Saturday, July 31, 2010

Replacing a Steering Rack on Your GM Vehicle (Front Wheel Drive)

This could go for any front wheel drive car, save for some Chrysler LH or GM J cars, but this is for any 1997 to 2006 GM minivan, sedan or crossover S.U.V.. The latter includes the Pontiac Aztec and Buick Rendezvous, for this is no hard copy service manual and the information isn't very detailed, but requires removing the stabilizer bar. This is across the board with GM cars , but I'm going to give you a quicker way to do this with minimal swearing and breaking parts, I'm also going to give you some suggestions of what to do and what not to do.


A word of warning; I am NOT an expert on these things, but when presented a $600 bill for a part that nearly broke my arm today, it was time to get busy. The best bet is to call a competent mechanic and you will have to take you car to one to get the alignment checked. This job is a pain in the part you sit on, and you can cause personal injury, death or property damage if you screw it up. Even if you follow this to the letter, you could still break something or someone, so use some common sense if you think this is over your head. Be careful and take your time as this isn't a job to rush. I have no control over the quality or lack therof of your work. Do this or any repairs at your own risk.


First of all, it's common sense to use jack stands and not work under a car supported only by a jack. You will need a three ton floor jack, two ton jack stands at a minimum. You'll also need a good socket set and an 18mm flare nut wrench for the hydraulic lines a pry bar and a hammer. First thing is to raise the car with the floor jack and place your jack stands under the front of the sub frame as high as safely feasible. Remove the front wheels and loosen the jam nuts on the tie rod ends, holding the inner rod with a 13mm end wrench. Remove the ball stud nuts and tap the steering knuckles where the studs go in with a hammer. These should pop right out of the knuckles and you'll unscrew the tie rod ends, counting the number of turns. Take note of the turns and place each end to the corresponding side on the floor with the stud and jam nuts. Next, unscrew the coupler after lifting the dust boot off the rack. It takes an 11mm socket. Then remove the heat shield and the two bolts holding the rack in.


The next step is tricky and dangerous. You'll need to use the jack to support the sub frame before you remove the two bolts in the rear. Do this like you're jacking up the car from the front, but place the head of the jack in the center of the rear of the frame. Take out the bolts after you've supported the frame, and drop the frame no more than 5 inches. If you let it fall too far, you risk breaking something. You need just enough space to undo the hydraulic lines. Remove the lines slide the rack out.

Putting the new in is pretty much reversing the procedure. Count the number of turns as you put the tie rod ends on and secure with the jam nuts. Use new "o" rings on the lines and remember to index the input shaft to the coupler. This means centering the rack by turning it from lock to lock, counting the number of turns and dividing that by two. When everything is put back together, fill the reservoir with clean power steering fluid (do not use transmission fluid) and with the wheels still in the air, start the engine. The noise will be really bad. Turn the wheel lock to lock until this noise goes away, making sure to keep the reservoir from going empty. Lower the car and take to an alignment shop to get the toe in set right. You're done. Maranatha!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Another Thought...

While I'm at it, cleaning up the site and making corrections to a few typos, I have noticed the direction of this blog changing. It was never intended to be only about one subject, but a journal of some pretty tough and trying times. It was also (and still is meant) to stir it up in the reader's heart to turn their life to Jesus. I've read more than a few of these sites that seem to be a diatribe of every annoyance of the writer. We all have different tastes, needs, wants, et cetera. As for me, I serve the Lord and find Him a lot more interesting than the odds and ends piling up. However, I can't see not telling someone how to save money by fixing something either. In truth, we've become a throw away culture, while in many countries things like cars and other durable goods are repeatedly fixed and recycled. Mainly because the majority of people are very poor and can't afford new stuff.

I don't intend to water down anything down a bit, nor do I intend to delete my posts about the rapture or the like. These still hold true and despite my misinterpretation (and this is more time to accept Jesus, so I'm not going to complain) I believe this is an immanent event that gets closer with each passing day.

However, back to fixing stuff, I've found that fewer people want to be really handy, if at all. The few self-professed handy people, in my opinion are not up to the task of really fixing anything, but hooking up the new stuff. Well boys and girls, I want to try and keep the old stuff going and there are few people in my circle of friends and family willing to accept what I want to pass on. I'm 40 years and not getting younger. Life is temporal and when I'm gone, raptured or whatever, the knowledge will go with me. When I was a kid, I relished the time I spent with Grandpa, because this guy seemed to know everything. He fixed trucks for the City of Lansing and even made an air compressor out of a scrap oil tank and some old parts. He bailed me out on more than a few car repairs before I finally got smart and started to obtain technical information on EVERY car I've owned. In the end, I helped him with his cars and trucks.

It is my hope that you dear reader, become a Christian if you aren't already and that you will learn something from my writings and hopefully a few pictures when I get a camera again (even my influence has to stop somewhere). I have much to share as the Lord has blessed me abundantly. I want to bless you. Blessings in Christ Jesus.

The $500 Mistake Homeowners Make.

This is such a simple thing that most overlook it, but it's something that no one wants to pay for it when it breaks. Let's face it, $500 can buy groceries for month for a family of 4, 8 very nice nights out, or even a weekend stay in a fairly decent hotel. It can also pay for a month's worth of camping at the KOA (maybe).

What people hate to spend money on is their home comfort system; in my terms, the HVAC system, (Heating Ventilation and Air-Conditioning). The truth is that the price for me to come to your door and find out what's wrong with your HVAC system is about $90 to $130, depending on the time of day or weekend. In addition, the cost of a blower motor installed is $350 to north of a grand for a higher-end variable-speed motor. These aren't cheap, and I've had customers defer these expensive repairs and put up with the sweltering heat and humidity while the equipment they spent good money on sits useless in the mechanical room. While there is Murphy's Law, my stand is that 90 to 95% of these repairs are completely and utterly preventable with a little knowledge and some common sense.

To add more to the carnage, I've seen expensive equipment reduced to scrap metal because of the improper use of furnace filters. Heat exchangers can fail, cooling coils can ice up and cause water damage to circuit boards, blower motors, and other moisture sensitive parts. Did I mention furnace filters? Yes I did.

Neglect is the reason a lot of things fail, whether a relationship or your prized ride and is true for your furnace and air-conditioner chugging happily away in your basement or laundry room. Ignore your spouse, schlep out of doing your oil changes or forget to replace your furnace filter and you'll suffer financially. I've seen filters that were left in "only three months" that ruined motors or resulted in an A/C icing up. The truth is that ANY ONE INCH FILTER MUST BE CHANGED EVERY MONTH YOU USE THE SYSTEM. Even the so-called three month filters will destroy your system faster than the cheaper filters because the tolerances of the material are tighter. Try blowing as hard as you can through one of these filters (before you install it) and you'll likely run out of breath. Then try blowing through a fiberglass filter (one of the blue or white ones without the pleats) and you'll notice the difference. The looser material is easier to blow through for you and your equipment.

Personally, I don't recommend using 1 inch HEPA or "high performance" filters because of the danger to equipment and your wallet. These have tight pleats meant to trap very small particles that also tend to clog quickly. These also make the blower work harder to move the air; costing you more money to heat and cool your home. This is what also shortens the life of your equipment. There is simply not enough surface area to allow enough airflow through these pleats for the blower to work correctly. This is why many media filters are 4 or 5 inches thick to give more surface area and more capacity to trap dust and dirt. A better idea, if you really want to minimize these nasties is to buy an electrostatic filter such as a Trane Clean Effects or American Standard Accu Clean as these will remove the cats and bowling balls and almost all of the smaller stuff. These are pricey, but well worth it and ozone pollution is minimized as opposed to an electronic air cleaner.

If money's tight, there is the option of the 4 inch media filters like Space Gard, Air Bear, General AC-1, Honeywell or the like. These range from easy to change to utterly ridiculous, with the AC-1 taking good manual dexterity to change and the Space Gards without the upgrade kits being a pain in the rumpus as well. I've been installing these for 14 years and they can still be a bit of a nightmare.

If you must use a one inch filter, use a good quality pleated filter with the lowest MERV (the filtering capacity) number you can find (MERV 8 or lower). I like the filters with some sort of cardboard reinforcement to hold the pleats and keep the frames and pleats from snagging on the slot, making them easier to remove or install. To me, this is more important than any supposed filtering ability. 1 inch filters are to keep the cats and bowling balls out of the blower, that's about it. If you're concerned about your health, you're going to have to upgrade to 4 or 5 inch media filter or an electrostatic job. For the "high performance" 1 inchers, you're going to spend $100 to $200 a year if you change these monthly (you'd better) anyway, not to mention a blower motor once a year. Compared to that, $1000 for an AccuClean looks really good. Maranatha!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Customer Care...

I'm not about to be an egomaniac as my boss was equally culpable in this caper, but this goes to show how important the details are. It also shows that assume really does make an ass of u and me.

The job was a no cooling call, which means that an air-conditioner is on the fritz and nearly always with grumpy customers in tow. Let's face it, we can bundle up a little more, but we can only take off so much before we risk being arrested. Jokes aside, there was a problem. How big I wanted it to be was up to me.

So I go to this house and find the A-coil iced up and charging the system impossible, but a well timed call from my boss suggesting that I turn the furnace on to thaw it out. Who knew, my boss is a genius. Well then, onward we go. The homeowner is ticked and told twice by another company's techs that he's going to have to buy a new coil and he'd be better off replacing the system entirely. The problem is that it's only six years old and not even through half of its life. Despite my cajoling, he's convinced this is going to cost big bucks. I tell him not to worry, but we need to do a leak search.

I have a Harbor Freight refrigerant leak detector that cost me $80 a couple years ago and despite needing repair on the switch, works very well. The first thing I did was to turn on the device and walk toward the outdoor unit and barely pointing the sensor, it started to beep quickly. When I made it to the service valves, the device screamed; BINGO. Guess what, found the problem. It was because the installer overheated the service valves as per usual. Opening the covers revealed that a well-meaning tech tried to band aid the problem with Leak Lock, but the leak remained unlocked and continued to bedevil the homeowner for 3 years.

After confirming this, I went ahead and traipsed to the basement, detector in hand and found no leaks at the A-coil. This was, according to the homeowner, going to cost almost $2000 to fix, for a 6 year old A/C. This was crazy. Now I'm not perfect myself, but this is a reminder that as techs we can't just go and condemn parts. We need to gather evidence and prove this to the customer. He or she is the one paying the bills. Speaking of bills...

My fix was replacing the service valve caps with sealing ones (O rings), recharging the system with R-22 and the leak search. All told this was about $260.00 to save an A/C, not mention the customer's wallet. Again, this was taking the time, having the right attitude (even at beer thirty) to help your customer out and actually giving a care about them. Everyone wants good customer service and everyone deserves it, but we should all be willing to give it too. Our work is a reflection on us and should be to glorify our Creator. Making our boss and company look good won't hurt either. Blessings in Christ.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Getting the Lights On in Your GM Radio

As always, I am not in control of your work or what you're working on. I cannot accept responsibility for your mistakes. When in doubt, call a certified mechanic or GM dealership. A new OEM (original equipment manufacturer) radio can run in excess of $400. If you have some patience, time and a few bucks, this will save you most of that. Again, I cannot guarantee your work or what you're working on. Do this at your own risk...

Car radios can be a nice source of background noise on the highway of life. Mine is nearly always tuned to Christian music or talk radio because it's calming and uplifting. What's annoying is having lights out on your radio because the bulbs are burned out. This is the time that a lot of people decide to trade in the car to avoid this hassle or expense. In my situation, I'm just glad to have a running car that looks nice.

But having a bunch of lights out is annoying and distracting at night. There are many good reasons to have a radio you can see at a glance, especially at night. It will keep you engaged and avoiding stopping or lighting a match to see the buttons. The more time figuring something out is more opportunity for a crash. While the solution might be to not use the radio and sing hymns. It may not be the best choice for your passengers.

Buying an aftermarket radio is also an option, but in my opinion, not a good one. The buttons are nearly always too small and unless you spend a lot of money on a double din unit, it will never look right. On many GM products (like mine, a 2004 Buick Rendezvous), the warning chimes and other functions are channeled through the radio, necessitating buying a special wiring harness for these to work. Even if you get this harness, the speed compensated volume and the controls on the steering wheel won't work. The worst is that aftermarket radios never seem to hold up. My wife's 1990 Cavalier had a Pioneer that needed to be replaced after three years with a Craig unit, that lasted two. The OEM radios are made a lot better and will outlive the car with a little maintenance.

But the bulbs can and will burn out because they are incandescent, like those in many houses, because they need to be dim-able. This doesn't mean that you should throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you have a little experience with taking things apart and know how to solder (and had some practice), you can save a lot of money and add years to your radio.

The tools you'll need (assuming you have the radio out) are a 15 watt soldering iron, rosin core solder, a small pair of vise grips and a set of 1/4 drive sockets with a handle. I used a 4mm and 7mm, but yours may vary. You'll also want a small flat screwdriver and a pair of side cutters. The supplies are going to be patience and 7 or 8 packages of 12 micro lamps from Radio Shack. The number on these is #7219 12 volt 60 milliamp. These are great for the heater control and speedometer cluster. These are about $1.79 for a package of 2 bulbs. The radio takes 14 bulbs.

The first thing is to remove the top and bottom panels with the flat screwdriver. These pry off the back and sides, but hook in the front. Be careful not to bend them. You will want to carefully unclip the three wiring harnesses from the front panel to the main board of the radio on the top half and untwist them. There is another harness next to the volume knob on the bottom. Remove this one too. Then carefully pull off the knobs and make note of which one went where as they are not interchangeable.

The front panel is plastic and held on with molded tabs. Gently ease these off with a screwdriver placed under them. Use just enough pressure to ease this off or you'll break the tabs or the panel. I did it by just disengaging the tabs enough to carefully lift the panel off the radio. Now for the "fun" part; you'll need to separate the circuit board from the panel. This panel has the display as well as the bubs, buttons and other parts. This is delicate and will not take too much manhandling. The plastic puzzle called the front panel is also a pain to try and decipher if you let the buttons get away. I'd use some blue making tape on the front to help keep the buttons in place with special attention to the H and M ones. The H is on top and the M is on the bottom. Just tape the buttons and keep the panel face down and your life will be easier.

Remove the six screws holding the circuit board to the panel. Flip the board over to reveal the bulbs, which are covered with a blue cap. Carefully remove these caps with your fingers as tools will tear them and set them aside where they won't get lost. Another little bit of advice here; replace all of the bulbs, or you will be doing this again shortly. Unsolder all the bulbs and save the holders. put these holders on the new bulbs and use your soldering iron to heat the joints enough to get the leads through the board. Once the leads are through, use the (small) vise grips to pull the leads through, one at a time, a little at a time while using the iron to keep the solder soft enough. When the bulbs are tight against the board, stop. Pull these leads gently or you'll break the bulbs. Solder each lead, making sure the joints don't touch. Use a pocketknife to gently scrap any stray solder so the leads don't touch. once you're done soldering and satisfied with the results, clip off the excess leads with side cutters.

The rest is a reverse to install, but make sure all of the bulbs are capped with the blue silicone caps and that the screws are in and tight. thread the wire harnesses through the holes before snapping on the front panel. Thread the ones with the smaller molex connectors on the top half to the hole next to the side panel and the larger one to the top. Don't forget the bottom. These only go one way so you can't screw them up, but don't break the main board as this is not serviceable (even my influence has to stop somewhere). Snap the top and bottom covers on and replace the knobs. Plug the radio in and check your work. When the lights are on, all the lights should work, but the lights for the controls for the tape or CD player will be out when the radio is in use and vice versa. So double check this before tearing into the radio again.

Once you're satisfied with the results, put the dash back together and play that Michelle Tumes CD. Maranatha!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fixing a Thermoplastic Battery Tray.

It's Sunday evening, you have to get to work early Monday morning your ride has a broken battery tray. After calling several auto parts stores whose service people tell you the item isn't available in any way shape or form (auto parts stores seem to offer a lot of excuses nowadays. I've never understood this mentality either). All you hear is this is a dealer or junkyard item. Well, on my particular car a junkyard batter tray is not an option because it's money their already broken and the dealer item will also break prematurely. I've yet to see a Buick Rendezvous where the said tray hasn't broke. One young lady whose Rendezvous needed a jump had the battery held in with a bungee cord, NO TRAY. This is very dangerous in that the battery might end up in the water pump and leave you stranded. Bungee cords tend to stretch and a 20 pound battery is going to move when the car does. It will shorten the life of the battery. I did this once with my '75 Nova and it KILLED my battery within a month. Batteries are expensive nowadays, even at Wal-Mart, so jury-rigging isn't an option, or is it?

On the Rendezvous, the tray broke off at the stationary tab toward the front of the vehicle, while the hold down with the bolt was intact. The plastic is black and the consistency of a well made laundry hamper; something easily fixed with a heat gun.

Again, this is at your own risk. Heat guns are HOT and they WILL burn you if you aren't careful. You can cause personal injury and property damage if you screw up. If you still want to do this, use a heat resistant surface like a metal workbench. I used a stainless steel sink away from the Formica counters.

The tab in question is about four and a half inches long and has a weak point that makes it easy to fail. You can heat this together, but it will break again. The the trick is to reinforce it with something, such as the same material the tray is made of. I used a piece of scrap plastic cut to fit against the tab and the rest of the tray and glued in a couple places with super glue. The trick is to heat this together until it starts to melt together, but not to get too gooey. Once the materials melt together, there will still be seams, but the parts will hold together. Take your time and let the plastic cool after a few minutes. Once you're satisfied with the result, run the workpiece under cool water and test it to make sure it'll hold the battery. This is not the time to skimp as it'll need to hold 20 plus pounds going around corners, rolling over, etc. You will have to figure out how much heat you need and when to quit. I took my time and got the materials to fuse together, heating them 'till it was the consistency of putty, but no more.

Carefully put the tray back into the car and the battery back in. Carefully tighten the hold down bolt and try lifting out and sliding the battery.There should be no movement. Any breakage will require fixing it again or biting the bullet and replacing the tray. Maranatha!

Admitting Mistakes (In Spite of Pride).

The one thing that must be said about your work, first and foremost, is that you must care about it; as well as those you do the work for. There is nothing else that matters, absolutely nothing. Even then, you will make mistakes. This is not an option, especially with a new job and especially if you've been out of the loop for a while. I was out of work for a year before being hired by a firm out of Lansing (Thank you Jesus).

If I'm lying, I'm dying, the first week was a pain. It was hot, humid and rainy. The customers were more than nice enough, but having working air-conditioning has a direct effect on one's mood. I've prayed daily to be a blessing to those I've come in contact with and fallen short twice. While arguably, it wouldn't have made much of a difference on at least one of these calls in returning the equipment to working order, it does have a profound effect on customer perception, follow me?

In both instances, it wasn't about condemning the equipment to make a buck. This is not the case, or I'd have to change my moniker to replacinggrace. My aim is to make something work as long as inhumanly possible and economically feasible. The latter is one that's open to interpretation and the customers' perception which is reality. Let's face it, most of us can't swing it to replace everything when it's due. I can't buy a new car every three years to avoid fixing the big stuff, so I have to adapt.

When an air-conditioner leaked at my last employer, it was done. Well, my new boss has a different philosophy. If it's under 15 years old, his view is to try and fix it. I fell flat on my face with a leaking air-conditioner and partially with one with a blown fuse (the latter was moot in that the compressor was trashed, and I told her that, but she was still ticked about it. Who can blame her). I've yet to hear everything that went down with the leaker, but today gave me pause to think this morning when I had another one to deal with.

This one was about the same age as the first one, about 10 years old, give or take a year. It froze up something horrible and it took me several hours and the customer almost $400 to fix it, but it ran like a champ afterward. Hopefully, this guy won't have to see my smiling face for awhile and his A/C will work for another decade with a little maintenance. The point is that nothing is more important on your job than those you're trying to help. If you lose sight of the mission, you lose, your boss loses, and your customers lose. Eyes on the prize, that's where everyone wins as much as possible. Maranatha!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Why I Never Have to Worry (even when I still do).

As of today, several things have happened that have or could have had a significant impact on my life. While the idea is to never be too preoccupied with oneself, there is the hope (at least in this post) of relating to others in similar situations. In times of so much angst and worry, I like to be able to post something positive. Victories sometime seem few and far between and miracles even less so, but Jesus is our source of victories and miracles. In this life, we are dependent on Him whether we acknowledge Him or not. I choose to acknowledge Him because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He intervenes. Let's face it, the numbers don't lie, but even then, Jesus is still Lord.

Unless you've lived in a cave, (this pertains to the United States) you know that the federal government has cut off unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. Up to this point, we were getting half of our money to buy groceries, pay rent, pay bills, etc through unemployment benefits. My wife and I have lived austerely, yet decently for a year and a half while I've been looking for work. (My amounts are N.O.Y.B.). Take away half of someones paycheck and they're going to be hurting. In my case, it would be back to living back with my parents with kids in tow. This would not be a fun thing (I love you mom and dad) for anyone involved, but would beat homelessness to be sure. This is event one; the bad news if you will.

The other momentous occasion was and still is a milestone. I'm now 40 years of age and a member of a protected class now because of my age. Golly, being 40 sure feels like being 39, but it looks a lot older now that the first digit has changed. It could mean that my job search as gotten a lot harder.

The third momentous event took place over several days and finally culminated last Friday (7/2/2010). A couple weeks ago, I applied for a job at a heating and cooling firm in Lansing through the Michigan Talent Bank (This is a job board that has been panned by the uninformed, but it works; pun intended). I got a call 6/29/2010 on Tuesday to come in for an interview (which I did) and I took a test and filled out an application. Friday, the same week, I was called in for an interview. The owner, a really decent guy who knows his stuff and I talked for 15 minutes before he said to me "Have your *** here Tuesday." "Okay, I guess I'll have my *** in here Tuesday then, what time?" was my reply. It was congenial and most importantly, a job.

I've spent the better part of Friday and Saturday getting my tools ready for work next week. Bought a set of manifold gauges, a hose and a micron gauge, as well as some fittings and a fin straightener to replace my worn or missing stuff. The rest just needed to be cleaned and organized to some semblance of usability in the interest of finding something when it's needed. Soldering stuff in one bag, large hand tools in another, cords in one, power tools in their respective boxes and hoses in a huge tote. Basically everything needed to fix a furnace or air-conditioner with some semblance of accuracy is now in my cave.

The part I like so much about this is for the glory of the Lord. He is an over comer of temptation, tribulation, despair, discouragement, calamity, sin and death. In short, everything evil or wicked is overcome through the power of Christ. My mother told me that He knows no recession and I've had head knowledge of that fact, but was eighteen inches from reality (from my head to my heart). Fortunately, this was rectified long before I got this job, so any worry or angst was a non-issue. Let's face it. Being unemployed isn't fun. The paradox is that while someone is at rock bottom in their life, they need to be at the top of their game to find another job. Being able to write clearly and concisely, communicate well verbally (not one of my better attributes) and have some pluck is a job in itself that cannot be taken too lightly. This where faith comes in.

Quite frankly, I've stopped worrying about how or when the Lord is going to take care of me. He just does it and the component of faith is knowing that He will. Maranatha!