Low-Buck Starter Switch

So I was in need of a remote starter switch on a recent project I worked on – a 67 Volkswagen. I didn’t want to go and buy one – not even sure I could have found one in this day and age but it would make figuring out the car’s problem a lot easier.

I rummaged around a bit and while what I came up with works, you don’t have to come up with the same items to get the same result. The following is my list of bits and pieces that I used to make my starter switch.

Old prescription bottle
Piece of leftover extension cord
Push button switch
2 Terminals
2 Electrical clamps

I drilled a hole in the bottom of the bottle that would fit the push button switch, then drilled another hole in the bottle cap to fit the extension cord. Next was attaching the wire to the switch. The extension cord piece I had was about 5 feet long, you can make it any length you want. The cord was a 3 conductor piece and I cut the covering back about 8-9 inches. Again you can make yours longer or shorter as needed. I also cut off the ground wire as it would not be needed. I crimped terminals on the remaining wires and attached them to the push button switch with the provided screws. You can also use a toggle switch if that is what you have available.

You then place the switch inside the bottle and fasten it in place, then put the cord (or wires) through the hole in the cap and attach the cap. The last thing to do is attach the electrical clamps. I had a few that had been cutoff of some other item in the past – I constantly do this before tossing things out as it might come in handy someday. I soldered my wires to the clamps but you can also just attach them with other methods. Some clamps have a way to crush the wire to them, others have a screw on them that hold the wire.

So, using the starter switch is pretty easy. One clip goes to your positive battery post and the other clip goes to the connector on your starter solenoid that would be the “S” terminal or Start terminal. With the switch connected you can now “bump” the engine with the starter to perform valve settings, or spin a new engine to bring up oil pressure before starting it or it can be used to help you perform a compression test. You can also use it to diagnose a starting condition and determine if the battery might be marginal. It has a lot of uses and not just for the starter either. Not sure if that switch for the wiper motor is faulty or not? Connect this switch between the battery and the 12v input terminal on the wiper motor. If the wiper motor operates, there’s a good chance the wiper switch is bad.

I hope you enjoy this little item and please share the article with your friends.

Lighting Tip

Recently we found a 2000 Ford F150 Supercab for my grandson Jackson. Overall the truck is in decent shape, runs well and has the normal wear, dents and dings associated with the mileage on it. The previous owner supplied us all the repair records that he had and it appears that maintenance and repairs have been handled when the need arose.

Like any used vehicle, we found a few things that we wanted to correct and hopefully make it a bit better. We cleaned up the truck, wiping a couple of decades of dirt, lint and who knows what out of the interior and gave it a wash job. Some elbow grease and Mother’s Mag Wheel polish restored a good look to the stock rims. Inside the interior we found that the cup holder was no longer playing nicely and it appears to be a normal problem with this line of trucks. The tension spring at the back of the cup holder is only held in place with a couple of melted plastic rivets. They eventually break, the spring falls down and the cup holder refuses to work. We found the spring laying on the bottom lip of the dash, drilled a couple of 1/8″ holes and riveted it back in place with aluminum rivets. Works just like new now. We found that the electric outside mirror switch had failed too. A new switch was popped in place and another issue was resolved. One more thing we found was that the driver’s door window was making some interesting sounds as it went up and down – especially down. Even after taking it apart, we were never positive about why it made the sound. Anyway, a new window motor and track assembly took care of the problem.

Next on our list is the point of this story – lighting, as in headlights. As you can see from the picture, like most 20+ year old units they have seen better days.

Now, obviously we don’t won’t to spend crazy money for parts left and right but headlights are important and especially ones that you actually use. It’s best to be able to see down the road and for someone to see you coming. We decided on some units from Rockauto Parts. They weren’t the most expensive ones that they had but they looked good when they showed up and they will do a good job for us.

But here’s the tip and to be honest no matter how much you spend on replacement headlamps or tail lamps you can do this to them. One of the bigger problems with aftermarket headlamps is that they commonly get moisture in them a lot easier than your OEM units. Although over time, the OEM units will suffer from this problem too. The actual problem is where the clear part of the plastic mates with the rest of the light housing. When they are manufactured, there is a glue that is used to put the assembly together – it’s basically crazy glue or Cyanoacrylate. If enough of it is used the odds are that there won’t be any leaks or holes in the seam where moisture can enter the light assembly. But, if there’s not enough used or the work is a little sloppy then that could lead to a problem down the road. So what I do is a little bit of preventative care. The first step is to take some masking tape and go along each side of the seam between the clear plastic and the rest of the housing.

What you want to end up with is a space between the pieces of tape on each side of the seam of about an 1/8″ or so, it doesn’t have to be exact, but you want to make sure that the seam is totally exposed. Now here’s the tricky part – if you’re married or have a girlfriend it’s probably going to be easier but what you need now is some clear fingernail polish – preferably a quick-drying version. If that resource doesn’t work out for you, then you’ll just have to go a store and visit the make-up counter. I understand thatthis can be very unnerving for most of us, but you have to have it to complete your mission. And remember if they have a fast-drying version, that’s the one you want.

Once you have the clear polish, you can take and paint the seam with it all the way around the headlamp, you want a minimum of two coats and three is better. Allow each coat to dry completely before starting on the next coat. Once you’re done, let things sit for a good hour or so, it should be thoroughly dry by then and you can remove the tape.

As you can see from my photo above that you can’t even tell that you put polish on them, but adding the polish to the seam will help prevent getting moisture for years and years to come.

Lastly, if you have a decent set of headlamps and they have gotten some moisture in them, you can save them. It’s bit of work but noting to bad. You’ll have to remove the headlamps and you should clean them off good just to keep any debris from getting into the lamp openings as you will need to remove the lamps. You will also need a bottle of rubbing alcohol. Pour out any water moisture that has accumulated in the lamp housing. Pour a bit of alcohol into the lamp unit, swish it around and then pour it out. Try to get as much out as possible, then position the headlamp to let any remaining alcohol evaporate from the lamp holes. Alcohol has an attraction to water and usually the water will evaporate with the alcohol. You may need to repeat this several times depending on how much moisture was in the headlamp. Once you have the headlamps “dried out” you can perform the clear polish trick but look for any major separation in the headlamp unit parts. If the separation is large, you might need to fill the seam. In this case a gel-type Cyanoacrylate will work best and then you can seal them.

I hope you enjoyed this little tip and please share with your friends. Next up for the Truck is a new sound system and speakers installation. We have a couple of good tips for that installation to get the very best out of your new system.

RV Repairs – Part II

Looking back over the previous post about repairs, I actually feel rather good. I got a few more things done, but not all of them that I had on my list. Right now in central Virginia, we are closing in on late November and the weather is getting colder almost by the day so there are some items that will just have to wait until spring time.

Lights in the basement compartments were a priority for me since it was getting to be a real headache trying to find things in the dark. All of those are finished now and it was certainly worth the work involved. Also in the area of lighting, I switched out some but not all of the lighting inside the RV to LEDs. The main reason was to provide some level of lighting but not burn the batteries down so badly using the normal incandescent bulbs. I also had to make a few minor repairs as the sprayer for the kitchen sink snapped in half and a few of the glass panels in the cabinets had started to come loose. I guess the rock and roll of the RV takes it toll on everything bolted down.

I have a few more things that I can get done this winter, but it will be limited. I have already winterized the unit for the off-season and the engine battery had to be replaced just as we entered the Fall season. On our trip out to Bristol in July, I had an issue with what I thought was the transmission shuddering but it has turned out to be related to the engine and the coil-on-plug packages. Cylinders 3 and 8 are showing quite a number of misfires so one of the things that we will be doing is replacing all of the coil packs and putting new plugs in. This is not a pleasant procedure as these engines have some issues with spark plug changes and it is a tedious process to prevent any problems with the change.

I also need to take a look at the A/C compressor as it continues to make some noise after about 15-20 minutes of operation. I think it is the clutch package and it might need to have the air-gap in it reduced. Not sure yet but I do need to find out. We also need to verify that the rest of the A/C system is in good shape.

Another item is the headlights. Like all plastic housings, these have reached the point where they need to be sanded and clear coated. I lucked out and discovered that the headlight units are actually stock units for Ford F-150 Pickups so I was able to order to new housings for about $75. The downside is that the builder of the RV used pieces of plywood to build a shelf for the light housings to mount to and these are starting to fall apart from moisture damage, so I need to take out everything build and seal new mounting platforms and then I can put the new headlights in place. As a bonus, I am also going to put in a set of relays for the headlights so that they will get as much voltage as possible and wire in a dash mounted switch that will allow me to operate the low and high beams together for better lighting on some of the dark roads we travel. I am also going to sand and clear the old headlights and put them away as spares so I can just swap out the next time when my new ones get dull.

There’s always a list of items that need attention, all you can do is keep checking them off.

Build a Crank Trigger Distributor

Crank Triggers are a very effective way to light the fire in your performance engine. So much so that auto makers adapted the idea to just about everything you have driven since around the year 1995. They use a sensor lined up with a reluctor wheel mounted either on the front or rear of the crankshaft. Timing indication from this location is far more accurate and precise that picking it up from the distributor. Now of course modern engines have either a short coil-to-plug wire or are of the coil-on-plug ignition, all electronically fired from information provided to the computer.

Crank Trigger ignitions for older performance engines have been around for years and normally when a hot rodder puts one of these on their engine, one of the steps is to lock out any advance mechanism on the stock distributor. The distributor essentially becomes nothing more than a “distributor” of the spark energy. This will work just fine as long as the distributor is in good shape and not worn out or sloppy in it’s clearances. In my particular case, I am building a new engine up from bits and pieces and did not have a distributor to start with but looking at the current prices of a crank trigger distributor will make you swoon. Average prices are running between $250 – $350 for a distributor. I will admit it is take it out of the box and drop it in – but where’s the fun in that?

So,, doing a little bit of shopping and spending a touch less than $125 I have a brand new, crank trigger distributor. And I am going to tell you how you can have one too. Now admittedly I am building a Big Block Chevy, if you have a Chrysler or Ford engine or something else, you have a bit more homework to do, but the principle idea is the same.

I started off by looking for a NEW – not rebuilt point style distributors for Chevys. I finally found what I wanted from Rock Auto Parts. A brand new, mid-60’s distributor was available for slightly less than $50. Moving over to Jegs, Summit and don’t ever forget Amazon, especially if you already have Prime membership, I started looking for a MSD Cap-Adapt setup. This certainly isn’t a requirement to build a crank trigger distributor but I prefer these as they allow you to run the larger Ford style distributor cap which spreads out the spark, plus it comes with a spark plug wire retainer system that is a simple, two screw system. The adapter also creates a larger air center which helps reduce the izonation of the air particles within the cap. Each of these items helps reduce or eliminate misfire. And we don’t like our engines to misfire do we?

The next two items on the list kind of go hand in hand but one of them might not be needed for your setup. I am running a Crane mechanical roller cam in this engine and need the bronze distributor gear that works with that type of camshaft. If you are running a standard type production cam or an aftermarket unit that is a hydraulic or mechanical flat tappet cam then you can keep the stock style gear and save a few bucks. You also want to setup the end play on the distributor and will need a shim kit – I went with the Moroso version as I had used their kit before and knew what I would be getting. I ended up setting this distributor up to .009 clearance but anything between .010 and .020 should be good. I am also getting ahead of myself a bit but that’s okay.

With all of the parts gathered up it is actually time to start tearing stuff apart. All of the following can either be deep-sixed or passed along to someone that still deals with points style distributors. The cap, rotor, points, condenser, vacuum advance canister, all of the wiring, the mounting plate for the points and condenser, the advance weights, advance springs and the advance/points cam all have to go. I didn’t bother to weigh all of this stuff but there’s bound to be at least a pound of stuff here. Now to get some of these parts off, you probably already figured out that you need to drive out the roll pin on the distributor gear, remove it, the spacers and pull the shaft from the distributor body. And this is where a welder will come in handy although it is not absolutely required. You will notice with the shaft removed that the advance plate/points cam is a separate piece. You need that piece to hold the rotor in place so I recommend that you fit it back to the main shaft and then on both sides of the oval shaped piece at the top, you tack weld the shaft and the advance plate together. Lacking a means of welding, you could also drill the two pieces and insert a small bolt/nut to lock them together. I have not done this myself so you will have to determine exactly where you can put the bolt without interfering with the rotor button attachment.

Once all the junk is out of the way, you can put a little bit of grease on the shaft, slide it back in and start figuring out how many shims you will need to tighten up the clearances. For the most part, this is a bit of trial and error, but one thing you can do is find a punch that has the same diameter as the roll pin and put that in place to hold the gear on while you check clearances with a feeler gauge. That beats driving that roll pin in and out.

With the clearance set, the next step is to install the MSD Cap-Adapt System. Rather easy as the main part of the system aligns just like the original distributor cap and and is held in place with the same type of push and turn 90 degree arms. Now you can mount the MSD rotor button in place but first check the clearance on the center part of the rotor. MSD now includes a cardboard guide that is sort of a go, no-go type gauge. I found my latest one to be bent down a touch too far. New MSD kits have a couple of choices for holding down the rotor button now, I decided to use the Allen head bolts that came with the kit. And finally the last piece is the Ford style distributor cap. Align the tab and snap the spring metal retainers in place and you’re finished.

What you now have is a fully “functional” crank trigger distributor. Which really kind of makes you wonder why they charge so much money for the darn things. When using a crank trigger setup, the distributor has one job and that is to distribute the voltage out of the coil coming into the center terminal of the cap to the terminals of the cap that are connected to the spark plugs. That’s it. No timing function, no dwell settings – nothing. When setting up your crank trigger, you will set the timing by moving the pickup in relation to the magnet on the crank mounted wheel. You will install your distributor so that you are lining up the rotor pointing to the selected spark plug terminal of the cap. A better way to determine that this is as precise as possible is using “Rotor Phasing”. Search that phrase on the Internet for additional information.

So there you have it – a quick and easy build that saves you at least a $125. Plus you probably had a little bit of fun with the build and you can be absolutely certain that you are going to get the maximum amount of power from your crank trigger setup.

RV Repairs

Along with getting a variety of projects done, both large and small plus getting “Project ShoeString” moving along, there is also the need to get ready for next season. That’s where some work on the RV is essential. Our rig is a 2008 Forest River unit that is 32.5 feet long, uses a Ford chassis and Ford V-10 engine. Towing our 28 foot race trailer, the RV actually does a good job of it although our excursions into the mountainous areas has been limited to a few runs out to Bristol, Tennessee. Over the years that we have owned it, a number of things have happened. Small accidents have left it marked with damage, bits and pieces have failed and at times it has been neglected for long periods of time. I have a short list of items that need repair and a separate list of items that need maintenance. With the recent nice weather, I have tackled a couple of items that include repairing the fresh water tank and re-working the water supply system so that it is easier to maintain and hopefully a bit quieter. The water tank developed a small leak that took quite a bit of time just to discover it’s location. Unfortunately it was on the bottom of the tank so the entire supply system had to be removed, the cover door for the basement bay had to be taken off and then the tank was pulled out. This is a 75 gallon tank that rests on a plastic supporting framework with a piece of OSB between them. The OSB didn’t stand a chance against a long term water leak and was thoroughly soaked and rotted. I repaired the small leak I found in the tank with a soldering iron, melting some plastic into the small hole and then covering the entire area with a generous coating of clear silicone. To help the adhesion of the silicone, I roughed up the area around the leak with 220 grit sandpaper. A new piece of plywood (not OSB) coated with two coats of oil based porch paint on both sides should hold up a bit better should we have any leaks in the future. My next move is to put the water supply system back in which includes the water pump in a fashion that makes a bit more sense than the helter-skelter version that was factory original. I also wanted to find a method of isolating the vibrations of the water pump and am searching for a large piece of dense rubber.

The next item is the electric steps. These have been repaired in the past when they suddenly popped out on a two lane back road and caught the side of a bridge piling. It wiped out both steps and bent the arms badly plus broke the plastic trim piece around the steps and damaged some of the lower body work on the coach. I was able to find the repair parts I needed for the steps and put those back together, but I had to purchase the trim piece from the dealer and have yet to do the body work. That is going to take a small amount of fiberglass work along with some touch up painting. This time around the connection between the step slide mechanism and the motor came loose and the electric motor actually cracked into two pieces. I find it almost funny that the various RV repair part vendors online wanted hundreds of dollars for a replacement motor when it is nothing more than a power window motor from a car or truck. The trick is to find out which car or truck matches your step motor. A really good source for this information is Bob’s Guides. I was able to find out that for my steps, the power window motor from a 1992 Ford Bronco was a good fit. I had to drill the mounting holes out to the next larger bit size and mount the GM style connector to the wiring harness but it was a bolt-in after those mods. And, it only cost me $32 including the shipping plus the motor is brand new, not a rebuilt one.

Another RV item is basement lighting and by that I mean 12 volt lights in the basement compartments. I only had one compartment that had a light in it and when I needed to find something in the others at night, I had to make sure I had a flashlight with me. I purchased four plastic lights with on/off switches from Amazon for about $20 and plan to run them off of the engine battery. I have additional compartments on the RV but I put them in the compartments that I normally use for storage items and I also put one in the power bay. It will be nice not having to fish around in the dark for a power connection in the future. I plan to simply string all the lights together, run the power side of the circuit through an inline fuse and connect it directly to the engine battery. The engine battery tends to stay in better condition than the coach batteries so I can count on having light available when I need it.

A few other items that are going to be addressed before winter is a good wash and wax job, the yearly roof inspection, clear coating the headlights, and replacement of the vinyl strip that covers the roof binding connection. It just looks ugly. Hopefully before the weather catches me, I can get that body work done and maybe shoot a little touch up paint.

And lastly – that’s Theo in the lead picture, one of our Yorkies riding shotgun as we left Galot Motorsports Park in N.C. and headed home last year.

 

Converters, Measurements and Dial Calipers – Oh My!

Converters, Measurements and Dial Calipers – Oh My!

It’s a bit funny but I have probably explained the following procedure to a few friends a half-dozen times in the last few weeks. And honestly unless you too are a diehard drag racer using a GM style automatic transmission and converter setup, the information here is probably worthless. But then again, to a lot of those that do use that setup there seems to be a huge mystery to this procedure. Actually it’s all rather simple. Why this might apply to some of the latest GM stuff, I am specifically talking about Powerglides, TH350s and TH400 transmissions. And this procedure should be used every time you have the transmission serviced or maintenance on the converter performed. You should also use it if you are changing the flexplate for the engine or the bell housing/transmission case.

First things first. The convertor has to be seated properly in the transmission before anything else can happen. I like to call it theĀ  “3-step drop”. What needs to happen is that as you place the converter in the transmission, you need to make sure that the splines of the transmission are engaging the internal splines of the converter and that the converter hub properly seats within the drive tangs of the transmission fluid pump. It’s actually pretty easy although some converters can be a real bear getting them to make that final seating. What you will feel is that the converter “drops” or moves back further on the input shaft as you rotate the converter back and forth. The first drop is almost negligible and is simply the converter hub aligning itself with the outer portion of the transmission pump. The next drop is significant and typically moves the converter back about 1/2″, this indicates that those splines have now engaged each other. The last and final drop again is about 1/2″ and will be the hub engaging the fluid pump tangs. Now at this point, the converter is completely engaged in the transmission but if you were to run it this way, you would find that you will destroy your transmission pump in quick order. This brings up the procedure that needs to be used. With the transmission installed in the car and bolted up properly to the engine, it is time to take a measurement. Depending on the combination of flexplate, the thickness of the converter mounting pads, the bell housing or transmission case and whether a rear engine plate is used, this measurement needs to end up being somewhere between .125 and .187. With the converter still pushed back into the transmission, we want to measure the distance between the flexplate and the mounting pads of the converter. The easiest way I have found to do this is to take a set of feeler gauges and insert a stack of them until the stack is just snug between the measurement points. One you have that measurement, you can then take a dial caliper and measure the thickness of the stack or lacking a dial caliper, you can add up the feeler gauges. This measurement will be the distance between the flexplate and the mounting pads of the converter. As an example, let us say the measurement is .234 – well that is a little bit too much as if we were to pull the converter forward and simply bolt it to the flexplate, we would run the risk of pulling the converter hub out of the drive tangs for the fluid pump and in turn we would have an inoperable transmission. What we need to do is a little bit of math. If our desired minimum clearance is .125, we deduct that from the measured distance, which in this case is .234. That leaves us with .109 as the excess distance. We now need to find some hardened washers or spacers to take up the extra clearance. Using the dial calipers again, we should be able to find washers that come close. Again as an example lets say we find 3 washers that are .090 in depth – three are required for the GM transmissions and we want to make sure that they are all the same. That still leaves us with .019 extra clearance but if we add that to our desired .125, we come up with .144 which is well within the maximum amount of .187. We can now bolt the converter to the flexplate with the .090 washers between them and we have the proper clearance for the transmission to fully perform its job function.