An Open Letter to Grandma

Grandpa was so angry at my parents and aunt when they took his keys away. As you have recently said, he loved his little truck. Jennifer and I got it started on Saturday, and it has quickly become a part of our family. There was a wire coming from the starter relay that had a little over an inch missing. There were rodent droppings near the location, and I suspect something ate that piece of wire. I had my brother solder in a piece of wire to replace it, and it starts again. The engine was a quart or so low on oil, and I topped it up. The tires were running at 10 psi, and I aired them up to 35.


As much as I love Grandpa’s truck, I think that Jennifer might love it even more. She drove it to her chiropractor appointment yesterday, and then she drove it to work this morning. When we borrowed the truck for a week last year when I rebuilt our Sentra, she wasn’t strong enough to man-handle the manual steering. She’s come a long way since then. Since Saturday, the little truck has been out to the farm already, and we’ve knocked the carbon off the valves.


We are planning to replace the bent body panels and missing driver’s side door handle. I’m not done wrenching on it and hope to get that odd starter issue ironed out. I’ve been looking for a used camper shell. I’d really like to build a platform that will stand 12 to 14 inches off the floor of the bed, that we can store stuff under and put an air mattress on top of it for when we camp. Once we have straight sheet metal and a bed cover on it, I’m thinking of painting the whole thing in bedliner. I don’t have a problem with the classic red, but the paint is quite worn, and I don’t presume that I’ll be able to color match the replacement body panels. I got a copy of the key, and Jennifer put the key on a miniature Bible keychain. That seems fitting.


I did a major cleaning on the interiors of both the car and truck yesterday. I chuckled at the various tools, gloves and rope that were scattered about the cab, so indicative of Grandpa. A couple lengths of rope were uselessly short, so they went to the garbage. I lovingly coiled up the rest of them and placed them behind the seat. There were a lot of candy wrappers in the cab. I had no idea that Grandpa had a sweet tooth. In the ash tray I found some folded papers. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be three used targets, evidently shot with .22 caliber lead. Did Grandpa have some range sessions in his twilight years? If so, I wish he had invited me to join in.


We will cherish Grandpa’s pickup. I didn’t realize how badly I miss him until organizing his truck. He did love his little truck, and it was worthy of his affections. It is proving to be a real blessing to us in its utility, but it’s also wonderful to have it around as a reminder of the man who owned it before.

NRA 2013 – Thursday and Friday

Thursday, Jennifer and I got up early with the plan to pick up the rent-a-heap (as OldNFO calls it), with the intent of her taking our Compact Tactical Assault Sedan to work while I took the foster car home to load our junk, ready to drive once she got home from the office. She had a couple of loose ends to tie up before she could take off, but she was still planning to cut out early. The rental company jacked up our reservation and didn’t have our car by 7:30 as arranged. At that time, they offered excuses and said they could take a car to her office by nine. They didn’t have a compact, as we had booked, so they were going to upgrade us to a midsize. I dropped her off at work and took our CTAS home. At nine, she texted to let me know that the rental company had not yet delivered a car. She called and reamed them a new one, so they ‘upgraded’ us, once again, to a Dodge Avenger. Our original booking must have been for a two-door Speck with a three hamster engine. They got her the car at around 9:30, and we were on the road by ten. In all fairness, the rental company was extremely receptive to our multiple complaints and has made overtures to remedy the mishandling.

The drive was not terribly noteworthy, considering we drove through both Dallas and Houston. There weren’t too many situations in which I knew we were about to see some idiot cause a forty car pile-up because he was in such a hurry to rush up and tailgate the next driver in line or cut across four lanes of traffic with no signal, or both. Maybe I’m just growing patience with age. Thursday night, we met up with some of our friends for some Cajun food. Jennifer and I split a dozen oysters on ice, five pounds of crawfish, sausage, potatoes, and corn. Yum! Friday morning, we woke up at the butt crack of freaking dawn and headed down to the convention center. Parking was a veritable nightmare. If you don’t mind spending $30 to park your car for a day, it wasn’t bad at all, but that is extortion, IMHO.

The show was what I have come to expect out of a trade show. There were lots of pretties to handle and we got to meet many interesting people. Some of them are people that we have grown to know and respect online, others that we only knew by reputation prior to this weekend, and still others that were fresh introductions. Also, we had the opportunity to catch up with some old friends, if not nearly enough of them. But, that’s how these things go. It seems like no matter how much you try to pack into each day of the weekend, in the end you’re always short on time. Please do expect some pics and accounts of guns and gear, as well as more detailed stories, and it looks like we’ll have some extended test and evaluation stuff to look forward to. In the meantime, I’ll post some more updates tomorrow, and suffice it to say that it’s been an extraordinary trip so far.

Tactical Assault Compact Sedan

We are weird when it comes to being car consumers. When Jennifer and I started dating, I was driving my first car which was the 1983 Honda Civic Wagon that my parents had bought new, and Jennifer was driving a 1993 Ford Taurus. I wrecked the Civic and wound up buying another one almost just like it. The ‘new’ Civic was also a 1983 model, but it was in far better shape, and was an attractive silver instead of the metallic brown that my parents had passed down. We wanted to get out from under the payment on the Taurus before it was worth less than what we owed on it, so we sold it and purchased Jennifer a 1982 Datsun 280ZX 2+2. Her dad thought we were crazy. Heck, half the people we knew thought we were crazy. They may have been right, but we were having fun.

I wound up getting a 1982 Civic hatchback by a weird twist of events, which after some modifications, was running so hot that I couldn’t keep it in head gaskets any longer, so I swapped the motor out for a 1.8-liter from a 1979 Accord. It received a Weber carburetor, cowl induction hood scoop, and a very abbreviated exhaust system. It breathed fire, sounded like an angry hornet, and would spin the tires at 60-mph. The Wagon got put on the back burner when its clutch started slipping and the CV joints started clicking. I knew the syncros were worn and the rings were starting to leak, and I intended to do the work, but couldn’t at the time. It was joined by the hatchback for reasons that I can’t recall right now. We had other things going on and I couldn’t really give them the attention they needed at the time.

The Hondas eventually left my life. Jennifer’s 280 got T-boned by some idiot driving a brown Buick in the rain with no lights. We bought a 1991 BMW 318i convertible off the credit union’s repo lot. That car had 250,000-miles on it when we brought it home, and we put in excess of 100,000 additional miles on it before we passed it on. Shortly before we got rid of the BMW, we were shopping for something a little less used, that would be practical for our family. We wanted something with four doors that had more leg room in the back than our convertible. We wanted something with some pep. Understated looks would be good, with overstated gear under the sheet metal.

I was working at the Ford dealership at the time, and some guy had just traded in his 2004 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V in on a new pickup. It was black. I’ve always hated black cars. This is the little, unassuming Sentra body with the tuned version of the Altima’s engine shoehorned in, mated to a six-speed close ratio gearbox. I saw a technician driving it across the lot. It even had the optional Brembo four-piston brake calipers! So, I asked about it. The used car manager quoted me a price that was allegedly 10% over what they had in it. The mileage was low enough that it still had factory warranty, and the price was low enough that we could afford it. We consolidated some old credit card debt into the loan. I decided I could live with black.

Originally, I vowed to never fall behind on maintenance and always use synthetic fluids, and make this car last forever. That was before all of the accidents. We had most of the body damage fixed, but had an emergency come up that we wound up using insurance money on instead of bodywork. The car still ran good and we had just barely had to do anything mechanical in the 100,000-miles we’d had it. And just before the 150,000-mile mark, the engine blew.

As it turns out, Nissan had had problems with the ‘pre cat’ on this particular engine. In an attempt to make good even better, they had mounted an exhaust catalyst in the exhaust manifold, with the thought of it getting to temperature faster, thus increasing efficiency. Since this was the tuned-up version of the engine, the computer is programmed to run the fuel/air mix a little richer, thus the exhaust will pop and backfire from time to time. When it was popping into this forward-mounted catalyst, some particles of ceramic were blown back into the combustion chamber, and destroyed the rings in short order. I located the necessary parts to rebuild the engine in our driveway, committed a week off from my work, and borrowed Grandpa’s pickup.


Everything came apart more easily than I was afraid it would, even if I did have to borrow an air compressor and impact wrench from a neighbor, who just seemed tickled that I’d ask to borrow such things from a total stranger.


The timing marks were a mystery that I eventually unraveled, but there was some head-scratching first. It seems that not even the fanbois in the Sentra forums can make much sense out of them.


That little sprocket with the chain on it is the balance shaft. I pulled that out and didn’t reinstall it. The Sentra kids on the internet say that it robs power and doesn’t help much with anything. I haven’t missed it.


You might be a car guy (or gal) if this is a familiar sight. The weather was beautiful for most of the week.


Not only are the main caps fully girdled, but the whole engine is glued together with gray silicone. There are literally like three or four actual gaskets in total under the hood. I was dubious, but it hasn’t leaked since the rebuild, so I guess it really does work.


I honed out the cylinders, but nothing was in need of machining. Thank God! The head gasket came off cleanly enough that I probably could have reused it.


The shop manuals say to separate the head and intake manifold. I didn’t find this to be necessary, so they stayed mated up.


Teen Bot helped. I think he got bored at times, but it was a very educational experience for him. He thought reinstalling the pistons with the new rings and bearings was interesting.


I said it would take a week, and it took a week. That’s the first time that has ever happened to me on any project. The car now has around 10,000 miles since the rebuild. It has more power now than it ever had before. There are a couple of things it still needs including a motor mount insert, a new radiator, and a muffler. With the many hours behind the wheel and many miles traveled in various cars with nothing but straight pipe, I finally actually got pulled over for the lack of muffler a few weeks ago.

On Tuesday, Jennifer called me and said that the car had done something strange. There was a pop, and an acrid smell, and the dash lights all went out for just a second. Hmmmm… She brought the car back and I poked around at it. Apparently, the alternator had gone out. This is a close-up of the side of the alternator, and you can see the stator windings inside of the case:


Toward the right, you can see the wire is reddish and coppery in color like it’s supposed to be. Toward the left, it’s blackish and burned looking because it’s all burned up. That’s not good. The local parts houses could order an alternator to fit for around $200.00, but we found one online for more like $50.00. It hasn’t arrived yet, so I’ve been hooking the trickle charger to the battery overnight until I have the replacement part in hand. Jennifer called me again this morning to tell me that she was stranded with a car that would not run.

I arranged to borrow a spare car from my parents, retrieved Jennifer, pulled the battery, dropped Jennifer off at work and the battery at the auto parts store to have it charged on their commercial charger. My friend Sean called and offered to come and help (God bless him). We ultimately got the battery back, replaced the terminals which were badly corroded, and reinstalled it into the car. Upon arrival back at the house, I figured out what the most recent problem was. If you hook your trickle charger to your car battery, but mistakenly bump the control switch to “6V”, that battery will never charge. *facepalm* I figured I’d see the replacement alternator by now, but I’m nearly certain I’ll have it by this weekend. At any rate, the drama is getting a little old.

Cars and Murphy’s Law

Well, not completely…

Last week, the Tactical Assault Compact Sedan started doing something strange and unprecedented. It has used a little oil for a long time now. The rate at which it was burning oil versus the rate that it smoked led me to believe that it was valve stem seals, which are pretty simple to replace. Since the Summer was so hot, I put it off and said that I’d get to it when the weather was better for it.

Well, last week, it started drinking oil nearly as fast as gasoline. It still never leaves a drop on the ground, but will now belch large clouds of smoke when the throttle is stomped. It didn’t take much research to discover that there was a fairly common problem that caused oil consumption in these engines. Some well-meaning engineer decided that it was much more betterer to have two catalytic converters instead of one, and the first one should be located as close to the exhaust as possible. So, Nissan built the exhaust header with a ‘pre-cat’ in it. Presumably when heated under normal usage and then cooled, as happens in reality, the material in this ‘pre-cat’ cracks and may back flow into the engine, ruining the piston rings.

There’s one way to know for certain. Having been a professional wrench-turner at one point in time, I know my way around a car engine. Using a compression gauge, you take a reading on each cylinder and record it. Then, you add about a tablespoon of oil down each spark plug hole and remeasure the compression readings. The oil will temporarily seal bad compression rings, so if you get a significant increase in pressure, you have bad rings. If you don’t, you have bad valves. Alright. Party time.

My brother contacted me and asked if I would help him replace the transmission in his wife’s car. I agreed, but after talking with him for a few asked why we were replacing the tranny. He explained that when he started it, he couldn’t put it in gear, but if he started it in gear, he could shift it from gear to gear with the clutch depressed. That doesn’t sound like synchros. I didn’t think the tranny was the issue. I told him to try bleeding the hydraulics. He suggested bringing the car over. I suggested he bring the compression gauge and perhaps we could address two problems at once.

We bled the clutch hydraulics and they started working fine. We tested compression. Readings came out 175, 170, 165, and 160-psi, respectively. With oil (transmission fluid, actually, but functionally the same for this purpose), 190, 190, 170, and 190-psi. Blown rings. Needs a major overhaul. Crap. Fortunately, I know how to do that. I was able to find a gasket, ring, and bearing kit for less than $200, and I have a biological brother and a chosen brother who are willing to donate their time.

I’m really not looking forward to this, but it could have been so much worse. I suppose we’ll have to rebuild the Tactical Assault Compact Sedan. I suppose I feel fortunate that I do have the know-how. But still, this is eating into my holster making time! Besides that, I’d rather spend my time and money on more fun stuff! Aaaarrrgggghhhh!!!!

Short Films to Occupy Your Time

Honda has a series of short films posted here that seem to be about exploration. I just watched the intro video, and I’m impressed. It kind of reminds me of BMW’s The Hire series, but these look to be more of a documentary format rather than fictional stories. I haven’t watched all of the Honda videos, but at this point I intend to. Of course, there was brand recognition and a little product placement in the intro video, but it was certainly not telling me that I should buy a new Accord. Most of the product mentions had to do with new technology development (as in stuff we won’t see on the road for another decade). Anyway, I fount it interesting and thought you might as well. With that, I’ll close with “The Star” from The Hire from BMW, starring Madonna and Clive Owen, directed by Guy Ritchie (and my personal favorite in the series). This, incidentally is an exaggerated example of why people should wear their seat belt particularly when they ride with me.

Family Stickers

Recently, I’ve seen these things on the back windows of minivans, sedans, and urban utility vehicles. I didn’t know what the heck they were supposed to be until I started noticing the differences between them. Then it dawned on me! These were supposed to be crude depictions of the vehicle’s family! WTF? You know, I love my family and everything, but I can’t wrap my brain around wanting to have stick-figure-images representing the little clan. So, I decided to try my hand at making one of these things a little more exciting! Without further delay, in honor of Halloween, I present to you the “AW CRAP, MOMMY SNAPPED” family sticker:


AutoMaker Restructuring

A charismatic, major world leader, who came to leadership through a campaign of change, nationalized a domestic auto manufacturer and dictated that they need to build more fuel-efficient cars that the common man can easily afford. He specified how these cars should be constructed and that they should do this restructuring for the good of the people, the economy, and for the country overall. He ostracized the company’s head executive in the process.

Sound familiar? Keep reading.

The auto manufacturer was instructed to build a car that would carry five people, get 33-mpg, could easily cruise public highways and stay well within the budget of the average household. He suggested that they call this new car “People’s Car.”

In the short term, this led to a new car company, run by the national government, which produced many military and civilian vehicles. They were well-built cars that were ultimately built in several countries and driven the world over. They were produced in several different body and engine configurations.

Over the course of the next 75-years, this automotive manufacturer developed and produced hundreds of thousands of cars that many drivers own and love.

What car am I talking about? Not Ford. Not Chrysler. Not General Motors.

This one.

What world leader am I referring to? Not the one you initially thought.

This one.


Change you can believe in?

Car Battery

It looks like we’ve got to get a battery for the freaking car.  The battery in there now has been there for about two years.  The car is only five years old.  The original battery croaked in a typical 3-year span, so I slapped the Optima from one of the project cars in it.  That Yellow-top is probably eight years old, and has been in at least three cars (that I can think of ) now.  I knew that we were going to have to replace it, but I really wanted to put that off until after we had paid our taxes.  But, alas – its time in this world is quickly drawing to a close.  My connections are clean, and it runs down within minutes of the headlights being on even if I have trickle-charged it for a good 24-hours.  It’s a lot worse in the cold than when it’s warm outside.  This morning, I forgot to turn the lights off when I stopped for gas.  Approximately five minutes of gas-pumping is all it took to discharge it to the point that the keyturn produced one, mournful “rurch” of a crank.  I had to ask for help from a complete stranger in the not-so-good side of town.  Fortunately, the guy who I asked was willing and compassionate to my plight.  I think I’m going to get a new battery just down the street from my workplace at the battery store.  I really didn’t want to be out the money right now, but that’s what happens when we let these things plan themselves.  I don’t want to put it off for so long that it kills my alternator as well.  Those Nissan alternators are NOT CHEAP!