do it in recursive, repetitive steps. This is because my van is, as a friend recently put it, "a rolling booby trap". It's true. It really sucks working on this thing. It's got a huge 7.3L diesel engine squashed into an engine compartment designed for a much smaller gas engine. The engine itself is great. But getting to stuff is a nightmare. I really have to take the whole thing apart in order to get to just about anything, and there are goofy design decisions in the way at every step, plus the usual old-vehicle things like frozen bolts and deterioration.

So I learned the technique: first plan carefully, of course, and order any parts I might need in advance. Then take apart the first layer of stuff I need to remove. If necessary, fight all the rusted/frozen/stuck bolts to the death. Then reassemble (using anti-seize!). Wait, and order more parts if needed. Reaarch more. Rest. Go back and re-dismantle what I'd just put back together-- more easily thanks to the anti-sieze and practice-- and go deal with the next layer of stuff to fight. Finally I get to my objective, and I can do the work.

I was lucky enough that the rain FINALLY stopped (hopefully until fall), and even more lucky to have a safe, quiet, centrally-located, long-term parking space to use for working, two weekends in a row. The whole project took 5 days.

So I replaced my fuel pump. And.... the fuel leak is at long last gone! Getting to the fuel pump required removing the exhaust, up-pipes, and turbo, and also loosening the fuel filter housing, as well as the usual rigamarole of removing all the air intake hoses, the doghouse cover, and disconnecting two batteries under the hood and in a separate housing on the frame rail. Yeah. I had to destroy and replace four frozen bolts in order to get to this point.

While I was doing all this, I also replaced turbo pedestal o-rings, fuel supply sleeves, and fuel filter, and I cleaned off an enormous amount of fuel and dirt and melted rubber and who-knows-what-all-else from the V of the engine and all around that area. Basically, I finally made my van biodiesel-ready-- after almost 4 years of driving it on biodiesel. Every rubber object in contact with fuel (including now the diaphragm of the fuel pump) has been replaced with biodiesel-rated Viton. Yes, this is something I should have done after first buying the van, but, hey, I was pretty ignnorant, and emotionally not very healthy then either.

While I was at it, I also retrofitted an inline transmission fluid filter onto the return hose of the transmission cooler.

My headaches appear to be gone. I think it may have been the glasses all along. I probably do need bifocals, but I'd rather spend the money for that than for brain surgery, that's for sure. I have an appointment to get a CAT scan next week so we'll see what's going on for real then.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The improvement continues

Life continues to get better financially, which makes life better for me in every other way possible.

Last month, I made twice as much as I spent! I successfully kept my spending down to about the mininum I've been able to keep it down to sustainably, and yet I managed somehow to make twice that much.

That's a profit. I actually made a profit. For the first time in 10 years, I made more than it costs for me to stay alive.

I cannot express in words what a relief this is. Now I just need to keep this going, every month, for the rest of my life. Well, that doesn't sound like any fun, but that's the reality. And, since it was easier this month than last month, that's encouraging.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Tranny shack

I have noticed that my cab seems a lot hotter lately. I investigated and found a couple random things.

One, the exhaust pipes leading into the turbo had rusted really badly. I scraped the rust off and coated them with peanut oil. But why are they rusting so much? Is the heat coming from some problem that is causing the engine to run too hot? Cooling system is normal, but then the cooling system is SUPPOSED to keep an engine cool that is running too hot. It's still strain on the cooling system if it's running hot. But is it? And why?

Secondly, my transmission fluid level had gotten low. So I topped it up. Maybe that's where the heat is coming from? It seems a bit cooler since I topped it up. I investigated and found that I really should have changed the fluid and filter a long time ago, it's supposed to be 15K miles and I've gone past that, also didn't know when the previous owner had last done that job, if at all. And that might explain the grinding noise I hear in 2nd and 3rd too. So that's a task I've got to do, and I purchased the parts and supplies and will tackle it as soon as the rain stops. There's a leak from the rear of the transmission where it couples to the driveshaft, but that looks like it'd be a huge task to fix, so I'll leave that for later.

The fuel pump is still leaking, and I really have no excuse for not fixing that in the next few weeks, weather permitting.

Maybe my exhaust heat is coming from just having more of a lead foot lately. And, I realized as it is now June and still raining, that perhaps the rusty exhaust is simply from this being an exceptionally wet and rainy winter. More stuff to think about.

Another random van-related problem is that there are sensors which will tell me everything I need to know-- including the transmission fluid temperature, and all kinds of data-- but I can't have access to it because Ford wants $7500 for the documentation of the Mode 6 OBDII codes. Theives. There is software I could buy which would read this stuff, but it is $300. I might end up having to spring for it, just to make my diagnostics easier.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I am an intuitive kind of guy. I get senses, premonitions, vague musings, and then I investigate them and try to nail them down factually. This drives a friend of mine crazy-- he's very German, and the whole idea of intuition irritates him to no end. But I do have very sharp senses, and, when I do the work to follow up on them with more Germanic, deterministic, scientific kinds of techniques, the intuitions almost always turn out to be right. Usually my intuitions are driven by sounds and feelings, more than visual things.

Suddenly, I got a sense that my metal overhead cabinet lockers were not bolted on right and were going to fall down on my head. I've always heard a lot of clattering and banging around back there when I drive, but I figured it was normal. Suddenly I got a sense it was not normal, it was urgent. So I investigated, and they both seem pretty sturdy.

But while I was at it, I had a look at my wooden kitchen cabinets. And, one of them was not properly bolted in! When I put them in over a year and a half ago, I missed the hat channel (the closest thing I have to studs in the outside walls), and I guess I just figured that was good enough. They were sturdy at the time. But they were never really done right; the screws were just in the plywood, which means they weren't securely bolted in. And, from all the driving around, the metal screws had basically sawed part of the wooden plywood into sawdust, and thus worked themselves loose. The cabinet was flopping around and would have fallen down on my nice counter and sink.

So I unscrewed the screws and started drilling them back in elsewhere, feeling around for the hat channel. It was almost an inch to the right on both sides. Now that thing is in there good, and it ain't going anywhere.

Glad I followed my intuition there. Note to self: if metal isn't fastened to metal in a moving vehicle, it isn't really fastened.