Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Car, She Kills Me

Man, I've sucked lately at posting any meaningful content. You have my apology, dear reader.

I've been meaning to write a post about my horrific experience working on my car two Saturdays ago, but I haven't thought of a way to make the story all that entertaining.

Also, it wasn't horrific as much as it was annoying. Mind-bogglingly, curse-promptingly, insanity-drivingly annoying. What's that Blogger? "Curse-promptingly" and "insanity-drivingly" aren't real words? Well, that just frakking proves my point, doesn't it?

Also, it wasn't so much as working on my car as it was banging on it with wrenches and screwdrivers in much the way I imagine an untrained gorilla would. Not a trained gorilla, of course. Now those are something to behold, nimbly reaching in with a socket wrench and plucking a part right out of the engine while displaying the requisite amount of crack to any who watch. Yessireebob, I do love me watching some trained gorillillas. (Oh, now that's funny, Blogger, you say that "gorillillas" is a word? You're a riot.)

Anyway, for those of you curious about the particulars, here you go. (EDIT: this is going to take a while, make yourself comfortable or go watch something entertaining on YouTube.) My car has been idling around 250-500 rpm lately. Those of you that pretend to understand about cars can stop thinking, "That's normal for most cars," because it's not for mine. My car isn't comfortable unless it's idling between 750 and 1000, so that's enough from you. Who's telling this story anyway? Good. Now then, it idled like a Katharine Hepburn in her later years. Not good. After cleaning out the mass airflow sensor (two tiny little strips of metal that sit on the engine in the path of the incoming air,) I tried it again. I've had problems with the air flow sensor throughout the life of the car, but it wasn't the problem this time.

A few googles later found me pricing a new idle control valve. This piece also sits on the engine, but it has coolant running through it. My father-in-law, Neil, got wind of my problem and found me a great bargain for the valve on eBay (thanks again, Neil!) Replacing the valve should have been as simple as draining the coolant from the radiator, taking out the four screws that held the old valve on, mounting the new one (yes, Jon, I said "mounting",) and refilling the coolant.

Since these things rarely translate well through the written word, that is a sarcastic "hah" laden with tones of disgust, annoyance, and a seething anger - your friendly neighborhood blog editor

First off, I sabotaged myself. Since it's been a few years between air flow sensor problems and I'm an idiot that didn't RTFM, I had tried to get the torx security bolt out of the idle control valve mistakenly thinking I was working on the sensor. Here's what a torx security bolt looks like:

See that little peg in the middle of the head? If you have the right tool:

taking it out is a snap. However, me being the idiot that I am (see above) and not having one, I didn't look hard enough for one. Instead, I figured I could just drill the peg out and use a normal torx wrench.

See above - your friendly neighborhood blog editor

As you might imagine, the drill plan didn't work out that well. I stripped the crap out of that screw. It was so bad that nothing I owned would fit the gouged hole good enough to grip it. I even resorted to pounding a chisel into the head to create a makeshift channel for a flathead screwdriver. The screw was so bound up that I still couldn't budge it.

That was months ago. Soon afterward I figured out that I was working on the wrong part and remembered that we had gotten rid of the annoying (and probably necessary) torx security bolt on the air flow sensor. Heh. Oops.

As I said, though, the sensor wasn't the problem. Fast forward to two weeks ago as I'm trying once again to get the bolt out. Our local True Value Hardware is actually pretty cool. They have much more hard to find items than Home Depot (including the torx security bits I needed, natch.) I picked up a handy little bit for my drill that is supposed to burnish a whole in the bolt, then pull the bolt out. It was only $15.00 (did I say only!? wth?) I burnished the hole up to the prescribed point, but I was at an awkward angle because of the placement of the bolt holes in the valve.

The angles were so awkward...(this is where you shout, "How awkward were they?") The angles were so awkward that a passing lanky fifteen-year-old boy with acne, knobby knees, and a cracking voice peered in and said, "You're boned!" Hah hah. Thank you. I'll be here all week. Try the veal.

The awkwardness proved too much for the fancy $15 bit and it snapped in half quicker than your last matchstick on a cold winter night when your only hope for survival is getting that camp fire lit, or church burning, or whatever floats your boat, I don't know.

I hung my head in defeat and returned to the hardware store in supplication. The helpful folks there sold me a $35 set of bolt extractors, some needle-nose vice grips, an Easy-Out tool, and some penetrating spray. The guy there felt bad enough for me that he gave me a discount on everything but the extractors with the understanding that if anything else worked before those, I'd return them for a full refund.

Alot of penetrating spray, jimmying with the vice grips, and some "percussive maintenance" later, and the bolt finally gave way. It complained every step, but I finally managed to extract it with the vice grips. The extractors had too wide of an edge to fit in next to the valve [damn awkward angles! (typo: awkward angels would make a great name for a band.)] All that remained were three philips-head bolts and the valve would be free!

You can sense it, right? You know the other shoe is about to drop now, don't you? Well pin a rose on your nose, because you're right.

The even more awkwardly-angled rear-bottom (no, they're not the same thing, and get your mind out of the gutter, Jon.) bolt was bound in the bolt hole as well. The head stripped immediately.

Rizzle pizzle flotsam jetsam razzle frazzle!

I try to curse creatively, at least I can accomplish something that way.

More penetrating spray, percussive maintenance, and wrenching with the vice grips ensued. I actually stripped the tips of the vice grips of their ridges. In desparation, I took a couple of healthy whacks at the valve itself to see if it would loosen the bolt. After a full hour of struggling, the bolt finally moved. It took another few minutes to wrestle it off while trying to fit my hand and the vice grips in the small cavity around it.

At last I had freed the offending valve. One look inside indicated the problem. One of the rubber washers (and there were a few) had been pushed up into the valve itself. It had been that way long enough for the rubber to harden and retain its shape even after I pushed it back down into place. I don't know what caused it, but it must have just recently gotten to the point of affecting the engine.

I installed the new valve with hex bolts. Take that, crappy philips-head bolts! Refilling the radiator took a bit longer and all of the jug and a half of the 50/50 antifreeze mixture I had on hand, since I flubbed the steps. Oh well, I was just happy to be done with it.

Six hours after I started, I shut everything down and closed it all up (forgetting my hex wrench in the sill below the windshield wipers in the process, of course.)

I started the car with some apprehension the next day. The idle problem doesn't happen until the car is fully warmed up. It was Sunday morning, but I needed the car to pick up the missionaries for our early morning meetings. On the way to their apartment, I noticed something new.

Yup, all was not well. Now, whenever I'm in neutral, the car idles rhythmically between 2500 and 3000, then revs up to 3000 for a few seconds before settling down to a rather high 1500 rpm idle. I wasn't sure if this is an improvement. What's more, it now seems to be getting gas even when I'm coasting in gear.

So now I'm faced with the possibility that fixing one problem has revealed and/or caused a new one. Has the car just become accustomed to the idle problem over the years and the fix suddenly thrown the whole system out of balance? Did I do something wrong in the installation of the new valve? Can I fix it?

Who knows? Could be? Absolutely not!

This sucker is going to the professionals next. I'm done.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Hawks Family Tree

Vicki and I drew up the family tree after she asked me what the word, "generations" meant. She's quite the artist. The tree and words are mine, everything else Vicki did.