Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Single Bypass Surgery: Closing her up

Oil cooler in.  Alternator back on.  Air box and new air filter in.  All spark plugs replaced (first time ever??).  New serpentine belt.  New oil filter.

Front end reattached.  Fender reattached.  All the plumbing in place.  Oil added. Some coolant added as a test.





I went underneath, looked at my oil cooler and there it is:





I went upstairs, sat down and talked with Mrs. Toadroller.  "This might be the end of it. I mean, it might be the water pump; the oil cooler might have a crack, I don't know."  Plans for another car.  Plans for next week when I need to go to the airport and leave the family with only one car and two people with places to go.

I took a break, ate some lunch, and determined to look around one more time.  Flashlight, mirror, poking around all the places that are impossible to reach.  Nuthin.  Back underneath and it's all coming from somewhere up there and accumulating on that lowest bolt and dripping.

That lowest bolt.


That's the bolt for draining the coolant out of the oil cooler in the first place.  Is it tight?  I doubt it.  It's a chance.  10mm socket, ratchet. fingers crossed.  Turn. Yep, it's loose.  Snug, wipe, watch.

As Tortelvis* says, "Hot damn tamales Charlie!"  I got it.

Back to the checklist.  More coolant in.  Battery connected.  Pray the new spark plugs work.  Turn key.

Familiar and reassuring Audi V8 catch, engine swell, and settle into a surprisingly quiet idle.

She's back, baby!  Gentle ride up the road and back, then further around and about, adding coolant as it needs, consuming and getting it pulsing through its veins.

The engine loves the new plugs, belt, and air filter.  Drop from fourth to second and 300 German horses call upon 300 German lb-feet of torque and they combine to achieve warp speed.


My renewed man card arrived in the postthe next week.

Thousand dollar car repaired for roughly $90 and, oh, 14 hours of personal labor; hopefully happy for the next year.  We'll see what 2015 brings.

*Gosh I love those first two Dred Zeppelin albums

SIngle Bypass Surgery: Exploratory

Post two in the series about removing and replacing a small plastic tube between the engine and the oil cooler in the beast that is my 1997 Audi A8:

Step one, Remove.

A healthy dose of patience paid off on this one.  After removing the front end of the car, I methodically got the serpentine belt off, then took another session and got the alternator out of the way, then drained all the oil out of the bottom of the engine and the oil cooler itself.

The next step was to get the oil cooler itself out, which involved loosening an engine mount, jacking up the engine just a few inches to get me access to three allen-headed bolts at the top of the thing, hidden under the exhaust manifold and holding the oil cooler onto the engine block.  The first bolt was the bastard.  You need a hex-head socket plus a three inch extension pus a universal plus a breaker bar plus some contortionist leverage to turn it.


Trouble was, in trying to get the hex socket into the bolt head, I never felt like I had a good connection.  And if I screwed this bolt up, I might as well throw the car away.  It's not worth paying to fix; I could buy another.  It's a thousand dollar car.  Anyway, with my mirror and flashlight I could tell the bolt looked a little mangled.

I gave it time.  I sprayed it with liquid wrench.  I tool an awl and poked around, trying to clear maybe some sand from the inside of the bolt head.  I tapped it as best I could in the small space I had to work.  All the usual bolt-freeing techniques.  Until I remembered heat.  How in the heck am I going to get any heat way down in there?  And without setting fire to all the oil on the engine?  Can't use a propane torch.  Can't imagine a soldering iron convecting enough heat back there.  Convection!  That's it! Cue Mrs. Toadroller's manly heat gun:


I got the socket and extension onto the bolt, then blasted away at the extension for about five minutes, letting the socket and extension conduct the heat up into the bolt.  I got what felt to be a good grip on the bolt and slowly, steadily applied pressure until ping! It gave way.  Good or bad, I was committed.  I ratcheted it up a few more times and it felt like a bolt turning.  My mirror sure seemed to indicate it was.  And so it came free.  Bolts two and three were in view and much easier to access and remove.  Down below for bolts four and five.  Ten minutes of wiggly-wiggly and voila, the cooler and the culprit:



She found her spark

It's still February and it's still friggin' cold.  My garage, which has a heat blower in it, isn't warm.  The heater keeps it mid thirties, which is good enough for the cars and melts the snow off of them.  To work on the car, though, I put on an old pair of snow-pants, an old ski-jacket, a pair of boots and a winter hat, and then putter around with work-gloves and tools.  Good times indeed.

In diagnosing what feels like an engine problem on a big old Audi, the internet proves be a scary place.  All sorts of crazy theories about engine breather hoses and pumps, oxygen sensors sending bad data, throttle body sensors messing up transmission control modules; it's frightening out there.  But then there's the "what's the simplest possible explanation?" approach.  The simplest possible explanation was that it was mis-firing, hitting on seven of the eight. 

So in I went.

The very old computer I keep around for the sole purpose of plugging into this car once a year as it’s the only computer I have with a serial port for my cable to connect to the car’s diagnostic port, this very old computer which will boot once out of every three tries and whose password is written in sharpie on its side so I don’t forget it, this very old computer for which I don't have a PS2 mouse but  do have a PS2 keyboard, this very old computer without a working internet card, this one, well, I managed to get her talking to the car and to dump all her fault-codes into a text file and onto a usb stick to print upstairs on the newer computers.  Without a mouse, windows is a prestidigitous combination of alt-tabs, shift-tabs and tab-tabs to fire through menus.  Difficult.

Among the numerous codes warning of low voltage here, bad sensors there, was listed "misfire in cylinder 4."  Ooh, I liked the sound of that.  So off I went swapping out coil packs and plugs from cylinder 4 with cylinder 3 to test but then, lo and behold, the battery died.

I mean died.

I couldn't even jump the car, it was so dead.  Sure, the battery was eight years old, but come on, it had to choose this exact moment in time to give up?  Was the problem the alternator not giving enough juice to spark well?  If there's something sinister broken in the engine, is it worth it to risk $160 for a new battery to find out?  Back to the internet, back to work for a week.  Back to crazy theories.  Could there be bad compression in a cylinder?  How do I do a leak down test anyway?  Do I need to buy a compression testing kit?  Will AutoZone lend me one?

Mrs. Toadroller knows how to cut through the crap.  "Buy the battery.  If the car's gone, it's only $160 bucks.  If the car can be fixed, you'll need it anyway."  I headed off to Auto Zone.  And came back with the battery and a borrowed compression tester. After forty-five minutes I'd wrestled the battery into its snug little compartment, cursing some German engineers along the way.  I fired her up.  The alternator was putting out as it should.  The car was still mis-firing.  Back to diagnostics.  It's only cylinder 4.  Swap out the coils and plugs and it's always cylinder 4.  So my problem was upstream of the coil packs.  Could it be the wiring harness? Internet, what's the deal?

I found a thread on one of the Audi fan forums where someone had the same issue as me.*  Solution: Ignition Control Module (ICM), which seems to act as a modern-day electronic distributor from the engine control module to each cylinder's coil.  $150 from Auto Zone or $42 no-name with positive reviews from Amazon Prime.  Diagnosis requires a digital multi-meter.  The analog Radio Shack ohm-meter I've had for the last 25 years just couldn't handle the range.  Fortunately, Radio Shack was having a going-out-of-business-sale and I got their mac-daddy digital multi-meter for $40.  Sweet.  The thing even has a temperature sender, a decibel meter, and will plug into your USB port with software to operate like an o-scope.  I have no need for an o-scope, and I've never used one (shame on me), so I should learn to do that. 

I pulled the ICM and tested it with the new digital multi-meter.  One of the prongs read open when it should have read 2.5M ohms.  Okay Amazon, send me the new part, let's take the chance.  Two days later a brown truck stopped at the house.  I ripped open the package, took a cold look at the replacement ICM, dressed up for the garage, opened the hood, screwed it down, plugged it in, and had one of the little Toadrollers turn the engine over while I checked for spark by laying the plug against the block while holding it into the spring-loaded coil pack with thick rubber gloves. 

Boy, it’s quite the journey for a V8 to cycle through all of its cylinders twice before you get to the spark on the ignition-stroke.  “Wheedidee, wheediddee, wheedidde, PING!”  Yep, that’s a spark where before there was none.  Thrilled, I put everything else back together, plugged the fuel-pump relay back into place, and opened the garage. After a quick prayer I turned the key, Vroom! I placed her into reverse, scuttled up the ice covered driveway and, with horn-a-honkin’, took her up and down the street for a test ride.

She's back and should be good for another year. 

* I almost never start a new thread anywhere about anything when trying to solve a problem.  Someone has very likely been there, done that before me and documented the fix.  Usually on YouTube.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Single Bypass Surgery

The next few posts document an adventure I went on to get my Audi running in December 2014, only to have her develop the shakes and shudders in February, a problem still under diagnosis.


Since aught-two* my main drive has been a 97 Audi A8. I had a 94 Audi 100 before that,** but some bitch hit me and that was that.  I picked up the A8, a $65K sticker car, five years old and a spry 73k miles on the clock, for $18,900.  It was either that or a new 4-banger Accord with cloth interior.

Having enjoyed $(KGrHqEOKpwE1q0Fg0g7BNlUnHe63w~~_35.JPGsince my 83 GTI, I went with the Audi.

It's further depreciated in the last twelve years, to the point where it's worth a whopping $1000.00.  To make the impact of its throw-away status more visceral, I recently stopped to check out a snow-mobile for sale by the side of the road.  It too was a '97.  They wanted $1500.00 for it.


A few weeks back, the low-coolant indicator played its little animated dance for me and I topped up.  a week later, low again.  By a lot.  Huh.  Well, that explains the puddle under the car.  I guess it wasn't melting snow.

So here we sit with 239K miles on the beast, good tires, all major systems functioning, new tie rods and drive shafts, new brake pads and rotors all around,*** and a weepy cooling system in a thousand dollar car.


But I'm a sucker for a lost cause and, though I'm not cheap, I am frugal.  I floated the idea of selling the car for its $1000.00 value past Mrs. Toadroller who, before I could finish saying "...and buy something else," strongly suggested fix it.

And so over the next few weeks, an hour or two at a time, I dug into the front end of the car - bumper, radiator, engine-belt covers and more - on an epic journey to what I hoped was the broken $20 part (internet wisdom, experience, and guidance point this way) to remove, replace, and re-assemble in order to gain another year or two of service from this fine automobile who has given me warm buns, great winter traction, and an amazing driving experience over this last decade+two, from Colorado to Maine and around points throughout the northeast including NJ, upstate NY, NH, Montreal, CT, MA, NH and more...

Wish me luck, though I do tend to enjoy this sort of challenge.  It instills confidence and helps me tackle other deeds.  Experience is knowledge and all that.

Here she was after day one of my efforts. 

*man, I miss the aughties
** and a Subaru SVX before that, and an Audi 90 before that...So I like weird things.  What of it?  The SVX was fun. Fast, quiet, unique.  The brakes sucked.
*** guess what I did last year during Christmas season?  It's okay, I got a great car jack and some other good tools from the experience.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Well, that was an adventure

Of a Thursday afternoon I headed down to Portland on my way through to Trumbull, Connecticut, a 300 mile drive, to spend Friday with a customer.  Along the way I'd agreed to help a friend and stop in at Portland Percussion in pursuit of a rare Dean Soltero model electric guitar, USA-built, in korina. A Dean Soltero is an interesting spin on the classic Les Paul single-cut style.  I'd never heard of a Soltero myself, and as Dean guitars tend to have a pretty radical V shaped headstock to match their radical V-shaped models, I'd never much cared for them: 

But a Soltero is a different story:

That's pretty.

It was cold and snowy, for which Maine has a penchant in January and February.   ...And December and November and March and friggin' April too.  Sometimes October but rarely May.

I followed my GPS-phone's guidance to Portland Percussion and parked up against a snowbank, stepped out into the surface street's crawling evening traffic near the location my phone felt I should see my destination on the right, and was unable to find it.  Portland Percussion is back behind the buildings that front the road, down near water, and is hard to see.  I had difficulties finding it on my previous visit a few years back.  This time proved no different.  I eventually walked into a bar looking for help and the lady behind the counter looked up at me as she laid down her pack of Newport Lights.

Me: "can you tell me where in the world I'll find Portland Percussion?  I know it's here."
She: "Oh, he moved.  Got flooded out in August.  Now he's in the park near Riverside."
Me: "Where's that?"
She: "Oh, go through the big intersection, follow Warren Avenue,  past two, no, three sets of lights.  Then under the over-pass.  Then a right.  Just beyond the Harley dealership.  I think."
Me: "So they've moved?"
She: "Yeah.  Oh, you're parked the wrong way.  Saw you walk past a few times." 
Long Mainer story short,* they'd moved.

But I have a phone and, as has been mentioned before, it has a GPS.  I called, listened patiently as they explained about flooding in August, moves to new locations, underpasses and overpasses, right turns and Harley dealerships, asked finally asked for their new street address.  I punched it in.  It's 470 Riverside Street, Portland, Maine, in case you're ever up for a scavenger hunt.  Three miles and fifteen minutes of surface streets away.  I'd be getting in to Connecticut later than desired, but ah, well.

Along the way, as I waited at a traffic light, the last car not to make the previous red, my trusty old 1997 Audi A8, with 239,539 miles on it and a recent recipient of a serious operation over Christmas break, decided that she was unhappy with current events and the long drive ahead and started to shudder.  Significantly.  An "I'm misfiring on two cylinders" shudder.  Or perhaps a "my transmission, which you so kindly replaced 130,000 miles ago, is just effin' tired of life and I give up" kind of shudder.  Anyway, wizened and experienced fool (a German word meaning Audi owner) that I am, I tossed her into neutral to begin best-I-can-do-sitting-in-traffic diagnosis, turning off the radio, rolling down the windows, raising the revs, and listening hard.  She continued to shudder. "Not good.  Nope, not good, Mr. Toadroller."** So I continued on my short, extended and extensive journey to Portland Percussion's new location.  What choice did I have?
My phone and I couldn't find it to save our lives.

I'd twice passed the point where my phone blissfully announced that I'd arrived.  Back and forth, shudder, shudder.  In frustration I pulled into a long industrial park driveway to sit and sort it out, engine rumbling and shaking away to put Shakira to shame.

I called again.

Me: "Where are you?"
Them: "Where are you?"
Me: "On Riverside Street.  I can See Shrietner Construction and Mulberry Avenue."
Them: "Gosh, I don't know those places. Do you see the Harley Davidson dealership?"
Me: "I did see it, but that was half a mile back.  Which side of the street are you on?"
Them: "Well, I'm not sure which way you're coming."
Me: "??"
Them: "??"
Me: "Wait. are you at the end of a long industrial park driveway?"
Them: "Sorta."
Me: "Am I sitting in your parking lot flashing my headlights?"
Them "Let me look."
Me: *flashes headlights*
Them: "You're here."

So in I went and admitted my consternation and frustration, told them, in fact, how recently I'd been disappointed to discover that they'd moved from what had been, to me, a difficult to find location into what was, to me, a significantly more difficult to find location, and proceeded to marvel openly at their ability to stay in business when customers couldn't actually get to their storefront (even with personal or blissfully happy GPS-phone assisted guidance ) in order to try their products and, were they so moved, give them money for their goods and services.  "Just how do you stay in business," I wanted to know.  "We got flooded in August," they said. "You might have heard."

I couldn't argue.  Truth to power and all that.

I told him I was on a quest.  A quest for a rare Dean Soltero a friend from outs of state had seen advertised and was checking it out for him.  So we went into their (temporary, it would seem) used guitar room filled with Deans, Ibanezes, G&Ls, and the like, and he pointed out to me two Dean Solteros, neither of which looked much at all like the one my friend had seen on Portland Percussion's their internet photos and advertisements.  I sat and plucked and we chatted about the Dean (Korean, $699, nice enough, but more of a $350 guitar by my estimation) and Ibby Firemen and Paul Gilbert and so conversation went;

He: "Ibby's your main guitar?"
Me: "Ibby? No.  Don't get me wrong, I love it. great Christmas gift from my wife, but I'm more of a Hamer USA man."
He: "Now you're talking my language!"

And so we proceeded to talk about the 4 digit Standard cherry-burst he'd once had, the Daytonas and T-51s and Specials and Artists I have, his 79 Sunburst and the Steve Stevens signature model he'd got the previous summer for a steal ($150, but a busted neck, well repaired and playable) and the Monaco III he and I both would love to have.

But I digress.  Mainers do that

Anyway, I expressed that the Dean Soltero I was after was supposedly made from korina, USA, you know- the one on your website. 
He: "No shit, bub? That's mine!  I bought too much stuff and need to move a few pieces.  I did put that up on Reverb, yeah!"
Me: "Driver McGyver!"
He: "That's a nice one.  Yeah.  But it's not here.  Don't want to leave too much personal stuff here in an industrial park,"
Me: "Why not? It's not like anyone can find it."
He: "??"
He: "It's wicked light, has a pretty serious v-shaped neck; not as serious as that import there, but it is a v."
Me: "Well, maybe I could play next time I'm on my way through."
He: "Sure thing, bub."

And so we exchanged names and numbers and I went out to my lame Audi to see if she'd forgiven me for whatever I'd done to her and decide if I wanted to continue the next 240 miles of my quest.  I started her up and she continued to rumble and shudder.  I was still in her doghouse.  So I pointed the compass north, back home, to surprise Mrs. Toadroller and our kids on our 21st anniversary*** by being home for a change.

The Audi may have seen her end.  Her problems, beyond mere temperament, appear to be ignition, engine management, fuel-system, vacuum, transmission, or simply age-related in nature.  I'm not sure which, but each of them means money.  More money, probably, than an eighteen year old car with 239,539 miles deserves.


It's still February and it's still friggin' cold.  12-24 inches of snow expected in the next 36 hours.

*I'm not a native, I'm "from away" as they say, but believe me when I tell you it's a long story.  Mainers do go on.  She might as well have just admitted "you can't get there from here."
** Her time may have come.  No!  I've had her for twelve years and 165k miles! This can't be the end!
*** and you thought this story couldn't get any more strange.  But 'tis true.  Married in Denver Colorado, January 29th, 1994.  Six kids later...

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Everything is Broken

Broken lines, broken strings
Broken threads, broken springs
Broken idols, broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds
Ain’t no use jiving
Ain’t no use joking
Everything is broken

          -Everything is Broken, Bob Dylan

Christmas break on the garage's frozen floor, seven hours in and seven hours out to replace a two-inch plastic pipe between the engine and oil cooler.

40 degree thaw and driving rain through the night in January floods the garage and seeps into the basement.  2:30 AM,  wading through flotsam, dragging hoses, plugging in pumps, praying.  Dash to catch a 7:00 am flight.

Cold kills the battery on the van.

Broken bottles, broken plates
Broken switches, broken gates
Broken dishes, broken parts
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken
Everything is broken

Seem like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground

Moving the plasma television from old room to new, it refuses to turn on again.  The internet explains this as a common issue with this model.  Superbowl Sunday.
Four feet of snow,  temperatures rarely above ten, more often below zero. Another foot on the way...  the oil tank sinks visibly and danerously close to empty.  Oil co will be here Monday.

Tweak the back shoveling.  Spend more time with the snow-blower than the motorcycle in summer.

February's first week of torture.  Three to go.

Broken cutters, broken saws
Broken buckles, broken laws
Broken bodies, broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath, feel like you’re chokin'
Everything is broken

Every time you leave and go off someplace
Things fall to pieces in my face

Idling in Portland traffic become a rough idle, then a full-on shudder.  Shit.  Business trip to Connecticut is scuttled and the the Audi limps home, shaking itself for fifty miles at sixty an hour.  Diagnosis?  Undetermined.  Prognosis? Uncertain.  Future? Bleak.

Snow on the roof becomes dangerous ice-dams and icicles.  Snow on the deck melts from the warmth of the house and drips through the shit-ass wooden windows in the basement.  Mold invades in the new roof sheathing from the great renovation of '08, because the ventilation didn't, doesn't do its eponymous duty.

Old dog can't walk, struggles to stand, deranged, and falls down.  Barks, goes out, shits, falls down, balances to a stand, barks, comes in.  Ten minutes later? Lather, rinse, repeat.
Broken hands on broken ploughs
Broken treaties, broken vows
Broken pipes, broken tools
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling, bullfrog croaking
Everything is broken

Customers bitch.  The message is wrong.  The products don't work.  Late nights, early mornings, full days on the phone.  Rude.  Unreasonable and unachievable expectations.

Lent around the corner.

Spring's renewal, where the hell are you?