Thursday, December 12, 2013

It Could Have Been MUCH Worse!

This is a Goodman 90% furnace next to a
stud wall. Notice the corroded manifold and
burnt paint on top of the cabinet next to the burner box.

The furnace was rolling out bad and the top of the
cabinet was hot to the touch. Notice the paint and sticker.
This would not have ended well.

The bottom three pictures are inside the actual burner box. The front plate of the heat exchanger is an actual part of same and not just a separate shield. The crack goes through right through to the area blowing warm air in the living space. The furnace is also less than an inch from a 2x6 stud, which despite the fact this customer had to buy a furnace today, as he put it "still cheaper than a house." Maranatha!

Document Everything!

Today, I got a boiler to work on this morning with the brand name "Munchkin." Seriously, I can't make this stuff up. Anyway, the customer calls because he has poor heat upstairs and too much heat in the basement. There's an air handler that serves the upstairs with in floor heat and baseboards serving the basement. In my 27 years of working on heating systems, I have never seen a Munchkin boiler or TACO zone valves. After much electrical tracing, swapping powerheads, and replacing a thermostat and transformer, the customer has heat. This isn't what this article is really about, but was a start on my day that began yesterday.
Yesterday, I went to another customer's home because she had no hot water. With the thermostat turned most of the way up the water temperature barely made it to 94 degrees.
I verbally indicated, as well as wrote down that the furnace and water heater were vented into an unlined chimney (they didn't have a flex liner as required by code) as well as a leaking dielectric union at the water heater itself. The utility doesn't cover plumbing as of yet, nor venting but are legitimate safety concerns as there was no inspection sticker on any of the equipment. Fast forward to today, I brought in the part and the customer proceeded to chastise me that she didn't need a liner because the chimney was "too old" and that the water heater wasn't leaking. I promptly took photos of the house outside (which I cannot show for privacy reasons) as well as the venting, placement of the furnace and water heater, the absence of their inspection stickers, and the venting which was in 4 inch single wall for the furnace and three inch single wall for the water heater. Both were vented in different sides of the chimney; making placement of a flex liner impossible.

 You can see in this picture to the right that the union has some fresh water leaking and there are no tool markings as I did not try and tighten it. It would have leaked even more if I did and since the utility doesn't cover plumbing, it would have been up to my employer to cover it. The customer, who is 80 years old, elected to tell her contractor son and she read me the riot act because I was supposedly recommending stuff she didn't need. My only response was "not a problem," and then I got these pictures to cover my behind. This, boys and girls, is why I document everything and I mean everything. Maranatha!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

$30 Pre-Lit Christmas Tree Fix.

About five or six years ago, we bought a new Christmas tree with the lights already installed. This has been great because the idea of stringing lights every year was a real pain. I could just put the tree together, plug it in and it was ready to add ornaments, garlands and the obligatory angel my mother in law made before she passed away. Last Saturday, we put the tree up and I spent nearly two hours replacing bulbs because the top of the lower section inexplicably went dark. I'd change a bulb and several hours later, another bulb would go out. This was getting to be some serious humbug.

Time to buy another pre lit Christmas tree, but a trip to Meijer confirmed these were picked over and the L.E.D. trees were about $100.00 (all they had were white lights). I didn't want to spend $50 on a tree that I was going to have to do this again in a short time either. The one we have, minus some needles, is fine for what we use it for and we live in a trailer. Meijer has a string of 60 L.E.D. or light emitting diode lights for $10. I bought three boxes and went to work.

L.E.D. lights have the advantage of being brighter and use a lot less electricity. They'll also last for about 25 to 30 years without burning out and the bulbs are cool to the touch. The regular incandescent lights are about $3.00 a box, but within a year or two, will be back to square one. I don't have the foggiest idea how many lights you'll need for this, but three to four strands for a six foot tree should work fine. You might also want some small zip ties and a pair of wire cutters to make life easier. Make sure the power is off before you remove the old strands and keep children and pets away. Start with the bottom section first by carefully removing all the old wires from the branches. Some are held on with plastic clips, zip ties, or other methods. Pay attention to how the old wires went on because this is what makes the tree able to fold up and put away. Leave enough slack in the new wire, but no so much that it dangles and you use too much of the strand. It's helpful to have the strand plugged in while securing it to the branches, covering as much of the wire as you can. My advice is to use a few zip ties or those clips to hold the wires to the tree and once you're satisfied with the result, go ahead and secure it the rest of the way. Do the same for the top or subsequent sections, making sure you can un plug the strands between sections like it was on the old strands. This is not hard, but time consuming and it sure beats plunking down another $100 to $150 on a new L.E.D. tree. Merry Christmas and Maranatha!

Restoring Clarity: How to Remove Aftermarket Window Tinting.

You can use this advice for whatever you want. If you have some really nasty window tinting and want to replace it, this article will work for that purpose. The same goes for when you get a fix up ticket for illegally tinted windows on your ride or like me, getting a really small truck that's hard enough to see out of without the windows being a limousine tint on the sides. As I've gotten older and my vision less responsive to low light, I've grown to realize that having as much light at night to properly see the mirrors is important. The truck I'm driving for the next week or two is a 2003 Ford Ranger with vent covers and window tint on the front side windows. Since I'm 6'1", my eyes are level with the top of the window, so the vent covers came off right away. The tint remained and was a source of concern, especially with the police presence and the need to use my side mirrors. With permission from the boss, I got to work and later started to remove this godawful tinting.

In a previous life, the owner was a smoker. A nice burn on the driver's seat and numerous dimples on the inside of the window were a testament to that. The tint itself was also wavy, which distorted the already compromised view to the sides. It was well past time to get this off. However, you need to have the right tools before you begin to make this job quick and easy. There are no substitutions for any of this. As always, be careful as the tools and methods used can cause severe burns and cuts. You can also damage the glass and trim if you are not careful. Do this and any other fixes at your own risk. Do not even think about using this method on a heated rear window. You WILL wreck the defroster grid if you use razor blades on it. A heat gun and some solvent may be the fix here.

  • You NEED a heat gun. A hair dryer may suffice on a warm day, but a heat gun will cost about the same without annoying your significant other.
  • A supply of single edge razor blades, with no scraper. Figure two blades per average sized side window.
  • A jar or other box to put the use blades in.
  • A microfiber towel or two.
  • A bottle of Sparkle glass cleaner.
Roll the window down about halfway and open the door, if applicable. Use the heat gun and warm a corner to get it started and use a razor blade to lift up a corner enough for you to get it with your fingers. Heat a slightly larger swath and pull the tinting gently off the window. Despite your best efforts, the tint will tear so be patient. Just keep working it up with the razor blade and using the heat gun to soften the adhesive. You may find it helpful to use a light slicing motion with the razor blade to get this worked off. Once the tint is off the window, you'll have a lot of sticky mess left. Spray this liberally with the glass cleaner and if you don't want your door trim wet, place a towel over it. Use the razor blade to gently scrape the adhesive off the glass. When blade stops being effective, toss it and get a new one. Really, trying to clean the adhesive off will get you cut fingers and scraping it will ruin the blades anyway. Use a new blade and the cleaner as a lubricant, keep removing the adhesive. Once the bulk if this is off, finish cleaning with the microfiber cloth until the window is clean and clear. You can also try a plastic scraper to remove the adhesive if you're concerned you'll scratch the glass, but if you're careful the razor blades will suffice. Once the windows are clean, you've increased your visibility in your ride. Maranatha!

I'm Back

Two weeks ago, I got a call from my former boss while having a leisurely lunch in Holly. He needed me to perform the repairs for a utility company, which means that I would be covering a lot of territory over three counties. Other than the techs that they already have, I'm going to be doing the lion's share of this work myself. Yes, I took the job and we are back on good terms. Good ability and effort does have its reward and so does forgiveness. My job will focus on repairs and making the customers happy, which is what any technician can hope for.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Buick Rendezvous, (and probably most GM front wheel drive cars) Steering Rack Replacement.

I honestly can't remember if I wrote about doing this before or not, but I'm going to write it anyway. As always, vehicle repairs require you to dot your "i"s and cross your "t"s. You can damage some very critical, expensive and extremely difficult to replace parts if you are inexperienced or in a hurry. Injury, death and property damage can result from any aspect of operating, maintaining or repairing a motor vehicle, whether foreseen or unforeseen. Perform this and all repairs at your own risk and when in doubt, seek the services of a competent professional and certified mechanic. Torque specifications should be obtained for your vehicle and used. Another thing while I'm at this; you need a floor jack and jackstands, as well as wheel chocks and a partner to help out. You will also need an 18mm socket wrench, open end, and flare nut wrench, as well as a 13/16 socket, an 11mm socket, a pry bar, hammer, 10mm socket, rags, gloves and safety goggles, power steering fluid, a steering rack, grease, penetrating oil, two subframe to body bolts (you should, but most don't), a wire brush, as well as a few extensions, a utility knife, some strong tape, a good flashlight and work lights. A hoist is nice if you have access to one, but a level and solid work surface is mandatory. A working grease gun is needed if you're going to get new tie rod ends, and if your vehicle is high mileage, you should.

First thing to do is disconnect the negative battery cable so you don't drain the battery like I did. Chock the rear wheels, set the parking brake, and run the seat belt through the steering wheel. The reason for this is to prevent you from damaging the clockspring inside the steering column, as this is expensive and near impossible to get out of a Rendezvous. In fact you do not want to turn it more than a few degrees with the steering rack off for this reason. It will make the airbag, horn and radio controls not work. Loosen up the lugnuts on the front wheels and raise the front end just enough to clear the tires, and put jack stands under the pinchwelds where the tire changing jack is usually supposed to go. Take these off and get out your 18mm wrench. The outer tie rod ends are held to the steering rack with a jam nut. Use the wrench and a hammer to get those nuts loose, but no more. Then use that wrench to take the nuts off the ball studs to the tie rod ends. The original designs use a nylon insert, but aftermarket ones use a cotter pin to hold the nut in place. Tap the steering knuckle where the ball stud goes in until the rod is unseated. Now this step is important. If you're like me and want to wait before getting a wheel alignment (maybe even avoiding it, but you still should), count the number of turns to get that rod end off the rack, then write that number on the rod end and put on the floor of that side of the vehicle. As long as the rod is fairly new or in good condition, you can re-use it. However, if the ball stud is loose or has high miles, consider replacing them both.

Now for the fun part. You'll need to separate the rack from the sub frame, but the bolts, coupler and lines are a bit of a pain to get at, and as for the coupler, it will be impossible to get off. What you need to do is use a floor jack to support the rear of the sub frame under the rack from the front of the vehicle. You will take your 13/16 socket to remove the rear subframe bolts, and then lower the subframe about 5 inches. You MUST keep this supported with the jack. Now you can remove the bolts and set these aside. I like to go ahead and screw them together with the nuts to keep them from getting lost. The coupler comes off next; this the device that links the steering column to the rack. Unlock the steering wheel if it isn't already. You can peel back the boot that goes over it when the weather is warm, but you may end up cutting it a bit to access the bolt when it's cold outside, (this is why you should probably tape it over once you get done). At this point, the coupler should slide off pretty easily. Loop the seatbelt through the steering wheel, then go back and remove the lines. Place a pan under the car first. You will need to crack them loose with an 18mm wrench, but you should be able to unscrew them by hand. Wiggle the rack through the left side of the car. The new rack is three turns lock to lock, so use a pair of locking pliers to count the turns. You need one and a half turns to center the rack to avoid damage to the clockspring.

Replacing it a reverse of the removal. You will want to install the lines first, starting them BY HAND ONLY. If you can't start them by hand, the threads are crossed and using a wrench will destroy the new part. If the O-rings are damaged, go ahead and replace these first. Once the lines are in as far as you can screw them in by hand, snug them with a wrench (space is very limited). Install the bolts holding the rack to the engine cradle loosely until both are in. The right side is a bit tricky, but a prybar and finesse will get this one lined up. Tighten the bolts securely.

Getting the coupling together will require lots of patience. This has a bolt hole that lines up with a half moon cutout on the rack and there is also a flat spot that is supposed to line up. There is not set procedure for doing this, but there should be enough play to get these together. You may need to raise the subframe enough to get these to mate, but the result is that you should be able to get the bolt most of the way through without forcing it. Use your flashlight to make sure this is lined up and once you're positive things are copacetic, install the bolt. From time to time, grab the coupling with your hand and check it for play, and if the bolt is tightened properly, there should be none. Any play in the coupling will result in your ride handling like a tin tray full of dishes and a lot of play in the steering wheel. It could take you a half hour to get this hooked up right, but the success of this job depends on this bolt and coupling being properly installed. Once this is done, make sure the boot is covering the works and raise the subframe with the jack. Install the bolts (new ones are best, you have to be the judge of this) and tighten them securely. Hard part done!

The jam nuts to for the tie rod ends needs to be installed on the inner tie rods on your new rack. Then install the tie rods ends the same number of turns you took them off. A little grease on the threads is a good idea before you do this though. Make sure the steering wheel is centered before you install the ball studs into the steering knuckles and use the proper nuts and cotters if they came with them. Always use new cotters if you reuse the tie rod ends. If these parts are high mileage, better bite the bullet and replace them now, as the original parts will be sealed and seldom last more than 80,000 miles. Mine were original with 165,000 miles, so these were swapped out with new parts. Hold the ends with a back up wrench and tighten the jam nuts. If the new parts came with grease fittings (zerks) add grease BEFORE you reinstall the wheels. Fill the system with fluid, start the car and bleed the system, moving the steering wheel back from lock to lock. You can raise the engine RPM to about 1500 to help this a bit. It will be very noisy at first. After a few minutes of this. center the steering wheel and check the fluid level. Add more as needed and bleed the system again, repeat until the noise starts to go away and the fluid level is at the full mark. The noise should diminish and then go away entirely. As long as you did your due diligence on installing the tie rod ends, the alignment should not have changed. This means the steering wheel should be straight without having to fight it and there should be no tire scrubbing noise. I would still check the alignment at a shop at the first opportunity to keep from wearing your tires out. Maranatha!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Even I Can't Fix This :(

I have a Frigidaire 18 cubic foot refrigerator, with the freezer on top and white in color that came with my home. This afternoon, my wife called me from home as she was sick and I was out of town. Her issue was that the refrigerator was leaking some brown stuff after cleaning it several times underneath the cabinet. When I got home, after some relaxing the first order of business was to check this out. I got up underneath and sure enough, there was some brown oily looking stuff under the cabinet by the door frame. As I'm totally stuffed up, I couldn't smell it. A good spraying with glass cleaner and paper towels cleaned up the mess. I also removed the back and cleaned the condenser coils with a paint brush and a vacuum as well as flushing out the drain with a suction gun. The defrost timer was on and the food was fairly cold in the freezer, but so-so in the fresh food compartment. The temperature readings were 47 in the fresh food compartment and 28 in the freezer with the cold control all the way down. The ideal temps are 37 for the fridge and 0 for the freezer. Even my cheap Black and Decker dorm fridge is happily keeping this temp without complaint.

My son had already broken one of the crisper drawers; an innocent mistake of not shutting the drawer before closing the door. This is $70 to replace.  What was really disquieting was the fridge was made in 2007 and in otherwise good shape. Since there is no way to check the charge on a domestic refrigerator without installing line taps (Been there done that in the 1980's) I went ahead and cut to the chase.

Breaking out the refrigerant and gas detector, I found a leaks in almost every visible and a couple of not so visible joints in the system.  I have some low temperature brazing rod, as well as a set of gauges and R134a to get this running again. However I have no line taps or fittings and have had limited success with fixing such a late model appliance. The copper appears so thin that too much heat with a MAPP gas torch could wreck it. This says nothing about using an acetylene one, which with silver solder would surely be tricky to get done right. A couple joints are also behind the door frame and these are not happening either and though I have the torch set, I turned in the full Oxygen and Acetylene tanks as well as the silver solder when I left Aire Serv in August. Getting the supplies to fix these would run me about $75 if the supply houses are still willing to sell to me. So fixing this is practically out of the question.
So why not a new fridge? At $500 for the cheapest ones, this isn't happening either. A used one from an appliance store is close to $300 delivered. At this point in time, credit is not happening either. Going to find a (hopefully) used one tomorrow. Maranatha!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Buick Rendezvous Liftgate/Tailgate Switch Fix for under $6 USD

UPDATE!!!! This will only correct a broken switch, which is very common on these vehicles. It will not fix wiring issues or problems with the body control module. I'm in the process of writing an article to fix wiring to doors and liftgates.

A year ago, I told you how to fix the liftgate release button on the Buick Rendezvous. This involves switching the wires terminals to get this operating again. Yesterday, I had two carts of groceries and a carryout waiting. My remote was also dead and after several attempts to open the gate, I had to give up and pile everything into the back seat. Not fun. After getting the groceries home, I took the garnish moldings off the liftgate and sure enough, the switch had failed again. I could  have bought the new switch, which is about $30 to $40 plus wait time. However, this means that it would have the same poor construction as the original. If I were going to keep the car for too long, it would mean a new switch in another year or so. Since the remote is fixed now, this is usually more than adequate. However, there really needs to be a reliable way to open this liftgate without a remote and without buying and installing the subpar parts offered as original equipment on a ten year old car. Eventually, I'd like to replace the car and have already put a ton of time and money into it.

The new switch should fit inside the original niche, for appearance and security reasons. It should be durable, and relatively water resistant. You also want to be able to feel for it and activate it as intuitively as the original. Since there isn't an aftermarket switch that will fit in the same way, you will need to improvise and compromise slightly. Once you get this installed, it will be as easy to use as the original, much more durable and won't look like a redneck repair. You need to remove the bottom garnish molding panel to access the switch. A handful of T-15 screws holds this on the bottom and unsnap the top edge. This is a helluva lot easier than trying to fudge with a universal joint like one article I read. The old switch is also held in with T-15 screws that are now easier to reach with the T-15 screwdriver.

You will need:
  • A starter switch
  • A piece of plastic about 1/8 to 3/16 thick, an old lawn chair or other piece of patio furniture works great as a donor.
  • A pair of wire cutters/strippers, If you don't have a pair, borrow them if you can.
  • Your old switch as a template.
  • Some electrical or foam tape to cover your connections.
  • A hacksaw
  • A drill motor and bits
  • A sharpie marker.
  • A ruler, if desired.
Take your old switch and use it as a guide for cutting out a piece of plastic. You could use metal like aluminum, but it would have to be plate because sheet aluminum would bend. Plastic is much more resilient and easy to work with. I just laid the old switch and used my eyes to plot out holes from two sides to get things accurate. If the plastic is part of a larger piece, drill out your holes first. You will need to get the screws in as well as your starter switch. Use your hacksaw or snips to cut the plastic out. Install your starter switch, making sure that the terminals aren't going to short out on the aluminum liftgate. Depending on the design, you may need to turn them toward the plastic outside panel. Cut off the plug to the old switch and strip the wires. If you solder them, do it. If not, just secure them to the switch, making sure they're tight. Wrap the works in electrical or foam tape and install it in the niche where the old switch was. Install the rubber boot over the switch and test it several times. Reinstall the molding you took off and now you can load those groceries. Maranatha!

Friday, July 5, 2013

A Guide to all that are Water Heaters in a Mobile Home.

Through research and experience, I'll try and help you make an informed decision as what to replace your ailing water heater with, or not. Fuel gas, whether natural gas or propane, electricity, as well as combustion by products are extremely dangerous. This article should never be construed as an instruction manual to install a water heater, which if improperly performed can result in minor to serious injury, death and property damage. Any water heater install should be left to an experienced and qualified service person for evaluation and installation. Your life and those of others depend on it. Perform any repairs or choose equipment at your own risk. There are exceptions to every rule. If you have a wood burner outside, solar cells, or even wind or hydro electricity with some sort of Rube Goldberg setup, these "rules" may not apply to you. If you like heating water outside on an open fire or just love cold showers, these will not apply to you. Having your own nuclear power plant means that you probably don't live in a mobile home, so this will also not apply to you either.

If you have a dedicated closet for your water heater that is only accessible from a door outside, this means that you will need what is called an atmospheric water heater. This isn't unlike a unit in a conventional stick built home, but the main difference being that the cold water line is at bottom side. Although you might be able to physically install a regular home water heater, my advice is don't. These can be either in gas or electric, with the main determining factor being what you already have installed; I'll go into this further in a bit.

If you happen to live in a double wide like mine, or the water heater is accessible from inside your home, then your options got a lot more limited, and expensive. Since these water heaters must draw combustion air from underneath and not the side, an atmospheric water heater will NOT work safely, if at all. The best case scenario is that you'll have it in a sealed closet and it will run out of air because the water heater is covering the air intake. Worst case scenario is that you snuff yourself and your family out. So your choices are either a direct vent mobile home water heater, which has a sealed off exhaust and intake, or an electric water heater made for mobile homes. I'm not going to even entertain tankless units, indoor or outdoor, because these are expensive to buy, expensive to retrofit, and expensive and complicated to maintain and service. Outdoor tankless  (and tank ones) water heaters need freeze protection in case the power or fuel source fails. Indoor tankless units need a complicated vent structure that would need to run through your living space in a mobile home. Even if you happen to have this by an outside wall, you're still going to have to upgrade your plumbing and electrical to some degree to get one to operate. Many are not yet certified to be installed in a mobile home. With their astronomical price of install and maintenance coupled with the inherent depreciation of a mobile home, these are not a wise investment. The small amount you save on your gas or electric bill will be more than eclipsed by the costs to install and use it. Much like a hybrid or electric car, your heater would have to last over 20 years to realize any real savings. Most last 10 to 12 years, which is comparable to a conventional storage tank water heater that costs less than half as much. If you own and are happy with your purchase of such technology, this article does not apply to you. It's unlikely you're living in a mobile home.

So let's say you come to your senses and want a tank water heater. It's going to be a combination of infrastructure, cost and how much you want to get into to replace one. Electric water heaters are simple to maintain, and do not burn fuel so they are inherently safer than a gas one. However, you do have to have at least 100 amp service and if you already have an electric dryer, range and an air-conditioning unit, your panel may already be at its limits. My advice is that if you already have the infrastructure, replace your water heater with the same fuel type. I changed an electric to a gas water heater in 1997 on my old house and it wasn't too bad moneywise, but it took me six hours and a lot of pissing and moaning to get all the plumbing right. This was in a stick built home. If I did this same repair today, it would likely cost me 3 times as much. The assessment is that it isn't worth it to convert in either time or money.

In most parts of the United States, natural gas is cheaper to use than electricity for heating anything. Even something as exotic as a heat pump water heater is going to be triple or more of the price of a gas or electric one (remember depreciation) Truth be told, if the conditions are not right, the electric heating elements will be on a lot anyway. The extra money you spend on a gas over an electric will be recouped in a year due to lower utility bills. Although propane is more expensive than natural gas, it's still far cheaper to heat with that than with electricity. Again, your pocketbook as well as the expected life of the equipment, the costs to maintain it and not just the first cost, must ALL be taken into consideration when selecting equipment to heat your water. In the case of a mobile home, your life as well as your insurance coverage depends on making the correct choice. My advice is to choose wisely. Maranatha!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Fuel Pump Fix for 2004 Pontiac Grand Am, Part Three.

Once the tank is out, and hopefully with the connection unbroken get back under the car to change the fuel filter. Since this connection is going to be rusted, shoot some penetrating oil on the connection and use two flare nut wrenches to get this broken loose. The filter unscrews from the fuel line, which you need to hold stationary with a backup wrench (15mm). I had to use locking pliers to get the old filter off as I couldn't find the correct size. Gas will spill out of this thing and I strongly suggest you getting your peepers out of the way before this comes off.  Sturdy gloves are also recommended as you're working next to the heat shield.  Since the new filter only goes on one way, just hold the fuel line stationary with the backup wrench, tighten the new one on and you're in business.

Now for that locking ring. This is a five sided monstrosity that clamps down on the fuel delivery module and happens to be made of steel, even though the gas tank is made of plastic. While contemporary Chrysler and Ford products use a plastic locking ring you can access with a strap wrench or carefully with a big pair of pliers, GM uses the antiquated locking ring that has been on cars for decades prior. If you end up installing a module off a wrecked car, like I did, it's a guarantee the gasket is going to roll, bunch up and leak. Clean off the top of the tank and use a brass punch or wooden dowel to hammer off the locking ring. Do not use a plastic hammer to hammer off the ring as you will scar the tank. A steel punch could spark and cause an explosion. Remove the spent module and inspect the inside of the tank. If it looks bad inside you will need to clean it out. This means you'll have to use a siphon pump to remove the gas into a proper gas can. I would just use a hose and wash this out, turn it upside down and wait half an hour. Minor bits and pieces probably won't hurt though.

If you're reusing the gasket, and want to avoid a check engine code or gasoline leak when you top it off, put a small thin bead of high temp silicone into the gasket groove before trying to place the gasket. Position the gasket (an o ring really) evenly in the groove and let set for five minutes before setting the "new" module and tightening the locking ring. Look inside as you tighten, to make that o ring didn't squirm out. You'll have to look carefully as if this ring starts squiring, you'll have to undo it and start over. Once you're satisfied the o-ring is staying in place, you can tighten it all the way. Cover the vent and push gently on the tank. As long as you don't hear air escape from that joint, put the tank back under the car, hook the vents up, and then slide the tank over the heat shield on the left side. As long at it's empty, you can lift it high enough to get a bolt started in the straps. Connect the fuel lines and make sure the plastic clips are engaged. Reconnect and install the clamp over the fill tube and hook up the electrical connecter. Tighten the straps, while making sure the left strap is under the heat shield. Install the plastic fastener in the shield to strap hole and the 10mm screw in the heat shield to body one. Pour two or three gallons back into the tank. Go ahead and cycle the ignition key from off to on to prime the pump, then go back under the car to check for leaks. You should be able to hear the pump engage. Then start the engine and check again for leaks. Shut it off, lower the car and clean up your tools. Now your wife, or husband can go pick up that 12 pack of sparkling water. Kick back and crack open a can of cool, carbonated goodness. You've earned it. Maranatha!

Fuel Pump Fix for 2004 Pontiac Grand Am, Part Two

Warning: Gasoline is extremely flammable, poisonous, and carcinogenic. Do not store gasoline in anything but a gasoline can or a fuel tank. Do not use trash cans, diaper pails, soda bottles, detergent containers, anything! Never, ever siphon gasoline with your mouth as it can kill you by getting in your stomach or lungs. Do not work in the vicinity of anything that can cause a spark, open flame or other heat source while working around the fuel system. Power drivers, unless they are air operated, are contraindicated. The car needs be to supported with jackstands or ramps on the rear with the front wheels chocked AND the transmission in park. Disconnect the negative battery cable. NEVER, EVER work under a vehicle supported only with a jack. Never work where the ground is soft. Concrete is best and asphalt should be avoided if all possible as this is unstable with a jackstand. Gasoline will also dissolve asphalt. Never use a steel punch to open the locking ring, as a spark could cause an explosion. I have no control over the quality and due diligence of your work. You should install new, OEM parts for this installation only. The problem is that the parts are close to $300.00 in my neck of the woods. You can get a new fuel pump for less than $80, but some of these are allegedly of questionable quality. If this is the case, a low mileage used part can also be considered, but the O-rings will be stretched somewhat and difficult to reinstall without causing a leak. Do this and any other fixes at your own risk. It would be better to pay a mechanic than to change this part out yourself, to put it bluntly.

You need to disconnect the negative battery cable, chock the front wheels and put the rear on jackstands. I would jack up the right rear only and place the stand as high as it will go on the notch between the rear suspension arms. This will give you enough room to slide out the tank and work on the connections. Undo the return and supply lines from the tank. The one with the blue clip is the return and the green one is the supply what's attached to the filter. The clips have a cover that pry out and the ends push in the line so you can slide it off the metal fitting or fuel filter. The electrical harness unplugs from the passenger side, and the fuel filler comes off with an 8mm socket. Have the auto parts counterperson explain the fittings to you, as these will make more sense than I could show you. When you remove the fuel filler hose, no fuel will come out as there's a one way valve so no worries there. Remove the push fitting holding the heat shield to the left fuel tank strap as well as the 10mm screw next to it holding the heat shield to the body. Be very careful as this shield has raw edges and is very sharp. Carefully bend this away from the plastic tank as you will need to put it back when you reinstall same. Undo the 14mm bolts holding the straps and ease the tank down. A creeper or old bedspread will keep you from gouging the tank as you lower it. There are two plastic vent hoses still attached to the tank and these are easy to remove. Squeeze the fitting on the smaller one forward and gently pull to remove. The larger one to the rear is held on with a molded fitting with two plastic tabs. Use a small screwdriver to disengage the tabs while gently applying pressure to get this fitting off.  Remember, this stuff is plastic and dealer only. BE CAREFUL and study how these are hooked on before you start tugging.

As long as everything is off the tank, with the bedspread under it, use the handle on the right side to gently pull the tank out. You will have to wiggle it out, but if it's no budging or act like it's stuck get back under the car and find out why. The straps could be in the way and you don't want to break them. I lied, I'll write part three tomorrow. Maranatha!

Fuel Pump Fix for 2004 Pontiac Grand Am. Part One

From 1986 to 2005, GM came up with the N body cars that encompassed the Pontiac Grand Am, Olds Calais, Olds Achieva, Olds Alero (dumb made up names) along with the Chevy Beretta/Corsica, Olds Cutlass, and Chevy Malibu. For the most part, these cars were decently made, with a fair amount of room, efficiency, reliability, and with a little bit of care, longevity. Most of the earlier examples have dissolved into clouds of rust, but the later ones are still plodding up and down Michigan highways and byways taking their owners where they need to go. Ours was one of the last to roll out the Lansing Car Assembly plant before it was shut down in 2005. We bought it in January  2006 with 17,000 miles on the odometer. In the seven and a half years we've had this car, we've changed a power window regulator, two sets of tires, four brake rotors, two brake calipers, three or four sets of pads, a master cylinder, two wheel bearings, two tie rods, four strut plates and two struts, a washer pump, the headlights, two sets of tail lights bulbs, a hazard switch and the radio. As of June 2013, we have 103,000 miles or so on the clock.

Yesterday, my wife called me letting me know her (our) car has stalled out in the middle of the left turn lane on a busy highway. I drove out there, several miles in ten minutes to push and then call a tow truck to get this heap home. After checking the fuel pressure and jumping out the fuel pump relay, my diagnosis was a burned out fuel pump. In days of old, the fuel pump lived on the engine towards the front and operated very much like the water pumps of old did. These were fairly easy to get to and remove, required simple tools and you could be on the road for under $30 and an hour. Since the 1980's car makers have been making their vehicles fuel injected. This has made them easy to start as well as controlling emissions and improving fuel economy somewhat. It also helps provide much more power than could be realized 40 years ago. The pumps are conveniently located in the fuel tank (note use of sarcasm) and are operated electrically. The actual motor is about the size of a roll of quarters and is buried in a cocoon of plastic and connected to the fuel sending unit. Because of the small size and high demands, these depend on a steady stream of gasoline going through them as well as a bath in same to keep cool. These parts should last for a while, and I've owned a lot of cars over my driving career and only replaced one on my 1977 Olds Delta 88 in 1988.

One can argue up and down, and as cheaply made as cars and their parts are made today, but the fuel pump can and should go to 200,000 miles with reasonable care. The fuel filter needs to be swapped with a new one every 30,000 miles or so and most importantly, the driver needs to make a habit of filling the tank when it gets down to a quarter tank. One factor that is completely out of control of the driver is that the quality of gasoline has plummeted as prices have quadrupled in the past 13 years. Ethanol, a popular oxygenate, is also corrosive to metal and some plastic parts. It doesn't have the lubricating quality of gasoline and unlike same, which is an insulator, alcohol is a conductor of electricity. Alcohol is also hygroscopic, which means that it attracts and absorbs water, which is further corrosive to the fuel system. Admittedly, when I removed the fuel filter (never changed it) it was filled with black stuff and the sock to the fuel delivery module was also black. In the interest of not being long winded, I'm going to make this a two part.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Why I Don't Cover My Air Conditioner, and Why You Shouldn't Either.

Let's be clear, this isn't the window or through the wall unit that's too difficult or heavy to remove. These should be covered during the winter to help prevent heat loss. I'm talking about the units that sit outside, connected to the house with a wire and line set (the plumbing that carries coolant or refrigerant in and out of the equipment).  The most obvious reason is that homeowners want to keep leaves out. I've even had one customer fabricate a wooden "roof" to keep the icicles from smashing it to bits. Still another insisted on wrapping everything with non permeable plastic because he swore it was raising his heat bills (that guy was a few tacos short of a platter, but I digress). 

I'm not going to beat around the bush. Covers are a terrible waste of money at least and will destroy your air conditioning system in one season. If the cover doesn't breathe, condensation will bead up inside in the winter and rust it out. I found this out the hard way on my own outside unit when the bottom was completely rotted out. The compressor was nearly sinking into the ground. If the unit you have is an air to air heat pump, a cover will ruin any efficiency trying to run it in the winter. Common sense would dictate otherwise, but this is getting so rare some believe it's a superpower. Accidentally running the AC on with a cover will cause the pressures inside to skyrocket, doing permanent damage to an expensive unit. In the case of the man who put the wooden roof on his, it caused a huge leak. Leaks are pricey and very time consuming to fix, even for seasoned technicians.

The other option is one you may not have realized, but one out of ten of my no cooling calls are the direct or indirect result of mice or other rodents getting inside during the winter. Since the cover shields the unit and keeps it out of the wind, mice are more than happy to build a nice warm nest inside the electrical compartment. Not only do they urinate and defecate inside, rusting out the frame and corroding electrical parts, their constant munching on wires can cause an open or short circuit. The result is a tripped breaker, blown fuse, a ruined transformer or control board. Damaged wires will have to be spliced or replaced as well as the corroded parts. Many new units also have circuit boards in that compartment; replacing them could be in excess of $500. The average service call is at least $300 to clean the mess and trying to salvage the damaged wiring.

So what to do about the leaves getting in? First and foremost, a few leaves inside aren't going to hurt these units. Next, these also need annual maintenance and cleaning. This should include inspecting and testing the electrical, cleaning the outdoor coil and all other accessible parts that do require disassembly. The temperatures going in and out should also be checked as well as filters cleaned or replaced (filters are usually extra). As long as there isn't a problem, the tech has no reason to put gauges on the system either (yes, I'm getting on a tangent). You will lose a very minimal amount of heat through conduction from the outside unit, but you'll lose far more just going inside and out on a typical winter day. They're also built to stay outside and even the lowest end ones have very durable finishes that can take the punishment as long as they can dry off. Even the motors are protected from the rain, snow and sun, and the patina of rust on some of these parts will not affect the operation. Besides, if Junior decides to play with the thermostat in the winter with no cover on; no harm done other than it freezing up a bit. Conclusion: covers are best for humans, not for air conditioners. Maranatha!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

2008 and newer General Motors Tire Monitor Fix.

When dealing with tires or anything relating to same, refer to the owners manual as well as the tire placard on the inside of the driver's door. The van we'll be dealing with is a 2008 Chevrolet Express 2500 (3/4 ton). Incorrect tire pressures can result in excess fuel consumption, excess wear, poor handling, tire failure as well as injury up to and including death and of course property damage. It is the responsibility of the owner as well as qualified service personnel to make sure that proper procedures for tire servicing are followed. Vehicle manufacturers, (save for the van in question, which has been the same look since 2003, but the dash was redone in 2008) can and do change their designs and can render this obsolete. Tire pressures must be checked when they are cold or the readings will be inaccurate. "Cold" means driven less than a mile if at all humanly possible. Do this and any other fixes at your own risk.

GM has had the GMC Savanna and Chevy Express in their current configuration since 2003. Only minor changes to the dashboard, some electronics and steering wheel changed in 2008. This is also when the United States mandated tire pressure monitoring systems in every new vehicle. The Express is my work truck with 130,000 miles . The tire pressure monitoring system is pretty durable even though it seem to confound mechanics in my neck of the woods.  Every time I go to get the tires rotated or like last week, replaced it seems like it's a sure thing that I'll be staring at the tire pressure warning light. It's a yellow light with the cross section of a tire and an exclamation point. In addition, the message center / odometer will send you the GM equivalent of "warning Will Robinson!"

After talking to the mechanic who said he needed two hours to reset this monstrosity with a special scanner, I read the owners manual. These have a wealth of information, including how to initialize this system. To really understand, you need to know how this works. There is a sensor in each wheel and each sensor has a radio transmitter (guessing here) with a unique identification. The body control module (again, guessing to over generalizing) is programmed with the parameters including the required tire pressures of each wheel. In the case of said 2008 Chevy Express 2500, the pressures are 50 p.s.i. in front and 80 p.s.i. in the rear. The computer cannot "see" where the tires are at relative to where they are on the vehicle, so there is a procedure to get it to recognize each tire by the ID number in the sensor. The computer "reads" this in a set sequence that the computer and user understand. Unless a battery is low or a sensor needs replacement, you do not need a scan tool to reset these. You do need a key to push the valve core to let air out, a high pressure air hose to let air in, and a few minutes.

All you need to do is start the engine and notice there are four buttons stacked to the left of the gauges. The only two you need initially are the one on the bottom with the check mark and the second one from the top with a picture of a car. Read these a couple times first and commit to memory as the time will be limited once you start. Roll down the window and close the door. The transmission needs to be in park and the parking brake set. Reach through the window from the outside and push the button with the car on it until "push (check mark button) to relearn tire positions" appears. Push the check mark button and the horn will chirp. Let out or add air to each tire, starting with the left front, right front, right rear and ending with the left rear. You are walking counterclockwise as seen from the top of the vehicle. When the computer recognizes the tire, the horn will chirp and will be your cue to move to the next wheel. When the left rear wheel is done, the horn will chirp.  Set the tires to the correct pressure and confirm their positions on the dashboard info center by pushing the top button until it shows the tire positions and the pressures. The tire pressure light should also be out. as long as you are satisfied with your results, put the caps back on and let someone else use the air hose. Maranatha!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Mobile Home Floor Fix.

First of all, there are many schools of thought in repairing a busted floor in a mobile home. If you own a pre 1980 model, it's likely it's going to have particleboard subfloors. Whether it's a pipe that breaks, kids run through the house like a bunch of drunken hooligans and before you know it, you have soft spots in your floor you find yourself playing hurdles over. I'm going to assume you have basic carpentry skills and some tools. You'll need a circular saw, reciprocating saw, a radial arm or chop saw if you can borrow one, a framing square, a good battery powered drill driver with an electric brake, 2 inch and possibly 4 or 5 inch deck screws, some glue, a tape measure, gloves, a pencil, as well as some 3/4 plywood or OSB, some 2x4s and/or 2x6s.

I'm going to assume you're going to have to cut out the damaged sections. If water was involved, you have to remove them. If not, you can just cover them over with new subfloor. If you do this you will need longer screws and pay attention to where the joists are. My advice is to remove the damaged sections even if you are planning to just cover it over. If there are any water lines that look questionable, fix them now too. I use Shark Bites in place of the PEX connecters. They're expensive, but they work. Remember, this is dangerous, dirty and tiring work. Be very cognizant where you're cutting, screwing together wood, or even gluing as these can cause serious injury up to and including death as well as property damage. Do not use power tools if you are tired, high, drunk, stupid or any and all of the above. I have no control over the quality of your work, so you alone take the credit or responsibility for same. Do not work on moldy or mildewed floors as these should be removed by a professional versed in mold remediation. This work could exceed the value of your mobile home. Do not assume this fix is or that these are a complete or comprehensive set of instructions. You have to adapt to fit your situation and when in doubt, call a professional.

Use your circular saw set to a depth of your subfloor only to score the damaged parts. Do not use a reciprocating saw as you may hit wires, gas or water lines. Make your holes as square as possible as it will save you hours of frustration trying to fit patches. Sister up the joists with the 2x4s to give something to screw your new subfloor into. This means using screws to secure the 2x4s to the joists or 2x6s if you want. You'll also want to use 2x4's perpendicular to the joists to attach the new subfloor to the old with screws. Just screw them from the top with the lumber underneath the edges of the old floor. Be careful that you use screws that are long enough to secure them, but not so long they go through your hand while trying to hold it underneath same (OUCH!). Then just measure your patch and secure it with more screws, using one every 6 or 7 inches and construction adhesive if desired. Replace the floor covering with one of your choice. Maranatha!

Sweaty Toilet Solution.

One thing that irks me more than dead cell phone battery or a floor repair is a sweaty toilet tank. I've read lots of fixes for these, and I'm going to give you mine. You know your situation best, but I live in a mobile home and some of what works for a stick built home will be a pain for a mobile home. For one thing, more fittings in a stick built home are bad, but in a mobile home, these can be disastrous. Water leaks in a mobile home are as bad as a fire and just as destructive. Installing a tempering valve will take away from the aesthetics of the bathroom. Mounting the valve below the floor or in a cabinet will be inconvenient or impossible. If this is one of the old school toilets with a 3 to 5 gallon tank, part of the problem is that the water is going to stay cold for a long time. Trying to temper this with hot water will add up after awhile, so unless you happen to have stock in your utility or propane company, I cannot recommend these valves for a toilet.  If this works for your abode, then you don't need my advice. These valves can fail, are expensive to install and if you have an older toilet are not going to give you the results you're looking for.
For once I'm going to strongly suggest you replace the entire toilet with a newer, low flow model with an insulated tank. Insulation kits for a retrofit will not last even if you do manage to get them to stick and more likely than not, will not work. I am going to add that a good toilet that you won't need to plunge every other flush isn't going to be cheap. The $50 to $60 setups will clog to the point of driving you to distraction. Some of the ones that use air pressure will work, but you will pay dearly for them. In excess of $200 or $300. Niagara toilets are the best ones on so many levels, but these are also in the upper $100s if you can even find one retail. These are sold wholesale only, which isn't an option. However, there is an alternative that will work to give you a good flush, stop the sweating, and look good.
Menards is one home center I don't mind going to for my home improvement needs, some work tools, and maybe even some clothing and grocery items. They have a huge selection of toilets online and quite a few in store. The one I'm going to point you out to, as long as you don't mind white, is made by EnviroFlush for under $120. It's white, contemporary d├ęcor with an elongated bowl and ADA approved. I comes with everything short of a water line to install it and the directions are very clear and concise. It has a soft closing seat, which is cheap looking, but very durable and most importantly, an insulated tank. For those environmentally conscious, this beauty uses 1.28 gallons a flush and works very well for the money. It beats our 1.6 gallon American Standard we spent $140 on a couple years ago in the other bath when the tank on the old one cracked. We have to keep a plunger in that room all the time. With the EnviroFlush, we've never used a plunger, ever. The tank has never sweat it out once either.
Because the directions are so good, there are only a couple things to add. You need to replace the stop valve when you replace the toilet if the condition is at all questionable. If you don't have one, now is the time. Spend the extra few bucks and get a good quarter turn one as these will last nearly forever. The old school twist and shout ones will fail in a major way when there's a leak and the main shutoff is so far away. Add a flood guard line to this for good measure. Your insurance agent will thank you. I receive no money for products I recommend. Maranatha!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Quick Fireplace Fix

And when I mean quick, I mean smoking fast. If you have any fireplace that uses a millivolt generator to keep the burner on, and the flames go on and off, you may want to read this. A millivolt generator is just a fancy term for a big thermocouple or thermopile. Heat from the pilot burner flame touches the generator and makes about five to six hundred millivolts, or about a half a volt. This is supposed to open the main gas valve when the wall switch to your fireplace is turned on. After about ten years or so, the pilot burner and generator wear out and may not work reliably. If the volts generated are less than 500 millivolts with the switch off, then you need to replace the pilot assembly with the thermopile included. Don't try and replace these separate as these parts can break trying to get them out anyhow.
If you've done this, or you are already getting at least 500 millivolts, then you might want to look at the switch on the wall (I would still replace these parts if over ten years old as heat will weaken them). Frequently, builders will use a 120 volt wall switch to operate the low voltage. The switches cost the builder or installer less than fifty cents and will do the job, for a time. The problem comes when the switch starts to wear out a bit. For 120 volts, this isn't an issue because the force of the electricity will overcome the wear for decades. The very low pressure from the millivolt generator won't be able to overcome the resistance of this switch and the result is your fireplace is going to go on and off quite a bit. The fireplace manufacturer has a switch that is supposed to be used and it's designed for low voltage operation. It's also over $30 to $40 for the switch wholesale if you can get it. However if you want to have your fireplace working right you need to use this part and not cheap out. Maranatha!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Just Enough to Be Dangerous

Knowledge is one thing that I love to share; whether it's about Jesus, cars, children, or my day job it does no good if you can't teach others what you've learned. However, knowledge is simply knowing something. Unless you apply it, it could be embarrassing at least and dangerous or deadly at worst. Customers and technician wannabes can get into serious trouble trying to diagnose and fix their own heating and cooling systems.
What really brought this into focus was a call one of my coworkers got last night. They declined for him to come over, but insisted that either the board or igniter had failed. A talk with the homeowner and her boyfriend confirmed this as I made my way to their home. I was there a year ago, and knew the furnace was on its last leg last time I went over there. It was 20 plus years old and had a faulty igniter (I noticed the customer replaced this part after my last visit). A little poking around the cabinet and I found that the limit to the vent had tripped and I immediately sensed trouble. I reset the limit and the furnace came on. As it did, the   vent got really hot and I decided I've better get the combustion analyzer. The readings in the vent were over 350 degrees F for an 80% efficient furnace and the carbon monoxide level was over 50 parts per million. A check for carbon monoxide in the duct work was 15 parts per million, more than enough to be dangerous with exposure over time. 35 ppm is enough to give you a headache and dizzy in 6 to 8 hours, but any exposure will  cause permanent damage over time.
I couldn't find any cracks at the heat exchanger and offered the customer to use our infrared camera (a $3000 piece of hardware) but she elected to replace the equipment. Any carbon monoxide over the furnace isn't good and from experience, not all heat exchanger problems are visible depending on the construction. I've had to fill some with water to prove a problem.
Lesson hopefully learned; unless you've been through some experience and training and do this for a living you may want to gracefully decline diagnosing this yourself. The gentleman who did this would have been swapping parts and the furnace still would have cut out. Worse yet, he could have tried to bypass that limit and really run into some problems where the outcome would have too grim to think about. I've been doing this for almost twenty-seven years and can't claim to know everything, or even come close. Between me and my employer we have over five thousand dollars per tech in diagnostic equipment and much training and knowledge to bear on a problem. A layperson trying to solve a problem is going be hit or miss at best. To put it another way, you wouldn't want me trying to settle a legal dispute, or performing open heart surgery as my results wouldn't even be fair to midland. Who wants fair to midland with legal or medical issues? You shouldn't settle for a mediocre result on your home comfort equipment either. Call a pro and have it done right.
Yes, I do offer fixes, but only after diagnosing and ruling out other issues that could put you and others at risk. I can't stress enough that you and you alone are responsible for applying knowledge in reasonable and safe manner. Besides, the internet is no substitute for a competent heating and cooling technician with the proper tools, knowledge and the wisdom to apply them in a given situation. Maranatha!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Avoiding a Used Car Crisis, Kicking the Tires

Okay, I'm carving this up into manageable bits for you to read, digest and enjoy; or at least use an excuse to use your nausea medication. Car dealers and curbstoners (those people who buy cars and fix them up to sell) have your number the minute you enter their domain. They're going to portray that vehicle in the best light possible and even a reputable dealer isn't going to know the history of same. To make matters worse, they're going to clean out all those receipts and service records and steam clean all those pesky oil drips from underneath.

I've even heard of people buying a truck, removing the interior, and the odometer, driving it to death, and then re-installing the odometer and interior that look brand new. Ideally, you should take the car to a mechanic not in cahoots with the dealer. He or she should look for problems and will charge you some money for the service, but will be well worth it. If you want to do this on your own, you're crazy, but it can be done. First of all, check the tires. If they're brand new on a two year old car, the alignment is likely off due to frame damage or other problems. If the tires aren't new, check the tread for evenness and make sure the wear bars aren't showing (they're perpendicular to the tread if the tire is worn). Any uneven wear means that suspension parts are worn or the frame is damaged. Look at the underside next for rust and rot (anywhere salt is used to deice roads).

You're also looking for new or broken parts. On a two or three year old car, the exhaust, steering and suspension should be original to the vehicle and have the same patina as the rest. Ball joints and tie rods usually, but not always last at least 100,000 miles and the originals will not have grease fittings (this is the industry standard). New parts could mean more wear or miles than the odometer might suggest (In Michigan, where our roads are the pits, it could also mean normal wear and tear). Exhaust systems usually last at least 200,000 miles or more, so new exhaust parts mean the same thing.
While you're under there, look for any parts with "junkyard tattoos." These are those yellow marks made when parts are purchased used and also denote wear outside of the norm. It could also signal damage that the dealer or someone else is trying to cover up.

 Starters, alternators and other parts should also last 100,000 to 150,000 miles. Replacement parts before this time frame can also signal problems with the electrical system someone tried to diagnose. The only thing you should see brand new, or aftermarket under the hood is the battery. These seldom last more than three or four years. Look for leaks on the engine, transmission, differential and steering. These are time consuming and expensive to fix. Also look for burned and corroded wires and harnesses, and especially for anything not in an original harness. Wiring repairs are fine, but improper repairs are not. If the car has or had an aftermarket stereo installed, think long and hard before buying this heap. Amps, subwoofers, capacitors and the like put a huge strain on the alternator and electrical system. All that thumping is also hell on the bodywork.

Speaking of bodywork, look for excessive rust and body filler. Take the car out and wash it, checking for water leaks in the cab and cargo area. There should be no rust holes or missing body sealer and certainly no water lines in the floor, carpet or anywhere else. If there are any water leaks or damage, reject the car. Body repairs are more expensive than you might think, and can cause expensive electrical issues. Make sure all the electrical accessories work. Drive to a dark area and check the dash lights to make sure they work (An automatic car wash is great for this). These are expensive to fix on a newer car. Run the heater and air conditioner, making sure there are no strange sounds or smells. The steering, brakes and transmission should also have no surprises and operate smoothly with no noises. The engine should accelerate smoothly without missing, knocking or pinking. Check the gauges and make sure all the warning lights come on. Pay attention to the airbag, antilock brakes and brake warning light. If none of these light, or stay lit, reject the car. The airbags should be intact and the covers firmly attached. Some will sell a vehicle with blown airbags, packing the cavities with rags or paper towels. This means they'll not work when you need them most. Don't buy the car. Another one of my pet peeves is auto glass, especially the windshield. the windshield should be original to the car or at least installed correctly. Rust around the glass means the windshield will leak or pop out in a crash. They also need to be installed with a urethane caulk and bonded on a molecular level. Feel around the inside edge of the windshield and if there's anything sticky, this means someone could have used butyl to secure it. Butyl will not hold up in a crash and neither will silicone. Move along.

Now raise the hood and check the engine compartment. Look for leaks, junkyard tattoos, shoddy work, redneck repairs and excessive rust, especially on the strut towers. This is very common on Chrysler minivans 1996 through the mid 2000's and means the vehicle has to be scrapped. Excessive rust on anything structural also means the car is nearing the end of its useful life. Check the oil, which should be a clear amber color and look under the oil cap with a flashlight. Black gooey sludge means the oil hasn't been changed in a long time. Automatic transmission fluid should be a deep red in color. If it's brown or black and smells like varnish, this means it's burned. Also look at the coolant to make sure it's clean and consistent in color. If it's muddy, the cooling system is suspect. Yes, I understand there are many colors of coolant out there, but most are either green, yellow, pink or orange in color. Cooling system repairs are also annoying to expensive to fix and are the main reason motorists get stranded. Any and all cooling fans must work as these are expensive as well. You also want to walk around the car with the engine running and the lights on. Bulbs that are out aren't a huge issue for the most part, unless they're L.E.D.s or H.I.D. headlights. Blue smoke out of the exhaust pipe means the engine is burning oil and white, sweet smelling smoke means the cylinder head is warped, cracked or head gasket is checking out.  Also look for obvious body damage and new parts that might indicate a crash. If so inclined, go ahead and try Carfax, but these services are a lot more limited than most are lead to believe and easily circumvented. Better to have a mechanic inspect your prospective vehicle. This is much better than any extended warranty and will save you gobs of money and time in the long run. Maranatha!

Avoiding a Used Car Crisis, Terms and Conditions

Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm not a car expert. I'm a handyman and fix and install heating and cooling for a living. I don't live in a fancy house by the beach and wife isn't high maintenance. This is my lot in life; not a lot, but it is my life. I also love my spouse and that goes double for Jesus. I also want to share my years of experience and my mistakes with you in a non judgmental manner. Car loans; the terms and conditions are probably the most insidious part of making a major purchase and can wreck your credit, finances and your personal life in short order. If you have to make payments, they must be affordable even if the car is going to be a lawn ornament. If you have to buy a service contract to help you fix it, my advice is to buy a less expensive car to repair, or one that you can fix yourself. Service contracts also have different terms and conditions and will pay for certain repairs up to the mileage and time frame stated on same. This is usually rolled into the balance of the loan and you'll still be paying on it when the contract expires. This is something you need to be aware of when buying same. It doesn't mean you won't be fixing the car, but it does mean that certain repairs will be covered in a certain time frame. They're a way for the dealer to make money for sure, but not a bad investment if the car you buy is borderline.
Car loans are using the bank's money to make your purchase. They usually charge interest at an annual percentage rate, which means that they charge interest on the yearly amount you owe. It also means that your  first year or two will be paying interest on the loan, and then on the principal or the amount you've borrowed to begin with. Even at a 6% interest rate, an $11,000 amount will exceed $16,000 over the life of the loan. This is something that comes due, even if your ride is on blocks and your house is one wheels. If you're delinquent on your loan, then add repossession fees and the fact that these guys will break something taking your vehicle. This is a good reason to save up for the dad blamed thing, but if you must borrow, it's something to consider. Maranatha!

Avoiding a Used Car Crisis, A Little Research

When looking for a car, or truck, the first thing you need to ask yourself is "am I feeling lucky?" Well are you? Of course you don't, but to be honest, when can you say you've been really lucky with a used car? Luck has nothing to do with it, but a little planning and even some risk management can help you avoid a jam, and get you though when you do get jammed.

First of all, most of us are going to have car payments of some sort, but the vehicles I've had the best "luck" with and have had the longest life for the least amount of money are the one's I've paid cash for. My Rendezvous has already outlived my Intrepid miles wise and I've had it almost three years. Even though I've had to replace an air conditioner compressor, a steering rack and struts and have had to pay for them, this is still less than a loan on a newer vehicle. I've also avoided a lot of extra expense by being able to fix minor repairs myself. A little creativity and research has saved me thousands of dollars over what a dealership would charge. This is what I mean by risk management. Before you even consider buying a used car, research what you want. Consider yourself driving, paying for the gas and fixing it. If you can't visualize yourself doing all three, then you need to reconsider buying the car. If you can't visualize yourself driving this off a cliff without hardship, then you need to reconsider buying the car.

Go to any local auto parts store website and find out how much parts are to replace. Then compare them to your current vehicle. The prices alone may be enough to make you consider another model. Ask a few local independent mechanics what they think of repairing it. More often than not, they'll gladly offer their opinions on same. If you have time, watch a few videos on You Tube or other video sharing site on what it takes to fix the car you want. Notice this is before you set foot in a dealership, not after. You will save yourself hours of frustration and hundreds of dollars by rejecting a vehicle before you darken their doorstep. Maranatha!

Avoiding a Used Car Crisis: The Attitude.

Buying a car is probably the worst purchase you can make from an investment standpoint. The moment it drives off the lot, it loses ten to twenty percent of its value and depreciates like mad thereafter. By the time you pay a twenty thousand dollar loan, the car is worth about a tenth of what you paid for it. Despite this, people will still funnel their hard earned money into them and many will be paying on a paperweight by the time they're done. My Intrepid was a case in point. I took out eleven thousand plus a grand and a half for a service contract. Even though the contract paid out over thirteen thousand in repairs, the car was worth $200 to a junk dealer plus the tow by the time the loan was over. I had barely driven the car forty thousand miles because it spent the last year and a half in the parking lot, with a failed engine and steering gear.
Granted, this was not a new car. For most of us, a used car makes fiscal sense as the depreciation has already been paid by someone else. Cars are a lot more reliable then they have been in recent years, despite  all the technical wizardry they have. Even with that, parts will still break and they're a helluva lot more expensive than they were in years past. Labor has also gone up 300% in past 26 years of my driving career.  Mandates for safety, emissions and theft protection are also increasing. All of these add layers of complexity, as well as making problems more difficult to diagnose and fix. Airbags, seat belt pretensioners, express windows, struts and other components found on modern cars also present an element of danger that must not be ignored. These are the bare essentials. If your vehicle has options such as four or all wheel drive, power accessories or anti-lock brakes, these layers are added even more.
What I'm trying to say is that buying a used car is more than going to the dealer to pick out your ride and sign the paperwork. You need to add some street smarts and understand that the simpler, the better. I'm going to go out on a limb and say to stay away from any hybrid, luxury, a turbo or supercharger, or vehicle with all wheel drive and you'll avoid most issues straight away. Unless you're well off, stay away from any diesel pickup truck as repairing these engines is in the tens of thousands and usually involves pulling the cab off to fix a major part. If you want to disagree, that's your opinion and this from my experience. I like diesels and know how they work, but the emissions controls are what kill them nowadays. Continuously Variable Transmissions or CVT's are more common, but reliability is spotty. Modern automatic transmissions are also expensive to fix, but you can head these off with maintenance.  Most cars also come with power locks and windows standard, and these cost more to fix but not by much if you know what you're doing. Power and heated seats are nice when they work, but expensive to fix. Navigation systems, Bluetooth, and remotes are also nice while they work. Kitschy options such as mood lighting are really from the bygone era of conversion vans and really don't belong in a car. High intensity discharge lights are also in the hundreds of dollars to fix when they burn out. Again, when buying a used car, or even a new one, keep it simple. A vehicle is a means to an end, for you and carrying friends, family and groceries in relative safety and comfort. Cars should not be status symbols or a retreat and asking for anything besides basic transportation is asking for trouble. Sorry if this is rambling, but from the problems I've seen out there , a needed one. Maranatha!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Buick Rendezvous Spare Tire Carrier Fix.

PLEASE READ BEFORE YOU COMMENT!!! This is an alternative to replacing a broken spare tire winch on your vehicle. If you feel the need to make snide remarks, be warned this blog is moderated and your comment will NEVER see the light of day. I will BLOCK YOU!

For anyone who's ever owned a GM "U" body van or crossover, you will have a problem with spare tire winch. This isn't a matter of "if" but "when" and that "when" is usually sooner than later. In the best of circumstances, these winches are a pain to use and hauling a dirty spare tire out from underneath won't make your day better. You'll still have to put the full sized spare inside the cargo area if you own a Rendezvous or later model Aztek. This is because the aluminum rear suspension will get in the way. Usually, there's a D ring in the cargo area to mount these, along with a hook and nut molded into the cover for the jack and lug wrench. These are more than adequate for holding a full sized spare, but not the doughnut if the spare tire winch breaks. This is because the bolt will protrude through the narrower spare, snagging on anything and everything, not to mention injuring anyone getting in the vicinity of same.

Newer cars forego the spare tire and pack a pump and tire sealant. This isn't a bad idea if you're careful, have towing coverage and if and only if the tire carcass is still intact.. From my experience, a flat tire isn't the only reason you need to swap out a wheel on the side of the road. I've damaged a wheel striking a curb. No amount of tire slime will fix a bent wheel or injured sidewall.

As always, there is inherent danger in any modifications to a car or truck. Vehicles are crashed tested in their original equipment configuration and thus conform to federal safety standards in same. Any modifications, no matter how subtle, can cause injury, death or property damage. It is the responsibility of the vehicle owner to insure that all work done to their vehicle will not cause or further an unsafe condition thereof. Do this and any other modifications to yours at your own risk. I have no control over the quality, or lack thereof of your work. Even the original equipment spare tire carrier can expose you to liability if it fails, and this is why most remove or simply don't use them.

The fix is simply a revision to the method of securing a full sized spare in the car after changing out a flat tire. You'll need a 5/16" threaded hook, the OE nut from your cover, or a wing nut and fender washer if not available. You'll also need some dense polystyrene or similar foam about 2 to 2 1/2" thick to go under the doughnut over the carpeting (you could also make this spacer out of wood, rubber or plastic, but it has to fit under the tire and support its weight). If you're using a full sized tire (not a bad idea) then a mat will work. Cut a 2" hole in the center of whatever you're using. This goes over the D ring I told you about. That 5/16 threaded hook will have standard thread, while that nut that came with the car will have metric thread. You can have this tapped out to accept the standard thread without too much issue. If not, you can opt for a fender washer and wing nut and put the threaded part through one of the lug holes on your wheel. Put your foam to fit over the D ring, and use the hook end of the threaded hook on the D ring. Center the tire over it install your nut on top of the foam. If the threaded part sticks over the spare, mark and trim with a hacksaw and file or grind off the burrs. The Idea of the foam is to protect the carpet and allow you some room to get the full sized tire in there in a pinch by removing the foam.

If you really want to get fancy, you can find or make a spare tire cover out of some carpeting and a piece of plywood to fit over the spare and clean up the cargo area. Obviously. if you have a tray or third seat, this fix isn't likely to work. You'll have to bite the bullet and buy the faulty GM tire winch, take the risk of driving without the spare, get rid of the car (preferred), or find your own creative solution to this problem. I can't think of everything, but at least this gives you pause to find an alternative to buy dealer only parts. The manufacturers charge more than enough for a car or truck that barely outlives the payment book and then turn around and charge ridiculous amounts for their parts that seldom last. Instead of close to $200 for this winch, the parts I used cost me less than $10, minus the snazzy cover (which I don't have). Maranatha!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

King of Shaves Update.

Sorry to say, the King of Shaves didn't do so well in my neck of the woods. Meijer had the blades for these on clearance and no new razors available. I still have mine, but have opted for the Schick Quattro instead. The reason wasn't the quality of the shave, but dad blamed blades were too hard to remove and install. Since I already had the Schick, it shaves about as well as the Gillette Fusion for half the price.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Stuck GM Reduction Gear Starter Fix.

If you have a late model GM car, you're going to have a starter with a reduction gear AND a permanent magnet motor. In the 1960's, Chrysler introduced this concept of gear reduction in a starter on a high volume basis (Rolls Royce was the first). In the mid 1990's to the best of my knowledge, car makers began adopting this technology and using permanent magnets. The result is a much more efficient and much lighter starter that uses less materials, particularly copper. On the downside, these are much more fragile than the old school starters (mainly the ones I grew up with) and they're a helluva lot more expensive. You can still get one for a 1977 Olds Delta 88 (my first car) rebuilt for about $50 and some change. For my current car, which hits 10 years old in September, this part can exceed $200! Unlike the former, this one is not rebuildable to a reliable  standard using common tools. Unless you have access to specialized equipment and can get the parts, you won't be able to do this. Even if you get it apart, you will utter obscenities getting this back together. I know because I tried it. Yes, I got it back together and it seems to work fine, but had to use alligator clips to hold the brushes while getting the armature back in.

Truth is, you can take this apart and get it back together successfully to at least get an inkling of what's wrong with it. Mine started acting funny between a failing battery and a dunk in the mud (I still blame you Walmart!)   After replacing the battery, it started fine for two days and the weather got colder. The result was a starter that clicked smartly, but would not turn. I retested the battery and it was fine, but alas no crank. When the mercury drops below a certain point, car repairs are deferred. I used to fix my jalopy in all kinds of weather short of an electrical storm when I was a teenage kid. In my early 40's, this isn't happening and besides, working 12 to 17 hour days when furnaces break down leaves little time for repairs, much less sleep.

If for some reason, your engine gets wet or muddy expect your starter to act up. I washed the underside pretty aggressively after slipping off an exit ramp and getting mud all over the underside. It didn't help that the gasket was twisted up between the field frame and the aluminum nose cone either, possibly letting water in. Once it was able to stay in the warm house and freeing up the drive with a pair of pliers, it bench tested fine.

When you take it apart, you're looking for a burned smell, something physically damaged, or something that doesn't belong inside like mud or water. Don't even bother taking the armature (that round part that spins) out of the field frame (the steel tube it lives in) due to the issue with the brushes. You can remove the bolts, separate the field frame from the nose cone and inspect the gears inside making sure they have enough grease. You can try grabbing the drive with pliers (don't chip those teeth) and spinning it up. That's all you can do to service this thing. If it doesn't work after trying these steps, you need to replace it. Whatever you do, even if you think it is toast NEVER and I mean NEVER try to hit this or any late model starter with anything to unstick it, period. The permanent magnets inside are expensive to replace for a re-builder and may result in a loss of a core refund. In short, it will turn this starter into a groovy and expensive paperweight. They're made of ceramic and WILL and I mean WILL BREAK. I suppose you can take the solenoid off this one too, but they aren't available anyway and you'll need a 4mm deep well socket to get them off. My advice is to leave it on, because if this is failed you'll have to replace the starter anyway. Maranatha!

UPDATE! The starter is junk. After no less than ten bench tests, it's doing the same old same old and not rotating. Gotta bite the bullet and replace it. As I've found, this is un-rebuildable with common tools and I've been unable to find parts for these. Even with the old school direct drive units, success was pretty low for this handyman. Unlike the old 10SI alternators that are pretty easy to rebuild (these are on 1970's to mid 1980's GM vehicles) successfully, starters are not my forte'. Oh well!

If I'm the Professional, Why Won't You Listen?

One of  the unasked questions a customer poses the moment I walk into the door is, "are they going to try to rip me off?" One of the first unasked questions I pose when I walk into a customer's home is, "are they going to let me do my job?" You see, I can come in, change the offending part, correct the offending condition, collect my fee and leave the customer's home with a "thank you." If the equipment runs through the season without a repair, wonderful. If not, that customer isn't going to be a happy camper.
 If a technician is doing his or her job, they're going to ask you more than a few questions and engage you in the process. Even if the cause of the malfunction is Captain Obvious, that technician should also bring you a list of recommendations and if your furnace or air conditioner is over 10 years old, they're going to give you the option to replace it on a cost benefit basis. Unless you have stock in a utility company, it would be a good thing to hear the tech out on. Unfortunately, few customers will heed the advice and end up paying more money on a junker and utility overpayments.
The truth is, that some companies are ripping you off. It's because you're either paying more in utilities, more in parts, or you haven't maintained a perfectly serviceable system and paying more to run it as a result. Ignorance isn't bliss when it comes to maintaining a home. If you hire a doctor, lawyer, accountant or other professional and don't heed their advice, it's your health, legal status, or finances that will suffer. This is the same thing for a home service professional. If you choose to ignore something we say, please don't blame us if your furnace quits in the dead of winter, or other calamity arises. I had a customer we've warned repeatedly about a water heater leaking, and it finally let go, soaking the basement and a lot of stuff with it. On every call where a customer has a one or two inch filter, I advise them to change them monthly. Yesterday, I had one ticked off customer expecting a warranty call and all that was wrong was a clogged filter. As of this writing, I don't have letters after my name. I don't make six figures a year, nor drive a BMW or wear a suit. My hands are calloused, scarred and arthritic, I wear a uniform and drive a van. My personal car is ten years old, but my job and those like me are no less important than those mentioned. Off my soapbox for now. Love and God Bless!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Quick Rocker Cover Leak Fix for 2.2 liter GM Ecotec

Okay, laugh if you must. Frankly, I'm a bit sick of my wife's car dripping oil on my driveway. What's worse is that oil is expensive and those gasket sets at thirty dollars aren't cheap, especially when they don't last more than a few months and the engine is right back to leaking again. Go to the hardware store, home center, or heat supply house and buy a tube of high temperature silicone caulk. I've seen regular quality silicone caulk used for this, but one with a high temperature filler will work better.

Carefully take off the rocker cover from the the cylinder head, and you will likely damage the grommets where the bolts are. Just try and not tear them up too much so you can reuse them. Take the gaskets out of the cover and a lay a small bead of silicone, just enough to stick the gaskets back in their grooves. Let this set up. Then lay a bead of silicone on the mating surface of the cylinder head, let it sit a minute and put the cover back on. Problem solved. Just try not to let a bunch of silicone into the engine itself as it can clog the oil pump and cause big problems. It isn't the most elegant solution, but sure beats buying more gaskets. Maranatha!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How to Use, and Misuse a Combustion Analyzer.

The picture is an example of what these look like. I use one to diagnose a myriad of furnace issues. With one of these, you can find the efficiency, determine whether a heat exchanger is plugged or leaking and a host of other issues. One common use is to determine whether or not a heat exchanger needs replacement. As a hard, fast rule, 100 parts per million or less carbon monoxide in the combustion gas is acceptable. 100 to 300 indicates a combustion or venting problem, while 1000+ indicates a heat exchanger problem. Either there's a hole, or it's plugged. Most of the time, if it's over 2500 ppm, the heat exhanger is plugged. The problem is that you have to look before condemning the part. If you get a high reading an say it's bad without looking at it, you're doing yourself and your customer a disservice.

As with all repairs on Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning systems, please consult a competent professional when in any doubt. Improper repairs can result in serious personal injury, death and property damage. This post assumes the reader has proper training and experience in HVAC service and not a homeowner. All situations are different and this author has no control over the quality and accuracy of your work. All situations are hypothetical and may not apply to yours. Diagnose and effect this and any repairs at your own risk.

A case in point are the Amana 90% efficient furnaces made in late 1980's and 1990's. These have a high failure rate with the plate next to the tubes being a usual culprit. This requires replacing the furnace as a heat exchanger is not available. This means the customer has to spend money to replace the furnace, and while Amana may give the customer an allowance to replace it, they won't honor anything if the heat exchanger itself isn't bad. These have a collector box on the uppermost part of the exchanger, next to the vent. These frequently rot out to the point there are hole visible and will mimic the above. The repair on this is less than $500 as opposed to $3000 or more on labor and code compliance even if the manufacturer buys the equipment. If the box has failed and the rest of it isn't rusted or perforated, you have the option of repairing the furnace over replacement. From experience, the customer appreciates this consideration and the risk of a voided warranty claim is made non existent.

The lesson is to never rely on one means of diagnosis on a major HVAC repair or replacement, unless there is visual proof. Even then, all the facts need to be in order to correctly and thoroughly diagnose an ultimate problem.

Vega OWB Holster Review, N Series.

Before I begin this review, this is not the place to debate gun laws.  This writer believes it is a right of decent people to own and use in self defense as well as sporting purposes. It is also spelled out quite clearly in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights. Handguns, or any other means of lethal force should never be used except in the gravest of extremes. Follow all applicable laws concerning concealed carry to the letter and the spirit of the law. Training on safe ownership and yes use is strongly recommended.

I like my Ruger SR9c, which is one of the best striker fired guns for the money and certainly better than many other budget pieces. It's easy to shoot, has all the bells and whistles and is about $150 less expensive than a Glock 19 as of this writing. It's also slimmer and has a similar trigger, and a much better grip in my opinion. Night sights and some accessories aside, this is still a better buy. I've still been able to find 10 round magazines for less than $40, and the gun is well made and very sturdy. The grips are just slim enough to facilitate concealment, but big enough to keep the gun steady. However, after nearly four months of carrying this piece, I've come under the conclusion this isn't a very good in the waistband carry gun. Yes, it works, but so does a compact spare on an SUV. It doesn't mean that it's going to work well or is ideal. A gun pushing against someone's side is going to be uncomfortable at best. Mine was pushing against some key nerves making this a numbing situation.

A shoulder holster is something some people swear by, but isn't without its drawbacks. Imagine a brassiere weighted with two or three pounds of steel, plastic and leather and you'll get the idea. Even the usual residents of one don't weigh quite that much, and a shoulder holster tends to concentrate this in a small area on the body. This writer imagines there are those with a better weight distribution, but also have a big price tag to go with it. These also squeak and show through clothes. In addition, I have enough trouble trying to get a shirt on, much less trying to get a shoulder rig to line up. This coupled with the fact my arms get numb with too much pressure nixes this idea. Leaving the gun home is not an option either, legal and other considerations aside. A pocket gun is something I'm considering, but there compromises in accuracy and handling that must be addressed first. Trading this gun isn't an option to meet that criterion.

I went with an outside the waistband holster that fits close and is adjustable. Because of durability concerns, leather is the only choice as Kydex would bulge more and wouldn't have much yield to it. A strap was also in order as well as a tension device to keep the gun from clattering to the ground, or worse, being nabbed by a ne'r do well. The Vega N117, set up for a Glock 19 fits the Ruger SR9c perfectly with a strap and a tension device. You also have three positions to carry this outside your belt; straight up and down, a forward cant, or my favorite, with the grip pointed up with the barrel facing back. This has the added benefit of looking like a cell phone under a shirt or coat. I wore this at the grocery store and nobody so much as tossed a frown, much less called the police (I have a license to carry concealed and my state has an open carry law, but it's crazy to do it). It was also comfortable, and the gun stayed put. The leather on this is also a bit stiff, but was told that over time this will soften and be easier to use.

As for the way this is made, there's a double layer of cowhide on the back and a single layer on the front. The strap releases quickly and a quick, straight pull removes the gun. The tension device is adjustable with an Allen wrench if need be and the fit and finish is top drawer. The only drawback was that the place I bought this was out of black, so I bought a brown one. As we all know, guns and their accessories have been flying off the shelves as of late and this was a small miracle it was available at all. This holster can be had for about $52. I would also recommend a good quality leather belt and these will run about $50 to $100. These are worth it because they'll last a lifetime. I've taken to wearing Carhart myself, but there are other brands out there. Just stay away from cheaper store brand ones because they will stretch and break. Belts, shoes and holsters aren't items to go cheap on, as your life may depend on them. Maranatha!