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!