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!