Hot Water

Or the lack thereof. Funny how something that is so basic and normal to your life is a minor cause for alarm when it goes missing.

A few weeks back our Rheem tankless water heater decided to take a dive on us. I had installed the unit about 8-9 years ago and other than routine cleaning it was the perfect appliance. All of a sudden there was zero hot water and the control panel was indicating a code 11, which according the troubleshooting chart told us that the flame detector rods were not working, there was not enough gas pressure or the circuit board had gone kaput. After talking to their technical support people, the number one culprit was normally the flame detector rods. There are three of them and they cost a fantastic $6.00 each but with overnight shipping, the tab came to $50. I was also told that the old ones could be cleaned but I decided that maybe it would be better to have the spare parts just in case the cleaning did not work.

Taking the unit apart is aggravating. There are about 30 screws that have to be removed from the burn chamber cover plate to get access to the burners and the flame detector rods. There are also three gas pipes that have to be removed and they made sure that these were also in the way of removing the cover plate. There is nothing overly difficult here, just aggravating. So with the plate out of the way, I decided that I would just try to clean up everything and save the parts for a later time. Plus having to remove the entire burner assembly did not look to be like any fun. I rigged up a paint stick with a small piece of 3m pad and proceeded to clean the ends of the flame detectors. I also tried using the vacuum cleaner to clear out the burnt, leftover fine ash from the chamber. That did not work very well, so I thought that blowing it out with compressed air would take care of it. Warning – if you ever have to do something like this, put on a dust mask at least. I didn’t and paid a price for about 4 hours coughing and hacking, feeling like I couldn’t take a deep breath ever again. So with the mess that I made cleaned up and the unit reassembled I was happy to see that the code was gone and we had hot water again -another well done job!

As I said that was a few weeks ago. Tonight right around dinner time, we discover that once again we do not have hot water and the same code 11 has come back. Oh boy, now I am really panicked a bit. Having just cleaned it, it could be some of the other issues they mentioned and none of those were looking real good to me. But I still had those new parts and at the very least I was going to try those to see if they would resolve the issue. From what I had read, the rods acquire a coating on them that prevents them from detecting the burner flame correctly. Maybe my cleaning with the 3m pad had not been aggressive enough. I was also going to have to remove the entire burner unit this time as two of the rods are located on the back of the burner and there is no other way to remove them. So, once again the unit was disassembled, wires were marked, unplugged and disconnected. The gas tubes actually cooperated a little bit by swinging slightly to one side allowing the burner to be removed. Once it was out, I realized that my cleaning job had not been as good as I had thought. The burner itself had about half of its area coated in left over ash deposits but a soft cleaning brush and some more compressed air made quick work of it. I also wore a dust mask this time. The rods themselves are held in place with a few more screws and brackets so swapping them out wasn’t too bad a job. Putting everything back together went smoothly and again we were delighted to see that the code had gone and that the unit was heating water again. Some other members of the family have already taken showers and the unit appears to be operating normally. I suppose for $50 the repair cost is reasonable. I will probably order another set of rods in the near future just to have the spare parts available but at least they will not have to be overnighted this time.

When I installed this unit, the claim was that it would take about 4-5 years to actually recover the investment. These units at the time ran roughly about double what a standard 50 gallon gas hot water heater cost. Based on the number of times we have to fill our propane tank now compared to before the tankless unit, I can tell you that I recovered the extra cost in about 2 years. The fact that you are not heating water over and over again makes a significant difference in the amount of fuel you are using. If you are handy and have the knowledge to replace a gas water heater, then I recommend making the change to tankless – I don’t think you will regret it and of course the newer units are said to be even more efficient than the one I am using now.

 

Just Something Free – Hot Rod T-Bucket Chassis Plans

The Internet can still be a cool place to be sometimes. While browsing around, I found these free T-Bucket chassis plans. They were last updated around 2008 and some of the information such as part numbers might not be correct but the idea is that they give you a good basis to get started if this is something you are interested in doing. And even if a T-Bucket isn’t your cup of tea, the ideas presented might still help you out with your project.

Click the link below for your own free copy.

Free – Hot Rod T-Bucket Chassis Plans

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Holidays are here?!

Wow – the holidays are here and we are down to Christmas already. It’s amazing how this time of year just seems to fly by unless you’re 5-10 years old and are just dying for Christmas Day to get here now!

When we last left here I was working on my racing trailer, the Monza was back for some updates, the Camaro got some work done and I think it was late October – see what I mean, It’s already mid-December without a new post on the site. But there has also been some big changes underneath and one that I have found to be very interesting. About a month ago, my hosting service (HostGator) announced that they were increasing the monthly price – again. Now I have been with them about 7-8 years and of course when I started it was a really good bargain, something like $4.00 a month. The latest increase has them at $12.00 per month and if I remember correctly, this is a $4.00 increase in just the last 24 months. Like everyone else, I try to cap the monthly expenses as best I can and for something like this which I consider to be “fun”, each increase hurts a little bit. So, I was off to find a new hosting service and I actually experimented with four different ones until I found one that fit my criteria – and then there is a certain amount of pain in moving your website to a new hosting service – no matter what they tell you in the cool, splashy ads that they have on their sites – so you really want to make sure of the new service before performing the work. Obviously price was a huge consideration but I needed a CPanel interface, a good amount of bandwidth and a reasonable amount of server space to place my website. I also looked at other things such as their TOS policy, cancellation policy and their ability to stay upright over the long haul. I ended up at Web Host Pro with a monthly bill of just over $4.00. And I have to say I only needed to contact their tech support one time to clear up a question I had during my move. Without going into crazy details, the move took me about a week of work, which included moving all of the site files, databases, email account plus testing everything before making it “live” again. Unless you happened to catch my site during the actual move, I doubt if you would have known. Now, the one interesting piece that I have noticed is the amount of spam mail to my email account has been cut to almost nothing. I mean I am talking a drop in spam from several hundred messages everyday to about 3-5. I would love it if it would stay that way but I am sure as time goes by, things will change. It also tells me that email spammers don’t actually target individual email accounts as much as they target hosting email servers. Overall, I hope I don’t have to move again anytime soon but we will see what happens. I have one more change coming for the site but I am going to hold off on that one until after the holidays.

Some quick updates – The Trailer

The trailer project continues with a couple of the aluminum storage area bins mounted again. I changed things around and mounted my oil/fluid/spray can rack on the right side wall when you are facing the workbench. The shop rag container went back where it was between the rack just mentioned and the side door. On the other wall, I mounted my helmet and racing suit rack. By doing this it allows me to make full use of the countertop work area that had to be shorted. Underneath the helmet rack and to the side of the tool boxes, I had about 20″ of floor space so I built a storage unit out of a piece of 2×6’s and 1/2 plywood. I came up with a three-sided box, 6 inches high that with the open side facing the rear of the trailer, it allows my car jack to be pushed in. A small strip of wood near the front of the box lets the front wheel go over it and prevents it from rolling back out. On top of this where the 1/2″ plywood is mounted, I used some 1″ inch wood to frame out a location for the two jackstands. A short piece of chain and a quick connect keeps the jackstands in place. To the left of this, I mounted a piece of 2″ PVC pipe about 25″ long using a PVC cap along with a bolt, washer and nut arrangement. This is for holding the jack handle. I painted the box with some of the same grey paint that I had used on the floor of the trailer and mounted it securely to the floor with a number of wood screws. I now have all of my lifting equipment in one convenient spot. The last thing that I was able to do was get the doors on the one wood floor cabinet that I kept working correctly. I ended up having to replace 3 of the 4 hinges and then put a slide bar clasp on the front to keep the doors closed. I am now in the process of taking some of my bits & pieces that have been in boxes for months on end and putting them away.

The Monza

The Monza is back for some serious updates and the longer it sits here, the longer the list grows. At this point we have built and welded in place new front engine mounts, removed the old side mounts, re-worked and corrected the rear engine/transmission mounts. Next was getting the issues with the steering corrected. When we did the steering last year, there were compromises that we had to accept and those left us with a steering that worked but was not as solid as we liked it to be. Basically, I started over cutting out some of the previous work and coming up with a solution that is much better and cleaner. To get the angle we wanted inside the car and get it connected to the rack and pinion, it requires two u-joints. But to make this better, I incorporated a support joint that is welded to the frame – this removes any side to side play that existed due to the double u-joints. I was also able to provide additional clearance for the new headers that will be built for the new engine. We also have determined that a new rear was on the list and have removed the old 12 bolt in favor of a Ford 9 inch unit. Along with that, disc brakes will be added to the rear. Replacement fiberglass doors are being mounted along with new lexan windows on the sides and rear. A new hood with a different scoop is going on and of course a new paint job. We have also finished re-working the brake lines on the front of the car and are in the process of installing a new shifter cable. The old one was getting really tight and binding up some.

The Camaro

The Camaro in contrast was rather easy – pull out the previous engine and put a new one in. But we also plan on putting the new Wilwood front brake kit in during the off-season. And maybe getting around to color-sanding the paint job which hasn’t been done yet. Anyway, passes on the new engine put us in the solid 5.90 range although we were hoping to be in the 5.75-5.80 area. So far our adjustments to timing and fuel have not netted us any additional ET reduction but it’s always about the combination and we just need to find it for this new motor. We are also discussing moving to a slightly larger tire to try and reduce the RPM level going through the traps. At least this coming season we will be able to spend most of our time with the car refining the combination. That’s a good thing.

The Mustang

The Mustang project is somewhat on hold as parts are being gathered for it. This is a true low-dollar effort but we expect some great runs from it. Craigslist, eBay and the local trader paper are definitely our friends here for good, used pieces. We will put in new stuff where it’s needed but a lot of times a good used part is perfectly fine. Heck, everything is used as soon as you take it out of the box.

The G35

Maybe this year? I sure hope so as mostly all I have done for it lately is to keep the battery charged. It’s made it’s way into the garage a couple of times but it never gets to stay long – there’s always something else that has to be taken care of right away.

The Importance of Automotive Grounds

Whether it is a racecar, the RV or your daily ride, the grounding system is as important, if not more important than the positive side of the battery. In fact if we go back to the 40’s, 50’s and early sixties, we would find that some production cars used the idea of positive grounds but it actually doesn’t have any impact on how the car operated. The ground still needed to be good and solid.

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My first encounter with a defective battery ground cable in a vehicle was a 1989 Ford truck. I came out of work only to find that the engine would turn over but very slowly and not enough to fire it up. After breaking out the volt-ohm meter and doing some checks, I finally realized that the ground cable connection had loosened at the engine block and corrosion had built up between it and the metal of the block. Doing a quick cleanup with a screwdriver got enough of a ground to start the truck and once I was home, I did a better job of correcting the issue.

Not starting is certainly one of the major warnings that you have a problem going on, but even as the problem is building to that point, you might experience some poor performance that is so minor that’s it is hardly noticeable. In today’s cars, if you take a closer look – grounds are everywhere. The electronics require extremely good grounds but as in all systems, they can be improved. Anything that you do to provide an additional ground path or improved grounding of the current path is a huge benefit. And if the grounding was starting to fail, you might actually see an increase in performance or mileage.

RVs are especially prone to poor grounding of the various systems. Understanding that when an RV is built, you have a chassis that is supplied to the RV builder that is basically a running chassis with a steering column. The RV builder then adds the RV package to this chassis and of course the quicker you build it and get it out the door, the faster you see your money. For an eye-opener, just check the grounding that you are going to find on the connections to your headlights, fog lamps and taillights as these are commonly part of the RV package. Now you might understand why the headlights on your RV are not exactly the brightest and heaven help you if you decided to upgrade your lamp wattage. If you haven’t suffered some melted wiring, you probably will and the main reason is the poor grounding.

Race cars, especially those that are built at home are another source of poor grounding practices. The bottom line here is that a lot of hot rodders know how to make it go and stop pretty good, but ask them about the wiring on the car and more than likely they paid someone to wire it or a good friend wired it for them. Wiring is a mystery to most of them. And the grounding of some of the systems that are used can get downright complicated if not done correctly.

So – how to properly ground something? Well, first off let us always remember one very important fact. If we decide due to the item that we are wiring that we need a 14 gauge wire to connect the battery or positive side, then we need a 14 gauge ground wire too. Will it operate with a 16, 18 or even 20 gauge wire? Yes it will, but will we get all of the performance from it that we expect – no we will not. Try to think of the wiring in a circuit in it’s basic form. We need a complete circuit or loop – like traveling from our home to the grocery store – we also will need to travel from the grocery store to our home. We have to be able to return, completing the loop. As we travel to the store, we have a roadway that is more than adequate in size for us to travel, but what if the roadway was only half the size on our return trip home? Our return path will slow us down. So again if we want the best performance from any item or device we power, we need to have a corresponding ground of the same size. Our grounds need to made to a solid return path to the ground side of the battery. In our vehicles, we normally use the metal chassis as a ground plane – connecting to it and in turn the negative side of the battery. But there are cases where we should consider nothing less than a solid return to the battery itself or at least a specialized extension piece connected to the negative side of the battery. Our connections should be clean of any residue, rust or corrosion. In areas that are exposed to road conditions, we should consider applying a no-ox type compound once all of the connections to that ground point are made. No-Ox compounds can be normally found in the electrical departments of the big box stores or an electrical supply house. Grounds need to be checked from time to time to ensure that they remain clean and tight. At the first sign of performance degradation – check your grounds first!

Holley Carburetors – Rebuilding and Tuning

Holley Carburetors – Rebuilding and Tuning?

I am a big fan of YouTube videos, over the last few years I have come to rely upon them for information and knowledge about subjects that are a bit vague to me and they have certainly helped me make some repairs on my stuff. But – I just finished watching a number of videos about Holley carburetors and it seems the only ones that have decent information are those that are presented by Holley themselves. Let that be a bit of warning to you.

Holley carburetors have been around for a very long time but most of us dealing with high performance cars, boats or whatever are probably thinking about the 4150/4160 or 4500 models when the subject comes up. And the main difference between a 4150 and 4160 is simply a fuel plate instead of a jet block on the secondary side of the carburetor. It was a strange method that Holley used to reduce the price of their products a bit but most people usually either skip this one or if they end up with one they change it over to the normal jet block style.

Most of what I see in the videos is someone that has read what to do, but seems to lack the experience of actually doing the work. Whether it is rebuilding the carb or tuning it afterwards, the mistakes are many. One of the things that you must have when working on a carb is patience. Small adjustments, made one at a time with the proper evaluation of what the change has done will allow you to proceed in an orderly fashion. I watched one fellow that was showing how to adjust the idle mixture screws with a vacuum gauge and he never allowed the engine to settle after making a change. He would rotate the screw, look at the gauge and rotate it again. It does take longer than that for the engine to respond – it is not instantaneous. In another video, the person could not understand why he could not get much of an increase in the vacuum draw of the engine no matter what changes he made to the carburetor. Well for one thing, while I was listening to the engine running, I could hear a vacuum leak – but that just comes with experience and listening to an engine that is rolling with the tide so-to-speak and that is a dead giveaway. He had issues that needed to be corrected before he could even get to tuning the carburetor.

So what I want to do and it’s coming quickly with the Monza project getting close to being finished is do my own video on rebuilding a Holley 750 Double Pumper and then another video on tuning it on the Monza’s 355 engine. There are more than a few things to understand about both subjects and I believe I can cover all the questions you might have with doing the work yourself on your own Holley carburetor. Along with that, I would like to help you with any issues you might be having with your Holley carburetor. Contact me at charles.rutherford@rutherfordms.com and let me know what problems you are running into – I am sure we can get your carb and engine performing correctly.

The Holley 750 that I am rebuilding is an older unit that I have had sitting around for quite some time now. My plans are to change out the main body to one of Holley’s HP units and modify the baseplate with thinner throttle shafts. Now, none of this is required to rebuild or tune your carb, I am just doing it to increase the CFM that I can get out of this carburetor.

Stay tuned – this should get interesting.

25 Top Automotive Things To Do or Not Do

Here is my list of 25 things that you need to do to keep your vehicle running and looking good.

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1. Change the oil and filter on a regular basis. Go by time or mileage but set yourself some kind of reminder, maybe add it to your smartphone as a reminder. In other posts here I have written about changing your oil yourself and how you can save money doing so. If you want to really extend your oil change intervals safely, use the Cadillac of motor oils – Amsoil. Check here for additional information or to place an order.

2. Wash the exterior of your vehicle at least once a month. Hand washing is the best wash job you will get but if you are dealing with winter conditions, a quick trip through the auto-mat is worth the few dollars in cost.

3. Wax your vehicle at least once a year – more often is certainly better. Today’s cars have a clear coat over the color coat of the vehicle but what is protecting the clear coat? It needs wax. With today’s contaminants waxing is a cheap insurance policy for the paint on your vehicle.

4. Keep the interior clean. Yes we all live in our vehicles to a certain extent. But just like sweeping the floors in your home, you need to do the same with your vehicle. Dirt and other items in the seams of the upholstery can lead to tears, carpeting that is left with dirt will get ground-in and act like sandpaper wearing out the carpeting early. Clean up spills quickly – SpotShot is a great product for this purpose, you can find it at most grocery stores.

5. Do not get talked into a automatic transmission flush. Most of these units use high pressure and you run the risk of seals getting dislodged from their proper location or even flipped over. This can lead to severe transmission damage.

6. Do change the transmission fluids and filter (if an automatic) at 50k mile intervals. And be aware that if your transmission is one of the newer CVT (Constant Velocity Transmission) types, it requires a specialized fluid. This fluid is expensive and using it for 100k miles makes sense. Whether you are changing it yourself or not, the fluid should be purchased from the dealership.

7. Change the spark plugs in your vehicle to keep up your gas mileage. Most of today’s cars can run to about the 100k mark before they need changing. But if you determine that gas mileage has reduced at 70k or 80k then change them out – they never get better.

8. Do not change out anti-freeze every year or two years. Most systems from the factory will last 10+ years by simply adding distilled water to keep the system to the proper level and adding a can of Napa’s Kool additive once a year to help with maintaining the ph level of the water mix. My Ford F-350 which was built in October, 1999 still has the original cooling system parts and antifreeze mix.

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9. Keep your tires inflated to the proper pressure and if you can rotate them, do so at every other oil change. To find the proper tire pressure for your vehicle, start with the information located on the door sticker. Run the tires at this pressure and check tread wear at 3000 mile intervals. Do this by measuring the depth of the rain grooves across the surface of the tire – they should be fairly even. If the center area has an increased depth, you are running too little pressure – increase your pressure by 5 pounds and recheck again at 3000 miles. If you have a decreased depth, you are running too much pressure and need to reduce the air pressure by 3 pounds and recheck again at 3000 miles. If the depth varies from the inside to the outside, you have an alignment problem that must be addressed.

10. Clean the inside of the windows. You normally take care of the window outside area during the car wash, but the interior side has to be cleaned too. Most people have a favorite brand of window cleaner so use it – and here’s a tip, use a microfiber towel to wipe them down. No more paper lint from paper towels.

11. Most cars today have plastic lenses on the headlights and as they age they can take a real beating. One thing that you can do to slow this down is to use a headlight polishing kit on a regular basis and when you are finished polishing them, give them a coat of wax.

12. Carry a can of instant tire inflate in the trunk of the car. Most of the time if you have a flat, it is normally a small object that has pierced the tire and this stuff will re-inflate the tire to allow you to get to a safe location to either change it with your spare or have it repaired. Changing tires on a busy highway or the interstate system is a dangerous thing to do – that can of instant inflate can be a real life saver.

13. Unless you are continuously purchasing your fuel from the cheapo gas station down the street, you probably will never have a need for any kind of injection cleaner no matter what the ads say about the stuff. If you do happen to get a bad load of fuel, it is normally a water problem and a bottle of cleaner (dry gas) will help the water move out of the fuel system.

14. Save some money. Just about every major automotive chain store in the country offers free code reading. If your check engine light pops on, stop by one of the stores and have the codes read. They can give you some information about the problem before you start working on it or take it to a garage for repair. If you happen to get a check engine light and you just put fuel in the car recently, check the gas cap. Make sure it is on properly. A missing cap or one that is not tight can cause an error code.

15. If your windshield suffers a star crack, getting it fixed as soon as possible can prevent having to have the entire windshield replaced. And if you cannot get to it right away, take some clear fingernail polish and dab a couple of coats into the crack or use some superglue. This will keep water from getting into the crack and expanding it which will crack the rest of the windshield.

16. When doing an oil change, take the time to look at the air filter. Most of the time you can shake out a lot of the buildup in it and if done regularly the filter will last much longer. Also, using a spray can of lubricant hit the door, hood and truck hinges – you can also spray the door strike lockers.

17. Do not buy one of those big, big cans of R-134a that they sell – well just about everywhere. Overcharging your A/C system is just as bad as being undercharged. If you need to top off your system, go with the normal 1 pound can of R-134a and your connection hose. Do not set your system on “High”, set it one notch lower. Make sure you wear safety glasses and gloves when charging the system. Do not turn the can upside down until it is almost completely empty and only do so for about 15 seconds. Do not exceed the “Good” or “Green” zone on the gauge.

18. In the evening about once every couple of months, turn on the lights and walk around your vehicle. Verify that all of the bulbs are burning and operating as they should – this only takes a few minutes.

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19. Touch up any nicks or scrapes with touch-up paint. Those that show shiny metal are prone to rusting and once it starts, it is tough to stop it.

20. Pay attention to any brake noises you hear or increases in normal stopping distances. Roll the windows down occasionally at low speed to better hear any braking noises. An increase in stopping distance can be brake pad material wearing down and must be checked out.

21. Wipe down the interior dashboard, doorpanels, plastic surfaces with warm water and a regular washcloth from the bathroom. This will remove built up dirt, clear up shoe scuffs and is easy on the materials.

22. Do not get talked into a replacement of your brake system fluid. This is another service that is not needed unless you are having the entire brake system of the vehicle changed out. Brake fluid operates for the most part in a sealed environment and the only exposure to air or moisture is normally by removing the cap on the master cylinder. Once brake fluid is exposed to air – such as filling the system it will naturally darken with age – the darker color is not an indication that the fluid is bad.

23. Rusting chrome can be restored to a nice look by polishing it with #0000 fine steel wool and automotive wax. It will remove all of the rust except for the pitted areas.

24. Do not put CD’s that you make yourself in your vehicle audio system if you applied a paper label to them. The paper label can cause the CD to stick and jam in the player. Home made CD’s without the labels are fine.

25. Plastic body color parts on the exterior of the car can often oxidize which leaves the part with a dull, weathered look. Using some light polishing compound followed by waxing can normally restore the parts to their original look in just a few minutes. In some cases, using a cleaner type wax will work well on minor oxidation.

 

 

 

 

 

New Harbor Freight Spray Gun

I have to rave about that gun I picked up from Harbor Freight. If I remember correctly I was able to catch it on sale and then had a 25% off coupon to boot so I think I paid about $45-$46 for it. Yesterday I pulled the steel door off of the shed and set it up in the garage. The door had never been painted and was starting to rust a bit so I cleaned all of that off and neutralized it with some white vinegar. After washing with Dawn to get any grease off of it, I let it dry in the sun for a while then took it in and put it on some saw horses. Oh, and as a final sanding I got out this palm sander that I got at HF too and that thing worked great! I used 280 grit paper, blew it off and wiped it down. Next I have this gun that I paid $150 + for from a spray gun dealer that was supposed to be a knock off of a Sata – wrong! I get about a 6” fan out of it and the paint never atomizes that well. It’s the gun I used on the Camaro’s last paint job and I should have stopped before I had completely messed it up.
I now know how to use Rustoleum in a spray gun so I shot the door with two solid coats of their light rust primer – again there was some striping effect even though I was careful to keep my distance correct and overlapped my passes by 50%. But once it dried out good, the door has a nice solid flat finish to it. When using Rustoleum, the trick to it is to mix it with about 20%-25% low odor mineral spirits. Use a viscosity gauge to make sure the paint is thinned correctly for the temperature and humidity that you are shooting in.

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In prep for applying the topcoat I decided to try out the new HF gun. First off, I had never cleaned it yet so with any new gun it’s the first thing you have to do. I washed it out good with lacquer thinner then put about a ½ cup of thinner in the spray cup. I adjusted the gun for pattern and this thing is amazing. Probably have a 10” or better pattern, the material of course is thinner but it atomized really well. After that I mixed up a load of topcoat and started shooting it, it has to be the best paint shooting I have done since I used the old style pro Binks gun to paint the Chevelle. The paint goes on nice and even, just lays out like you would think it should. The door ended up looking great and you would never know it was a $9 can of paint. I am looking forward now to shooting the paint on the G35 next, I think it is going to go well.

As to the other gun, it’s not a total loss as they provided a 1.7 cap and tip so it will now become the official primer gun – at least until I find something better.

The $21 Oil Change

Just a quick word here but in a previous post I spoke about performing your own oil changes and the related costs – specifically how you can save some money and probably get a better job.

This evening on the way home, I reminded myself that I needed to pick up some oil and filters for our RV. So I stopped in at the big discount store and took a look at what was available. What I ended up walking out the door with was a Purolator filter and 5 quarts of pure synthetic oil for $20.74. That is simply hard to beat and if I had been inclined to go with a regular dino oil, I could have cut the price another $5.00.

Anyone else finding super bargains like this on oil and filters? If so let us know what you’re finding out there.

Radio Fun

Just finished up installing one of the new Pioneer RadioApp radios in my son’s 2006 Chevy 2500 pickup, replacing the stock radio/DVD player that it came with from the factory.

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According to the seller of the merchandise there was a $250 installation fee and after working on the installation I am not sure they were charging enough. First off, they sold us the wrong factory wiring harness connector and after completing the installation we realized that it never would have worked.

So after pulling the original radio which took all of fifteen minutes, we assembled the wiring harness to the radio harness, soldering and covering all of the connections with shrink tubing. We then proceeded to install the radio and discovered that we had no power going to it, so out comes the radio and we get out the voltage probe to start trying to figure out what is going on. Now remember, we had the wrong connector harness at this time, but didn’t know it. After reading and re-reading the instructions, calling other audio shops, Googling for answers, we finally decided that we had a bad radio. Nothing it seemed would bring the thing to life. So back to the store for a replacement and a second stop at an audio outfit that had a different brand wiring harness connector.

We get everything back to the garage and go through the routine of soldering and heat shrinking (you’d think I would have learned my lesson but oh no, not me) only to plug in the new radio with the new harness and yes you guessed it – no power, no sound, zip – nothing. Ah, so now it’s time to start experimenting. After a bit more reading, I apply power to a different connection and bingo, I have a radio powered up but still no sound. Now we are starting to lose it a little, I mean I have been hooking up basic aftermarket radios since I was a teenager, and never have I had this kind of trouble. I am disconnecting connections, making new ones, trying combinations but nothing is working.

So we place a call to Pioneer support and what they tell me is almost funny. There is a blue/white lead coming from the radio that actually has no corresponding connection on the wiring harness. But, there is a blue lead that is marked as a connection for a remote control device. The support person tells us that those two leads must be connected for the radio to function. They also tell us that there are a few features on the radio that for the time being will remain grayed out and unusable? Anyway we make the connection, put back the connections we have torn apart again and sure enough we now have a radio that plays, the DVD functions and things are looking up – that is until we try to get it mounted back in the truck.

We had purchased an installation kit for the radio and the only pieces really needed from the kit was the plastic surround and mounting parts. The plastic surround ended up being a real bear, it took multiple trial and error fittings as we took a Dremel tool to shave down the inside of the piece until we could get the DVD mechanism to operate smoothly in and out. Then there was the interesting part of getting a rather large gaggle of wiring and connections pushed back in to a very small space to make room for the radio to fit in the remainng available space. With enough cursing and fussing, it finally does fit though and we are able to put the finishing touches on the installation.

So, yes it is a rather interesting radio and it sounds good even through the factory GM speakers – maybe that will be the next upgrade, but who knows? One last item before I forget, there’s another lead that is supposed to go to the power side of the emergency brake. The idea is to keep you from viewing DVDs from the front seat, but it also kills the GPS function unless you are sitting still with the emergency brake on. Now, that makes a lot of sense doesn’t it? Well here’s the deal and we take zero responsibility for it if you decide to do it, but that lead can simply be connected to a good ground and everything works just fine. Again – you’re on your own if you make this modification.

 

Oil and Filter – Refresh

Like everything else the cost of oil and filters for your vehicle is going up. One of the methods that I use to save money on oil and filters is by examining what I am buying.

Let’s start with oil, the first thing you want to look at on a house brand oil bottle is the place of manufacture. Most of the time comparing the house brand oil with national brands in this manner will allow you to determine what brand of oil the house brand actually is. As an example if you see the manufacturing location as Ashland, Kentucky, then you can safely assume that the oil in the house brand bottle is manufactured by Valvoline. Normally you will find the price of house brand oil $.50 to well over a dollar less than the national brand and it is the same exact product. If you cannot determine the brand of oil, ask some of the employees, they often know the answer.

Filters are a little different.  You want a top-quality filter, you just do not want to pay top dollars for that filter. One of the best filters on the market is called WIX. Several places that sell automotive parts carry the WIX filter as a house brand. As an example NAPA sells their Gold filter which is manufactured by WIX. The price differences are normally several dollars. But you can even get a cheaper filter pricewise that is still a high quality one. Purolator sells a filter that they call Sure One. I have opened these filters several times and the contents are very close to that of a WIX filter and you can normally find these filters not only at automotive stores but also your national discount stores in their automotive section. Instead of paying $5-$6 for a filter, I can normally get these for $2-$3.

There are also filters out there that are simply not very well constructed. Will they do the job? Certainly as long as you change them often and nothing extreme happens with engine operation. But hold on a second, in another post weren’t we trying to save some money on oil and filter changes? Well, having to change the filter often to prevent failure would defeat that idea. For the money the Purolator is probably the best bang for the dollar out there, again the construction on their Sure One is very good and you can get it just about anywhere for a good price. Stay away from off-brand, odd filters and unless you have some reason to, the ultra expensive filters are not buying you anything either. As a last word and one that I promised before – Fram is one of the worst filters made, in opening a few of them, the can metal is weak, the filter media is about 1/2 of most other filters, the pressure valve is just a piece of spring metal and the end-plates for the filter are made of cardboard and glued to the filter media.

So if you do your own vehicle service, spend a little time to investigate the products that you are buying. Take a look at house brand products and compare them to the national brands. Just remember that the house brand is not a manufacturer themselves and they contract with one of the national brands to make the product for them and put it in their packaging. That little bit of work on your part can save you some big bucks.

3000 Mile Oil Change Myth

Over the last 20+ years, the myth of the 3000 mile oil change has been systematically beaten into the brains of motorists by Madison Avenue hype.

Few to very few vehicles actually require oil and filter service at this interval and unless your driving and vehicle use match those conditions, you are throwing away perfectly good oil and wasting your money.

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Now, there are going to be automotive enthusiasts out there that will tell you “I never go past 3000 miles, in fact I probably change it earlier than that number.” Okay, there’s nothing stopping you from changing it 50 times a day – it’s up to you. My point here is that advertising has convinced a lot of unknowing people that this is the correct thing to be doing. What it does is cost you money – from your pocket to theirs. Rather simple, but let’s do some easy math here.

The average person puts 12,000 miles a year on their vehicle. At 3000 mile oil changes that would be 4 visits per year to a service center or doing it yourself. Currently the average cost at a national chain service center runs $35 for a regular sedan. It of course is higher for SUVs, Synthetic oil or large pickup trucks.

So we have (4) visits times $35 for a total of $140 per year – that’s not bad at all but what if we followed the manufacturer’s recommendations? Most cars since the mid-80’s have been equipped with fuel injection. This is key to reducing engine wear and in turn not diluting the oil. What happened with the older cars was that fuel metering was not a precise art. Often there was too much fuel which was wasted and it went past the piston rings, removing the lubrication which allowed more wear in the engine and then it ended up in the crankcase, diluting the oil which leads to further engine damage. We HAD to change the oil often back then, there was no choice.

Most cars have a normal range of 7000 – 7500 miles for an oil and filter change, some cars such as Mercedes come with a range of 10,000 miles. All you need to do is consult your owner’s manual or lacking that, look up the information online. If we use the lower mark of 7000 miles, we end up changing the oil 1.7 times per year or to put it another way – about every 7 months. Even if you increase that to changing it every 6 months or 6000 miles, you have saved at least $70 dollars. That’s not a lot but in most cars it amounts to a couple of tanks of fuel, maybe more if you have a small vehicle.

There is a way to improve that savings and those of you that already service your own cars know that the usual cost of a 5 quart oil and filter change – using top quality stuff – runs about $15-$16 dollars. Changing it twice a year, that’s $32 dollars and a savings of $108 dollars over the service center doing it. Plus I know what filter and oil I put in the engine – that is something that you do not know at the service center.

A quick story – I used to work for an auto parts outfit and the owner taught me that it wasn’t what you sold it for, it was what you paid for it. This was in the days of points, plugs and rotor buttons being a tune-up normally. He  paid about $3.50 – $4.00 for a tune-up kit and sold them for $5-$6, but then found a cheaper product that would work just as well and paid $1.10 for each kit. He reduced his price to $4.25 and the garages in the area bought us out every week! He increased his profit margin from $1.50 – $2.00 per kit to $3.15 per kit and sold more of them.

An oil change service center buys oil by the drum or huge tank loads and thousands of filters a year. They already get a discount on the products and who is really going to look at one of their filters nor do most people both to analyze the oil via a service. With their discounted price I would say that they are paying a little over a $1 for an oil filter and about the same for each quart of oil. Remember, neither is a top of the line product.

Next time around I will let you in on how to purchase a brand name oil at a discount price and which highly marketed oil filter should you absolutely avoid?

 

Inspiration is where you find it..

One of my pals on Facebook posted the picture below which has now ended up as the background on my laptop – why? Well inspiration is truly where you find it sometimes. I have been working on so many different things, not including normal work, that my head has simply been spinning. One of the things that I have been trying to work on is to stop my bouncing from one project to another or at least starting another one. Now in theory this makes sense – finish what you start right? Well sometimes we don’t have the funds we need to get something to the point were we want it to be so my preference is to back off until I can make it the way I want. No point in finishing it up and not liking what I did because I am always going to want to go back and re-do it if I don’t like the outcome. So I have been working on is finishing up stuff, whether on a vehicle or around the house. I still have a lot of projects that are not completed but I am making progress, the real issue is stuff that pops up like the RV repairs that I have to make now. That was totally unplanned and means that the time I have to spend on that takes away from getting the other stuff done.

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So back to the picture, why the inspiration? It’s one of the things that has influenced me for a very long time and it’s the way I view things. I have never understood why but another person can look at a simple bolt and nut – and see a bolt and nut. Myself, I see the nut and bolt of course but can those items do something different, something that maybe hasn’t been done before? I’ve needed threads in a flat piece of steel before, the nut and bolt supplied those after a little welding work. Or cut the head off the bolt and I have a stud that I need to mount something where a bolt wouldn’t fit. In the picture, not only does it inspire me to get on with the paint jobs that I need to complete but the simple idea of pulling the wheels, putting the body up high on jacks so you can be more comfortable painting the bottom areas, blocking the bottom with cardboard to keep paint off the bottom of the chassis and the lighting mounted amidships in the shop are all excellent ideas. I see things like using cardboard to mask the car in some areas rather than trying to use paper and tape. If you have ever masked off areas on a car that are open holes basically, you know the pain it can be – the cardboard is just too simple!

Lastly as to inspiration, this picture stays as my laptop background until I get moving on the paint projects I need to complete, mainly so every time I work on my laptop it will be reminding me that those projects are patiently waiting on me.