Sunday, March 24, 2013

Grounded, Pt. 3: Embarassingly Simple!

This is one of those times I'm glad my car can't talk, let alone laugh when a big, complicated problem boils down to something stupidly simple.

The X-11 has earned some laughing rights. Maybe she's just being nice to me because I'm kinda slow, like the time I ran out of gas just a few yards past a gas station...and coasted the damn car a quarter-mile downhill trying to get it started.

Ha, ha.

Or how about the time I tried to start her up, got nowhere, did some testing and decided that the fuel pump was bad. When I tried to replace the pump, I ended up breaking several bolts in the exhaust system, which is inconveniently in the way of the pump. Ended up having to replace every bolt in the engine end of the exhaust. Got the new pump in, got the exhaust system bolted in...and still had the same problem.

Turns out it was a couple of bad fuel hoses. A couple of bucks' worth, compared to 6 weeks' work and too much money.

Hah. Hah. Hah. Goddammit.

Now, I'm slowly putting things back together after trying to find an electrical fault. For all the circuits under the dash, there's a single common ground, a black wire with a ring terminal that's bolted to body metal (One Ring Terminal to Rule Them All!). I've got the dash in the back of the car, car guts all over the floorboards and back seat, I've gone over every wire and connector, pored over wiring diagrams, sat in the driver's seat and stared at the mess I've made, looking for that damn ground, and all this time it's been right there, dangling from the wiring harness.

Some previous owner screwed around under the dash and ended up bolting the ground terminal in the wrong place: a metal bracket that doesn't touch any other metal in the car. Might as well have left the battery disconnected.

All this time, the only ground for everything under the dash has been a skinny wire and crappy terminal from an aftermarket power radio antenna kit. When I pulled the old radio to try running wire to a newer one, the tenuous connection was broken--and everything either stopped working or freaked out. The air conditioning fuse self-destructed (must have been an impressive burnout).

All this because one wire got put in the wrong place years before I even had the car.

Hee, hee, hee, hee. I'm dyin' over here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Grounded, Pt. 2

I wish I could say I've been busting my tail the last few weeks tracking down the electrical trouble in the X-11.

Hasn't worked out like that. Ever since I got out of the hospital in December it seems like I can't do anything but sleep. Before, I didn't get more than 3-4 hours at a stretch, then I'd be awake for 6-8 or more.

Finally got out to the car Monday afternoon and did a quick ohmmeter check showed something like 150 ohms' resistance between all the ground wires on the driver's side end of the harness and a good metal ground. I grabbed a jumper wire and ran a direct ground to one of the connectors. There were some strong sparks and the wipers swept across the windshield for the first time in 5 weeks. My dash lights lit up.

Turns out everything was grounding through a skinny black wire running from an aftermarket power radio antenna to a bolt on the gas pedal mount. I haven't found where it's all supposed to ground, yet. Hope it's easy to find, and easy to get to and fix; I'm pretty sure it's corrosion--either on the ground terminal itself or on the car's body. There's too much of both in too many places.

This afternoon, I ran some heavier wire to a good ground, ran the other end to one of the dodgy "ground" wires, and everything's working like it should.

Now all that's left is to fix a few other small things under the dash, put it all back together, and get my little racer back on the road.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Road Trip: The "If You Want It Done Right..." Tour

Back in November, I got a line on an X-11 engine just northeast of Atlanta. The guy only wanted $200. I thought about it for a few days, trying to figure out how to get it to Pensacola.

I could take a bus up, rent a U-Haul or something, and drive back.

I could risk driving the X-11, but with the clutch making scary noises on the last road trip, I didn't see that happening.

I could try making the run in the Tracker, which has been sitting more than driving in the last few years. I've been running around in it the last month while I try to find an electrical problem in the X. I couldn't see the little critter making it close to 800 miles, even after it's been from New Orleans to Jacksonville over several runs. The engine needs a complete rebuild and some machine work, the brakes have been locking up (note to self: don't drive in salt water anymore), and it needed tires.

I finally bought the engine in late January and emailed a sort-of acquaintance to see if he'd be willing to make the 180-mile round trip from his place and hold the thing for me. I emphasized that it needed to be picked up "yesterday," time was a factor, gotta be done soon. I'd pay for his gas and time. He agreed, saying he'd try the "beginning of next month."

The beginning of February came and went, with no word from him. Once the middle arrived, he wrote saying he'd be headed up "beginning of next week." This was three weeks ago. There's been another "beginning."

The guy I bought the engine from wrote me March 4, wondering when the pickup was going to happen. Neither of us had heard from Mr. Pickup. I decided that I was going to have to do it myself--the seller needed the engine out of the way and had it hanging on a borrowed chain hoist.

Dammit. "If you want it done right, you gotta do it yourself."

The X-11 is still offline; I haven't found the electrical problem, the clutch is dodgy, and she needs a couple of tires out back. Fast and fun, but that clutch could strand me and I can't walk to Atlanta.

That left the Tracker. The engine's more dodgy than the X-11's clutch. I did a partial rebuild in 2007, but the thing needs a new crankshaft, main bearings, con rod bearings, maybe an oil pump, water pump...the cylinders are only a few thousandths of an inch from needing to be bored out--and then it'll need new pistons and rings. The only thing that doesn't really need work is the head, which I rebuilt in '07. There must have been a pound of carbon crusted on the pistons and valves.

Still, he pulls strong, doesn't burn much oil, and gets 35 mph on the highway when he's in a good mood. Starts right up on its 6-1/2 year old battery even after sitting (ignored by an X-11 driving bastard) for months.

Two used up coolant, add Stop Leak...load up...wire up a cheap stereo...head out at 10 am. I screamed along with Chris Cornell in Audioslave and up coolant...took 4 hours to get to Montgomery (no need to rush) up coolant...another 90 minutes and I'm in up I smell Republicans, or is that just cow pastures?...several pauses along the way, buy more coolant, top up, look for leak and hope I can outrun it...finally hit Atlanta sometime after dark...spend half an hour with several hundred other cars using I-85 as a parking lot...wonder about coolant's around 8 pm by the time I get to Roswell and the Atlanta Hotel. Ten freaking hours.

Compared to the Ashtray Hilton, this place was palatial! A small fridge and microwave, a stove and sink. King-sized bed. Clean, and not even a whiff of ashtray. I only saw one roach the entire night.

Of course it was on the third floor, but there was an elevator, so my messed-up legs and back were saved a lot of walking. I grabbed a luggage cart and emptied the Tracker of anything of value, anything that could be stolen, right down to the jack handle. Took the coil wire so it couldn't be started. Left it unlocked and the rear window unzipped.

Plopped into the most comfortable chair, watched "House" reruns, and crawled into bed by midnight, but my farking cellphone woke me up at 2:30 to let me know it was now 3:30 (Daylight Savings)--and tired as I was I couldn't get back to sleep until 7. I wanted to be up at 8. Watched the last hour of "The Invasion" (Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig) and an old "Law & Order," read a car magazine, and failed at sleep.

Dammit, again. Up at 8 (man, did my legs ache), go looking for the luggage cart (almost right where I'd left it a few hours before)...load the up coolant...let's get this over with! Find the seller's house, load the engine, hang out with they guy and his father...don't wanna drive. I stall. Finally left at noon, their time.

The way it's squatting makes me look fatter.

Holy crap, was the Tracker skittish with 400 pounds of iron engine out back. I could feel the back end waddling every time I made a turn or hit a bump. I-285 South was a minefield of potholes and sunken pavement that had me imagining the Tracker's back end bottoming out, breaking a spring, and flipping that engine over the back seat and into my lap. The random 24 mph gusts coming from the south didn't help. All the way to Montgomery, those gusts whacked the Tracker's nose and nudged it toward the emergency lane. Once I got past Montgomery, I was headed more southward, so the gusts were hitting from the right and pushing me toward passing semis. I stopped every few hours, topped up the coolant, dumped the rest of the Stop Leak into the radiator, and kept hoping I could outrun the leak. I didn't bother with the radio the entire way back South.

If the coolant problem was the drama on the way to Atlanta (every road trip needs drama, whether it's an ashtray-scented motel or a kid's plastic playhouse that self-destructs right in front of you at 65 mph), my idiot body's refusal to go back to sleep was the drama for the ride south. I was running on maybe 3 hours' sleep by mid-afternoon, and of course I couldn't sleep anytime I hit a rest area or parking lot, just while I was roaring along at 65 mph, holding onto the wheel with both hands to keep the damn Tracker from whipping sideways, and just blinking only to find the Tracker headed for the emergency lane. It only got worse once I hit Highway 29 South, the final leg of the trip, the last 40 miles, all in the dark. It was 9ish when I finally peeled myself out of the Tracker for the last time. Man, did my legs ache.

Ten hours up, ten back, little sleep, $90 or so in gas, $32 for the hotel, $24 for the two gallons of coolant, $100 for the tires, a quart and a half of oil, cramped hands from gripping the steering wheel...if the engine had been a plain-Jane "X" engine instead of a high-output "Z" I'd never have bought it, let alone made a run to get it. The only difference is a somewhat hotter cam, domed pistons, and bigger valves. It's only good for 20 horsepower over the stock 115, and I've already got one in the X-11, but I can freshen the "new" one up and have it ready to drop in when the "old" one is ready for a rest. Or I could drop it into the Tracker (the front end, this time) to almost double its horsepower and halve its gas mileage!

I've also got a 4-barrel carb and matching intake for it. All I have to do is make an 822 mile round trip to Inverness, FL, and back....

No. Effing. Way.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Medical stuff.

March 13  marks 14 weeks since all the "fun" began--hydrocele surgery, an abcess and fever and 10 days in the hospital (and a second surgery to fix the abcess), 3 and a half weeks of antibiotics dripped into my arm (2-1/2 of those after I was out of the hospital), and 10 weeks (so far) visiting the Wound Care Clinic daily, then tree times a week, and now once a week. The remaining injury is a few millimeters across instead of inches.

A lot to go through to be rid of a mostly cosmetic (but still humiliating) problem.

My kidney doctor says that whether or not my remaining kidney can handle the iodine contrast dye, as long as I only get one CAT scan a year to monitor my damaged aorta it should be fine. There's not really any choice, since it's one of a few ways to see the damaged inner lining of the aorta.

I got that scan--contrast and all--a few days ago and will see the vascular surgeon next week to see what he thinks should be done. I really don't want it to be surgery. All I know right now is that it's "stable."

Monday, March 11, 2013

Two-Buck Wound Vac (update!)

In the weeks after my right kidney was taken out, I did some research on "wound vac" equipment. Wound Care staff told me it would accelerate healing by drawing fluid out of the incision site and promoting blood flow to the surrounding tissue.

I couldn't afford the $1000-$2000 weekly rental, and I wanted to see if there was a cheaper alternative. There were several writeups about Danielle Zurovcik and her inexpensive hand-operated vac. Her invention was tested in the field in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The team was only there for ten days, so they couldn't test for quicker healing. But the dressing and negative pressure did keep wounds cleaner than a traditional dressing and allowed for less-frequent dressing changes.

Dr. Zurovcik followed this with a 2011-12 clinical trial in Rwanda. From there she was able to finalize the design.

Her invention is the first product from her new company, WiCare (Worldwide Innovative Healthcare Inc.), which aims to get medical devices to those least able to afford them. If I'm reading things correctly, that includes here in the States.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Pic of the Day: Grounded.

It's been an aggravating few weeks. What should have been a simple radio swap has become a big troubleshooting project.

I'd been putting off putting in a new radio/MP3 player for nearly two years because of all the medical stuff and fatigue (which is part of the medical stuff, I guess). Four weeks ago, I got to it. It only took ten minutes to get the factory radio out of the dash. It's pretty hefty and has an impressive bunch of wires coming out of it. I traced everything out so I could hook it all up to the new player.

Then my instrument panel lights and windshield wipers died, the turn signal and high beam indicators wouldn't shut off, and the gauges all went crazy. After a week and change tracing the wiring in place, I realized I'd have to pull the dash: I couldn't get to the fuse block. It's half-buried under the passenger side of the dash and I couldn't get to all of it, just the lower couple of rows.

Time for some forensic wrench-turning. I pulled the entire dash and everything in it. No, the GM engineers didn't make it easy. They couldn't. It would violate their decades-old "let's screw with anyone who wants to fix their own damn car!" rule. These are the guys who put the oil filter up on the engine's back side in a late-'90s Cavalier, or bury a Chrysler Sebring's battery in the wheel well. The engineers probably added hidden cameras to all the cars just so they could watch and laugh: "Hey, guys! Forget the dope working on that Citation, we got another Sebring guy looking under the hood for his battery! Someone make popcorn! I'll put it on the big screen!"

In my case, they bolted the wiring harness to the backside of the dash panel to protect it from me. I won, without damaging the car:

This was this past Saturday. My poor car.

Fortunately, I know what everything is and how to put it all back. Theoretically, it's still drivable.  I could even hang the instrument panel somewhere and hook it up so I'd have gauges...and I'm already in X-11 withdrawal after almost two weeks of driving my Tracker instead.

At least this way I can sit in one spot and reach both ends of a wire run and the fuse box. This is the easy part. Putting it all back together might be interesting.