Sunday, November 16, 2014

Plastic Headlight Housing Fix, for Cheap!

One thing I detest about today's cars (this means anything made after 1989) are that all of them have plastic lensed headlamps. While there are a few exceptions that have glass, mainly the early 1990's Buicks, most are made of Lexan. This is tough, durable, and allows for styling than the old fashioned sealed beams (which are only available on GM full sized vans at this point). When a seal beam breaks, you replace the assembly with a nice, new clear one for less than $20. With one of these plastic composites, you have to spend over $350 in some cases to replace the assembly; which is a laser welded unit.

The problem with these lights isn't so much that they break, but they yellow within about five years. Sure, there are commercial kits to deal with this, but these are $5 to $30 and this writer has yet to see one work. This idea isn't all mine, but I'll share it and can attest that it does work. It costs about $10 to $15, depending on what you already have in your shop. The results are dramatic, and long lasting. Depending on the quality of your work and patience, these will look brand-new and will have their optical quality more or less restored.

I might add that you need to make sure there aren't any laws concerning this where you live. I would also work in a clean, dry and well ventilated area, especially for the finishing stages. Common sense would tell you that if there are other issues, such as broken mounts or a header panel (in the case of my wife's car) these need to be addressed before putting the car back in service. Headlights will also need to be aimed as the optical quality will be different. If these are in poor condition, consider replacing with new or salvage units and restoring the latter or just installing the former. I've used Goop adhesive from everything to car door panels to seat fabric and heater control and if you have the time to let this cure, it works fantastic. The red tube costs about $4.00 and dries harder than the plastic it's bonding, but I digress. Since I have no control over the quality of your work, you this at your own risk.

You'll need one or two each sheets of wetordry sandpaper, 400 and/or 600 and 1000 grit, some Dawn dishwashing detergent and a can of good quality acrylic clear coat. Depending on how hard it is to get the headlights off the car, some masking tape, towels and a spray bottle will be necessary. In that case, fill the bottle with water and add a squirt or two of dishwashing detergent. If you can remove the lamp, just use a sink or bathtub lined with an old towel or two. Add some water to the tub or sink and add the detergent. Wet the lens and sand with the 400 grit in one direction with the width of the lens, until it is uniformly sanded. This will take time to do, so take breaks. The ides with the detergent and water is to lubricate the lens while you sand it. Once you've got all the yellowing off, the lens will have a milky white appearance and all the clearness will be gone. This means that you're ready to switch to a finer grit. You can use 600 if you want; and this will make the final sanding with the 1000 a lot easier, but it isn't mandatory. Remove the lights and take out the bulbs of you want. Best to leave them in to help seal the light up, but this was not an option on my wife's Grand Am.

Sand with the 1000 until your are satisfied that the scratches from the last grit are sanded out. The appearance will be slightly clearer, but these will be finer scratches. Thoroughly dry and inspect the lenses for any touch ups needed. If there are a few stray scratches, I wouldn't worry about it. Just take your time for the best result. If you have any water inside the lens, use a hair dryer to get this out and let it air out for a few hours. Once this is dry, you can take these to a suitable area to spray on the clearcoat. This should be done on a calm day, with minimal dirt and dust. Spray in light coats in five minute intervals to prevent runs that would need to be sanded out. Three or four light coats is better than one heavy one, and the lamps will have a better optical quality too. Let this dry for a few hours before putting back on your ride. Re aim and enjoy a clearer view. Maranatha!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Mystery Brake Warning Light Fix for 2006 Pontiac Torrent.

I'm going to tell you again and this bears mention. Car repairs are inherently dangerous if you do not know what you're doing. There is a risk of injury, death or property damage when repairs are done or done improperly. Always consult a competent mechanic when in doubt of your abilities. Do this and any other fixes at your own risk.

My Torrent (Mechanically the same as a Chevy Equinox as it shares everything save some very minor suspension settings and trim) has nearly 98,000 miles as of this writing.

One thing that confounded me today for a few minutes concerned the brake warning light, as it came on while I was coming home from the grocery store. I stopped the car successfully and pulled back on the parking brake lever. The chime came on during a slow roll of the vehicle and the brakes were as firm as ever. I hied myself, the car and my groceries home.

The level was up in the brake fluid reservoir, so no issues there. The parking brake lever switch was also fine. I did notice the fluid was about the consistency of mud, so this was going to need to be changed. I have lots of brake fluid and hose to flush this out. Time to check the battery. That's right, when the battery starts to fail on this vehicle, as it is computer controlled, the system starts to get loopy. You will need a battery, some tools and maybe some throttle cleaner.

Batteries are heavy, and without a handle, awkward. They're also full of some real nasty stuff. These are sulphuric acid (which is highly corrosive) and hydrogen (which is explosive). They have a nasty habit of exploding, and you can lose an eye or two when this happens. You can also fry expensive parts, including the alternator and computer parts if you reverse the positive and negative connections. I have a friend who cooked an expensive alternator when he did this. Admittedly, doing this on the Torrent is very low even if you are clueless, but you've been warned. Remove any jewelry while servicing a battery.

I don't have a battery tester, so the next step was to take this to an autoparts store. The battery failed the 600 and 500 cold cranking amps test on the vehicle and I promptly replaced the battery with a new one. This one lives under the engine control module; three screws and the cover is off. If the radio has a Theftlock, you need to deactivate it or you will be taking this to the dealer or buying a new radio, NICE! (mine doesn't have one, but some do). Undo the 13mm bolt at the hold down, the 8mm bolts with the negative first and the positive last. Lift out the battery and install the new one, installing the hold down, then the positive and then the negative IN THAT ORDER. Hitting metal while installing the positive while the negative is connected will weld the wrench to the car burning your hand in the process.

The rest is making sure the cables are routed where they won't get pinched when you install the cover. Start the engine and run it for a few minutes. It will run a bit loopy for a minute or two, but will smooth out once the engine computer relearns running it. If you're still having issues, now would be a good time to remove the airbox and clean the throttle body and plate as these get gunked up and the computer will have a hard time compensating for that. Undo the clamp on the snorkel to the throttle body and remove the airbox. Then use the throttle body cleaner to get that gunk out. Wait a few hours before starting the engine again, but install the airbox first.

This should fix the problem with that pesky brake light, but make sure there isn't an issue with the brakes either. I would also recommend a NEW battery, NOT a remanufactured one as these are garbage. I've never seen them last more than a few months, While many have a warranty longer than that, who wants to change batteries every three months or so? I've had the best "luck" with Meijer Pro Cells if you live in the Midwest, as well as DieHard Gold and Duralast for the money. I opted for an Exide Nascar Gold at Menards as money was an issue and this has a 40 month warranty. Optima batteries are great, and this writer has had one that lasted over 8 years in three different cars. However, the astronomical price these nowadays outweighs any performance for the average driver. If you want to spend $225 for a battery, be my guest. Maranatha!