The penguin's motorcycling and Jeep blog

Monday, October 5, 2009

And.... it worked!

The "small leak in evaporative system" was fixed by cleaning the gas cap gasket and firmly replacing the gas cap. No more light. It went out before I could even get around to clearing it, took a couple of days but remember I'm still waiting from my scan tool to arrive. (You can read codes via the odometer on my Jeep, but the only way to clear them without a scan tool is to pull the battery cable, and that causes everything else to lose its presets so I decided not to do that).

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My negligent self

Oh dear, I've been neglecting this blog, haven't I?

So let's review what I've done to my Jeep over the past month, shall we?

  1. M.O.R.E. 1" body lift. This picks the body up off the frame a bit more to a) allow fitting larger tires (I'm trying to make room for 33 inch tires), and b) allow tucking various stuff that hangs below the frame (like the transfer case skid plate and the gas tank) upwards a bit with aftermarket skid plates. I'm going to start with the gas tank because that skid is always clanging on the rocks when I drop off a ledge, and it's a lot easier than tucking the transfer case up (because you need to add a slip-yoke eliminator and CV driveshaft to tuck the transfer case up, which in turn requires adjustable control arms to tilt the rear axle pinion upwards to point at the transfer case rather than being parallel to the transfer case output shaft, which in turn requires relocating the shock and spring mounts slightly because their mounts are now pointing in the wrong direction). It also allows installing:
  2. M.O.R.E. motor mount lifts. This raises the engine up by an inch. This has two effects: a) the fan is now lined up with the shroud again (the radiator and its shroud are body-mounted and are thus now higher, remember?), and b) the revised angle of the engine-transmission-transfer case assembly allows adding longer springs front and back without throwing the driveshafts out of alignment. Remember, the operation of the control arms means that with longer springs (i.e. a lift), the pinion points further upwards on both axles compared to the stock location. This means that a) the front output shaft of the transfer case needs to be higher so that the front pinion is still pointing at it (this happens because the front output shaft extends forward somewhat and got raised a bit when the front of the assembly got raised), and b) the angle of the rear output shaft needs to be greater in order to remain parallel to the rear pinion (since the rear has a non-CV driveshaft). Which raising the front, but not the rear, of the combined assembly accomplishes.
  3. EBC YellowStuff front brake pads. These are race pads that are also good for normal street braking. They both stop faster than regular pads, and are more resistant to fading due to their ceramic construction. They won't last as long as the OEM pads probably, I'll be checking them every 6,000 miles when I rotate my tires, but they'll stop me, and one of the side effects of having bigger tires is that the additional leverage offered by the larger tires makes your brakes suck. I needed more brakes. These give it.
  4. Centric premium rotors. The rotors currently on my Jeep need to be turned before they can be used with new pads -- they have a decided ridge on them from the wear and tear of the OEM pads. But I have to drive the Jeep to the automotive machine shop to get them turned. What to do? Oh yeah, buy new rotors, and then swap between the new ones and the OEM ones on each brake change, that'll do it, I'll drive on the new rotors to get the old ones turned! Plus the Centric rotors are nicely painted. Purty!
So that's what I've done to my Jeep this month. The PITA with the body lift was the transfer case shifter plate (necessary -- even with the motor mount lift, things are otherwise out of whack) and the steering shaft relocation block (needed to relocate the steering shaft bracket to re-align it with the new location of the steering wheel, since the steering wheel is now higher due to the raised body). The PITA with the motor mounts was that picking up the engine moved the engine not only up, but moved the forward bracketry back a bit (simple geometry, dudes!). I struggled with it for a while trying to get the engine to drop into the new mounts, finally realized the problem, loosened the transfer case mounts so they could slide forward some, pried with a *big* prybar to shift the whole assembly forward a bit, and *finally* got it to drop onto the mounting holes in the frame. Remember, the combined engine-transmission-transfer case assembly weighs about 700 pounds (405 for that big cast iron straight-6 engine, about 150 apiece for the transmission and transfer case), so shifting that big honkin' mother takes a *big* prybar :).

As for the brakes, they just slid on. Take tires off. Unbolt calipers (two bolts). Whack disks with rubber mallet to knock them loose from hub, set aside. Remove outer pad. Use giant C-clamp on inner pad to push the piston back (remember to loosen your brake reservoir cap first or you end up with an exploded brake reservoir cap!) . Remove inner pad. Clean with brake cleaner to get all the old dust and grease off. Put new pads on. Put new disc on. Install caliper. 45 minutes per wheel, tops, and that's if you're slow.

So anyhow, all that's working. But now I have a check engine light. I used the on-off-on-off-on quick flick of the key to get the codes onto the odometer, and checked the resulting code against the list of codes. Hmm. P0456 Small Evaporative System Leak Detected. *PROBABLY* means my gas cap was loose. I removed it, wiped the gasket, replaced it. That *should* fix it, but now I need to clear the code to make sure I didn't mess up the evap system somehow when I lifted the Jeep, which means I need to go buy a cheap scan tool from so I can keep clearing it between attempts to solve the problem until I find/resolve the problem. After all, the evap system is mounted on the body, while the gas tank is mounted on the frame -- and remember, I just picked the body up by an inch. Has a hose wiggled loose because it's stretched too tight? Or was the problem just a loose gas cap? I'll replace the gas cap next with a MOPAR locking gas cap if the code recurs, then if it still happens again, I'll pull out the inner fender liners (a PITA but I've been there, done that) and check the evap system (which is hidden between the inner fender liners and the stamped wheel wells). But all this requires having the OBDII scan tool to reset the code between attempts to fix the problem... so off I go to to order it! (Why order it? I can get a decent tool from for $30 cheaper than the local price, that's why... and it does everything I need to do, so why pay more for a tool that works no better for what I need?).

And that's the month of September for my Jeep. Huh, now that I have no more motorcycles to take up time and money, and no more Jeep payments sucking my paycheck, my Jeep is suddenly getting a flurry of attention :). But that is pretty much over until November, when I will be putting new (well, actually lightly used) springs on it to pick it up higher, and maybe some nice rocker guards and corner guards, or a roll cage reinforcement in case I roll it (eep!) because the stock roll cage works, but the windshield crushes in and can chop your head off if you roll wrong (eep!) so some additional bars to keep that from happening is well worth it...

-- Badtux the Wrenchin' Penguin

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My new iTunes radio

Yes, I actually did install that Sony CDX-GT630UI iRadio that I unboxed in the last post.

The instructions from Crutchfield were complete enough. I popped the top trim panel off, then the two screws for the center console cover, and voila, the old radio was just there. Take out the glove compartment, unbolt the security screw at the back as described in the Crutchfield instructions, unplug the two connectors -- the main harness connector and the Sirius radio connector -- and voila. Finally, I unbolted the soft steel "security bar" (a piece of thick wire little thicker than a clothes hanger) and removed it to make more room, since the new Sony radio has no way of attaching to it and it was just in the way. At this point the center of the dash was as empty as it would be:

I then unplugged the Sirius module from its antenna and pulled the Sirius module out from where I'd stashed it under the dash when I put my Kenwood TM-D710A radio where the Sirius module had originally been stashed.

The next thing I had to do was figure out how to put the new Sirius module in. The old one would not work with the new radio. The new Sirius setup was actually two boxes each a little bigger than a deck of cards, one of which hooked to the antenna and one which hooked to the radio and allowed the radio to control the half that hooks to the antenna. But a Jeep Wrangler dashboard is about 8 inches from the front of the dashboard to the firewall, meaning it's already got 10 pounds of shit stuffed into a 5 pound bucket especially since I already have a ham radio and CB radio stuffed under there. First thing I tried to do was re-use the existing Sirius antenna. No go -- it had a different plug than the new Sirius radio. So I unplugged the old antenna up on the rollbar where it lives (remember, the roof of a Jeep is simple cloth or resin-impregnated fiberglass cloth depending on which on you put up there and thus radio-transparent), and put the antenna that came with the Sirius module up there in its place (it just stuck on the existing bracket with a strong magnet). I then ran the wire up front. Next I had to figure out where to put the two halves of the Sirius radio. I found a place for the antenna module at the top of the driver's side kickpanel, and a place for the radio interface module above the heater box vacuum control motor. So I wired everything together -- no way in hell I was going to be able to wire them *after* I got them in place -- and ran the wires that were to the radio out the radio hole, then stuck the boxes in place with double-sided 3M mounting tape, the heavy duty outdoor-use stuff. No way in hell I was gonna be able to get a drill up there to drill holes to mount them, 10 pounds of shit in a 5 pound bucket, remember? So they were now wired and everything that had to go to the radio, plus the two power wires, was hanging out the radio hole in the dashboard.

Then came the easy part: mounting the radio. The hardest thing there was taking the adaptor Crutchfield sent and soldering it to the pigtail that Sony sent, but it was a matter of soldering blue-white-stripe to blue-white-stripe, brown to brown, etc. until all the wires were connected. As a matter of principle I checked things out against the Jeep service manual's pinout for the connector and Sony's pinout for the connector to make sure I was soldering the right things together, but it turned out that everything soldered correctly. I also soldered in wires to connectors to provide power to the Sirius radio at the same time I soldered in the power wires for the new harness adaptor I was building here -- I used the same "bullet" connectors that are used on all the Japanese motorcycles, simply because I have bags and bags of them. And finally, I plugged in the antenna adaptor that Crutchfield supplied. So now all the wires I needed to plug into the Sony radio were hanging out the dashboard.

So now all I had to do was mount the Jeep-to-DIN adapter and the Sony radio's DIN mounting bracket. The Crutchfield instructions were complete on how to do that. Once I'd done that, I had a nice Sony-sized hole in the dashboard with wires hanging out. Plug wires into Sony, slide radio back into its little cubby while guiding the wires in the directions I wanted them to go (via sticking my hand behind the radio through the glove compartment hole and guiding/tugging wires in the desired directions), and voila. Fire it up by turning the ignition to the accessory position, and... it worked! Except the Sirius, of course, since the Jeep and I are still inside our garage, but the Sirius at least reports "No Signal" rather than nothing at all.

So now I got to put the dash all back together and test out the iPhone/iPod functionality. And here is what it looks like at the end:

My iPhone now plugs directly into my radio and charges from the radio. I can play my iTunes via the radio, and use either the radio's next/forward buttons to move between songs, or the iPhone's screen. I now have a Griffin Windowseat to hold the iPhone over at the left corner of my windshield, so it can serve as a GPS too if I need one in a jiffy or just have a convenient place to let the phone charge and play tunes during long trips. All in all, it just works -- this is a great radio for those with iPhones. I am quite pleased to no longer have to deal with that clunky Chrysler-provided radio.

Oh yeah, the Sirius? I called them and had my account moved from the old ESN to the new ESN and it just works too. I am pleased. And while the Crutchfield directions weren't as complete as they could be, clearly they were good enough for this project. The only real problem was finding a place for the Sirius radio, the Crutchfield directions were absolutely silent on the Sirius install. But it wasn't all that hard at the end to figure it out myself based on Sirius's own directions.

-- Badtux the Radio Penguin

Friday, August 7, 2009

The unboxing

My new stereo for the Jeep has arrived! The magic brown truck just delivered it from Crutchfield. I'm pumped. Gonna install it this weekend, after which I will be able to plug my iPhone's USB cable into the stereo while traveling and hear all my iTunes (and keep my iPhone charged at the same time). Here is the unboxing of all the goodies... As you can see, I had a bit of help here :).

-- Badtux the Stereo Penguin

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Goodbye to motorcycling

By this time tomorrow, I will be motorcycle-less for the first time in years.

When I first got a motorcycle, my idea was cheap commuting. But what I found is that a motorcycle is like a fancy mistress, it always wants more money, more trinkets, more of your time to get dirty with it. Motorcycles are high maintenance whores. But I wasn't too upset with that, because it was a fun whore. Problem was, this whore -- a nice fast sport-touring bike -- killed my knees on long rides. Which sort of defeated the purpose of having a nice fast sport-touring bike.

So I got a dual sport so I could go play in the national forests, and also have more room for my knees. But what I found is that playing in the national forests on a dual sport is sort of fun in that you never run into a road that has an end to it (you can turn a dual sport around literally on a dime by laying it on its side and spinning it around), but you can't carry the sorts of supplies that would save your life if you broke down in the middle of nowhere. I was always a bit nervous riding a dual sport well away from anyplace that anybody would venture for days, because if I fell and broke a limb, well, I'd probably die.

So I mostly rode the dual-sport on pavement, got a Jeep for the forest roads, and was much happier with that. So I thought, what about a nice fast sport-touring bike again? And ABS, so I could commute in crappy weather rather than chickening out because of oil-slicked roads? So I bought my Wee-Strom ABS. And it was good. The nice thing about the Suzuki V-Strom 650 is that it is a very comfortable and roomy bike, though the weird styling does tend to make things rather buffety in the cockpit. But then I hurt my leg, to go with my bad knees and my bad back. So now I have a bad leg, bad knees, and bad back.

At this point, I've decided the only reasonable thing to do is hang it up. It's just not fun for me to ride anymore because too many body parts start hurting too soon into the ride. So hopefully by tomorrow evening the V-Strom will have a new home. I guess I'll just have to be satisfied with my Jeep, because at this point trying to get myself healthy is much more important than a playtoy that hurts me to ride.

-- Badtux the Gimpy Penguin

Monday, July 27, 2009

The case of the mysterious shimmy

Jeep Wranglers of my Jeep's vintage have a tendency towards Death Wobble. This is a shimmy that kicks in at around 45mph and makes the front end wobble back and forth.

To a certain extent this is inherent in the inverted-Y type steering that my Jeep has. Modern vehicles have rack-and-pinion steering, where a cog on the end of the steering column moves a toothed rack to the left and right to steer the vehicle left and right. The problem is that rack-and-pinion steering doesn't do too well with long-travel suspension used for offroad purposes. With rack-and-pinion steering, hitting a rock or bump will cause the suspension to thump upwards, which in turn pushes on the rack as the steering rod pivots upwards on its ball joints and shortens the effective distance between the wheel and the steering column, which then makes your steering wheel twist violently. Inverted-Y type steering instead diverts much of the force of the bump into a toe change -- rather than the steering wheel twisting violently, the other tire toes out. Basically, the more you compress the front end of a Jeep, the more the front tires toe out (point slightly outwards rather than straight ahead). If you lift a Jeep, the wheels toe in (point slightly inwards). Adjusting via the driver's side tie rod is necessary whenever you lift a Jeep, and you want a slight amount of toe-in at rest because aerodynamic forces push the front of a Jeep down at speed and cause the front tires to toe-out.

So why does this cause death wobble on lifted Jeeps? Well, first of all, lifting the Jeep increases the angle of the Y. This means that an upward movement of the suspension causes toe-out to increase by a larger amount than with an unlifted Jeep. So if your passenger tire hits a bump, the driver's tire toes out and tries to steer the Jeep towards the driver's side. This then causes the Jeep to lean towards the driver's side, which loads the driver's side and unloads the passenger's side, which in turn causes the passenger's side to toe out and try to steer the Jeep towards the passenger's side. And so on. This can set up a resonance -- the "death wobble" -- when the natural wiggle overcomes the natural damping of caster, shocks, and steering damper (yes, my Jeep has a steering damper -- a shock absorber for the steering -- to help dampen any such motions).

So my Jeep started doing this at 45mph after my last tire rotation. So what did I do? First thing I did was make sure all my steering components were tight. Death wobble often happens when the track bar is loose, for example. But nothing was loose.

Next thing I did was check all ball joints and tie rod ends for play. They were all tight and play-free.

That having failed, I took my Jeep to the tire store and had them balance my tires. They reported that my back tires were fine and they'd removed some weight from the front tires.

That didn't affect things at all, so the next thing I did was check my alignment. I did this by duct-taping two pieces of angle iron to my front tires, one on each of my front tires, with the front and back of each piece of angle iron exactly 10 inches above the ground (this is necessary due to the fact that my Jeep has exactly 10 inches of clearance under the front control arms at the back of the front tires). I then grabbed a pair of $1.99 Cheap Chinese Tool Store tape measures. I duct-taped the end of the first one to the angle iron on the driver's side in front of the tires and laid the other end on top of the angle iron in front of the passenger side, then did the same with the other tape measure *behind* the wheels. I then pulled both tape measures taut, and found that there was 1/8" difference in measurement between front and back -- I was toed in by 1/8".

I checked my service manual and did a bit of trigonometry and that's well within specs for my Jeep. Still, one thing that helps with death wobble is less toe-in, because if the wheels start out pointing outwards more, they don't turn in more when you hit a bump. So I fiddled with the tie rod and reduced toe-in to 1/16", then headed out to test. I was worried that this would make my Jeep more skittish on the highway, but it wasn't significantly more skittish. But what I *did* find was that my Jeep no longer understeered -- when I cut the wheel to make a turn, instead of fighting me and trying to lift the inside tire, my Jeep now dives into turns with alacrity. Much driving since then has verified this: My Jeep now handles *much* better than with the stock suspension geometry, because a slight bit less toe-in has reduced the understeer that Jeep's engineers built in because, well, that's how American automotive engineers think cars are supposed to handle (i.e., with lots of understeer). Although to be fair, the wider tires on my Jeep, and the lift, also contributed to the understeer effect.

Anyhow, my test verified that the reduction of toe-in didn't make my Jeep wander on the highway (what I was worried about) and made it handle better in the curves. But: It did not eliminate the "death wobble" entirely. It made the death wobble less severe, it showed up as a pulsing in the steering rather than a violent shaking, but it was still there.

At this point I decided I must have a broken belt in a tire. That happens when you drive a Jeep offroad and hit a rock too hard with too much air pressure in your tires. I even know where it probably happened -- on the old toll road up Darwin Wash to Darwin, where it goes over the mountain, where I didn't bother airing down because that's a fairly mild road as far as 4x4 roads go (I could do it in a 2wd pickup truck). So I started taking tires off and replacing them with the spare. I started with the right rear tire, because it has a dent in the rim from whacking into a rock (advantage of steel over alloy -- an alloy wheel would have shattered). No change. Next, I put that tire back on the rear and rolled the spare over to the front right and replaced that tire. And...

Wobble gone.

So it appears that my new spare has a broken belt that causes a vibration at around 45mph. I'm not sure what I'm going to do about that. Probably just leave it as a spare for now... I only have about 15,000 miles of wear left in this set of tires, and it works well enough to serve as a spare, so if I get a blowout I'll just put it on in place of whatever tire, then head over to the tire store and get some new tires (bigger meats, 33" ones, this time).

So lessons learned?

  1. The stock settings for toe-in are bunk once you put bigger slower-steering tires and a suspension lift on the beast. You want less toe-in then, because the bigger tires will steer slower than the OEM tires (meaning they don't need as much toe in order to keep the Jeep from wandering on the highway) and the taller suspension will make the inverted-Y add more toe-in when you lean over to do a turn, thus causing more understeer than with a stock Jeep.
  2. And don't eliminate tires as the culprit even if they are balanced, because there's far more than being out of balance that can cause a tire to add a "thump" that can set up a shimmy. This tire isn't even out-of-round when you spin it with no load on the tire. But once you put weight on the tire, the broken belt shifts and lets the rubber stretch, making it effectively out of round as you roll it down the highway.
And thus ends this session of Jeeping Suspension 101...

-- Badtux the Wrenchin' Penguin

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Baby loves her Kraut plugs

Drove the Silver Demon to Point Reyes National Seashore last weekend. She got close to 17mpg. Baby apparently loves her Kraut plugs (the Bosch Platinum+4 ones), because I never got that even when she was new and lower to the ground/skinnier smaller tires. Jeep Wranglers aren't known for their fuel economy :}.

I also took the Weestrom shopping last Saturday. She's a nice pleasant bike, but I don't ride her enough, especially since I now live only 4 miles from work and could even bicycle it if I wanted to do so. Still conflicted over whether to sell her or not. Probably will hang on to her until next spring now, given that we're already in the second week of June (heh!). Guess that means I need to plan a trip with the Wee just to let her spread her wings a little... So tonight I'll go ahead and install the new GPS wiring to my fuse panel, because the old wiring was pretty much fail. Might also go see if I can find that handlebar-mounted windshield in my storage, which might give calmer air behind my fairing... I don't *really* need to see my speedometer (cowling-mounted) if I can glance at the GPS and see how fast I'm going, right? :-).

-- Badtux the Wrenchin' Penguin

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Where's my coolant going?

I'm baffled. My coolant tank was down to the "Min" mark. I'd filled it up to the "Max" mark maybe 10,000 miles ago. My oil has no water in it -- I'd notice when I dumped it. I don't see any leaks anywhere. I don't smell anything inside the Jeep. Should I take it to the dealer under warranty and have them do that black light thing?

Now, my brake fluid and my clutch fluid, I can see why they went down. My front brake pads are about half worn out (at 30,000 miles!), assuming they started out at the same thickness as my rear brake pads (which look barely worn). They're about a quarter inch thick now, which is a fair amount of fluid. I assume my clutch has worn some too. So I poured a bit of DOT3 fluid into both from a fresh container of brake fluid (unopened until I did this), and they should be good for a while. But there ain't no wear parts in my cooling system!

Oh yeah, finished greasing my zerks, and rotating my tires, and changed out the air filter while I was at it too. I'm not going to change the oil right now because it only has 2,000 miles on it, so I'll check the rear diff fluid (#$!@ diff seeps fluid despite my best attempts to seal it with black RTV after the last diff oil change, I'm going to have to go to the aftermarket gasket to see if that works), put the (new, formerly passenger front) spare back on the back of the Jeep, and then I'm done for the 30,000 mile service. The next "big" service will be at 36,000 miles, when I change the diff fluid again, 33K will just be an oil change and zerk puffer.

Last thing: I put anti-seize on the wheel studs. The threads were feeling mighty sticky, which is a bad thing, but this is the first time I've rotated the tires myself since the 6,000 mile rotation (which was the first -- and last -- with the original tires). I suspect the tire shop of not using anti-seize on these things and now they're a bit galled from the rotations every 5-6K miles. At least the tire shop didn't use an air wrench to put the lug nuts back on, I watched'em torque them down right, but I didn't think to check behind them on stud wear caused by galling. Oh well, when I do the brakes in 20,000 miles or so (based on current wear patterns) I'll see about whacking some new studs in. It's really easy to do on a Jeep, just take the caliper off, knock the disk off with the rubber mallet, and then you can whack the studs right out and knock new ones without having to take the axle end off and put it in a hydraulic press. We've done it on the trail before, when a guy who had his studs overstretched by morons with an air hammer had the studs break on the trail and we had to round up some studs from people's spare tire carriers and whack'em in to get him on four wheels again... crap, you can just about fix a pre-2007 Jeep Wrangler with a rock tied to a stick, when it comes down to it :-).

-- Badtux the Wrenchin' Penguin

The downsides of wrenching late at night

I got the new spark plugs into the Silver Demon tonight. I was going to ride down to the nearest NAPA auto parts and get some NAPA goodness, but they went out of business :-(. So I kept riding down El Camino Real until I passed a Kragen's on the left, at which point I got over into the left lane and did a U-turn. I asked the parts guy to give me the best plugs he had, and he started scrolling down the list on his computer. I stopped him on the Bosch plugs and got the best ones he had. Six of them for $6 apiece isn't bad at all for plugs you don't have to gap and the Krauts know how to make good shit, hell, I got a German transmission and German rear brakes (Bosch rear brakes, believe it or not!) so those plugs ought to feel right at home in my Jeep.

So the next problem was getting the coil-over-plug rail out of the way. I had to figure out how to get that $#%! connector off the end of it without being able to, like, actually *see* the bloody thing because the tabs are facing the firewall. But I figured it out eventually, and figured out a way to wiggle the coil-over-plug rail so that I could get it out of there. Six teats in a row, remember? That reliable old 4.0L I-6 engine might date to 1964 in many of its details, but that coil-over-plug rail is state of the art as of 2003. o that's a long, long coil-over rail, and a PITA to wiggle outta there.

The OEM plugs were semi-frozen in the heads (30K miles on'em), but a big 1/2" ratchet worked. The one on the end, in the indentation of the firewall, I had to grab my cheater pipe and a metal bar to get it out. But I got it out, and anti-seized the new plugs and put'em in and torqued'em to 260 inch-pounds (comes out to something like 29.7 n/m, the spec says to put'em to 30 n/m, close 'nuff already), wiggled the rail back in and hooked it back up, and then headed out to test-drive the beast. It test drove fine. Seemed to be a bit smoother, but that may have just been my imagination.

So anyhow, it was only 9:30PM by this time, so I started the next task on my list -- rotate the tires and check the brakes. I do a five-tire rotation, that way I only need one jack, besides it helps keep wear down on the locker up front to have all the tires be the same general wear level. I inspected the brakes while doing so this time because the brake fluid is looking a little low. So the spare went onto the rear driver's side. While it was off, I looked at the brake pads (rear disks). Damned things looked new -- they were freakin' half an inch thick. So I put the spare on and torqued it down to 100 ft/lbs (in stages), rolled the former rear tire to the front of the Jeep, and jacked that wheel up and took it off. That brake pad looked considerably more worn, and I found another oddity: My factory service manual has no minimum spec listed for the friggin' brake pad thickness! However, I do have a Chilton manual around and it said 0.125 inches. Well, I grabbed my micrometer and the brake pads are considerably thicker than that, probably half-worn, so that was that.

So next thing I realize is that, with my wheel off, all my zerks are right there in front of me instead of me having to crawl under the car. So I grab the grease gun and start pumping grease into zerks. One... two... three... four -- oops, what happened to my grease pressure?! Turns out I managed to run out of grease. Darn, and I just put this grease cartridge in there a year or so ago, wonder what happened to the grease given that I only use it to pump grease into my Jeep?

So now it's 10:30PM, and I'm out of grease, and I go look for grease on my lubricants shelf. I find a vat of grease, but no friggin' tube. Oh come on now, I know I had a spare tube of grease! Oh yeah, that's right, that's the empty tube of grease that I just took out of the grease gun because I did not buy another tube of grease when I put my spare into the grease gun! GAH! And it's 10:30PM. Nothing open. I wish I lived in a real city that didn't close down at 9PM!

So I put the rear tire onto the front, and roll the former front tire to the back for tomorrow, and wrap everything up for the night. Tomorrow I'll ride the Nightstrom to Kragen's again and buy a couple of tubes of Mobil 1 grease for my grease gun (*gonna buy that spare this time*!) and a new air filter because my air filter looked dirty too and I've already knocked sand out of it enough times that I'm starting to get dubious about its integrity (you can whack an airfilter on your fender only so many times before it starts getting a bit, well, mushy). That's what happens when ya drive around in the desert a lot eating the dust of other Jeeps, heh!

So g'nite, all. And the continued saga of the Silver Demon's 30,000 mile service shall, well, continue, 'cause I still got the other side of the tire rotatin' to do, as well as the air filter, add some brake fluid (checked and yeppers I still have a sealed DOT3 container), and finally, change the oil... not to mention finish greasing all those damned zerks!

Oh yah: Before taking tires off:

  1. Put yer emergency brake on.
  2. Put the transmission in first gear, or park if it's an auto. (Or if your reverse is lower than first, put it in reverse, but my 1st is lower).
  3. Put the transfer case into 4-Hi (if you have 4wd of the part-time type)
  4. Block the wheels with wheel chocks that are opposite the side you're working on.
Safety counts. I'm using the OEM jack which fits up under the axle and is mechanical in nature (it's a screw-type jack) so it's pretty much bullet-proof, but you're darn tootin' that I ain't gettin' under that Heep without jackstands even so. I ain't interested in being a flat penguin, nosirree...

-- Badtux the Wrenchin' Penguin

Monday, May 18, 2009

Piece of shit spark plugs

I've been working on cars for over 30 years now. I thought I'd seen every fucking piece of shit car that had ever come down the pike, every crappy half-assed aftermarket part that was possible to see. But this is the first time I've ever seen a brand name that was so fucking cheap ass I wouldn't put it in the car of my goddamned worst enemy.

The culprit: Champion "Platinum Power Premium Spark Plug, part number 3034 RC12PEC5". Look. I've put spark plugs in everything from a 1971 Ford Torino to a 2008 Suzuki V-Strom. I didn't expect a problem putting spark plugs into my Jeep. I mean, fuck. That goddamned I-6 engine dates back to before I was fucking born. So I took the spark plug coil rail off, and grabbed one of these spark plugs out of the box and... what the fuck? The goddamned electrode was set at like 0.60, when a Jeep wants 0.35. Well, fuck, that's not a problem, you just rap the plug on the front bumper with your feeler gage at .35 between the electrodes and... what the fuck? The goddamned electrode won't fucking bend straight it's so over-long for the gap required for the Jeep 4.0L I6, it's like all half-ass and shit? Yeppers, I tried it on two different plugs, same goddamned result. There's just too much motherfucking electrode for a Jeep 4.0L I6.

Fuck this shit. I threw these goddamned piece of shit spark plugs in the fucking trash. I'm going back to the parts house tomorrow and get some better plugs. Sue me for fucking cheaping out on spark plugs, I shoulda known better. "Platinum" or no, these are fucking bottom feeder piece of shit spark plugs, not fit for my worst enemy's car, much less my own.

-- Badtux the Rude Penguin

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Okay, so here's the deal. The Silver Demon (my Jeep LJ) came with 30 inch tires (that's 30 inches from top to bottom, on 15 inch wheels) and 3.73 gearing in the differentials (remember, I have two differentials). So what happens if I go to 35 inch tires?

Well, here's what happens. The 30 inch tires are 86% smaller than the 35 inch tires. What that means is that the effective gear ratio becomes 3.73 * 0.86, or 3.21. Which is very tall gearing for a manual-transmission Jeep LJ. Frankly, the stock gearing was already a little tall in 6th gear, I had to downshift every time I hit a hill, this would make it horrible indeed. How horrible? 6th gear in a Chrysler NSG370 manual transmission is a 0.83 overdrive. Using this gear calculator, at 75mph I'd be at 2256 rpm, rendering 6th gear useless for pretty much anything slower or on any slope steeper than my bedroom floor. Whereas with the stock 30 inch tires, I'd be at 2632 rpm, which is much closer to the torque peak of the venerable old 4.0L AMC I-6. 235 lb-ft @ 3,200 rpm. But more important, my crawl speed at idle (1000 rpm) with 2.71 low range transfer case and 4.46 1st gear ratio goes from 1.98mph to 2.31mph -- which is significant when you're rock-crawling, where slower is better. And the 1st gear mph at 1000rpm in 2hi (1:0 transfer case ratio) is 6.26mph, which would make it hard to start off without slipping the clutch as vs. the 5.37mph of the stock tires. Not Good.

So I can upgrade to 35 inch tires, but to do that, I have to go to lower gearing (higher multiplication ratio). My Jeep LJ is equipped with the Dana 30 axle. This is a relatively small axle that has only three gearsets available that are lower than the 3.73 in my Jeep: 4.10, 4.56, and 4.88. Because of the small size of the axle housing, the pinion for 4.88 is *very* small -- Dana only recommends 4.56 as the maximum. So I plug 4.56 into the gear calculator to compute 1st gear mph at 1000 rpm and... 1.88mph crawl speed in 1st at 1000 in 4-lo, or slightly lower than OEM. At 75mph, I'd be going at 2758rpm as vs. 2632rpm with the stock gearing. Not a big deal, it'd make 6th gear more usable in less-than-flat terrain though I'd still have to downshift for big hills.

Now, why am I talking about gears? Because I'm thinking about putting a ARB Air Locker in my rear end for better traction off-road. The stock limited slip has very little friction material and is slowly losing its capability to provide any traction benefit at all in offroad situations. Thing is, this replaces the stock spider gear carrier with the ARB spider carrier, and requires complete gear setup as a result. Gear setup on a Dana 44 rear axle is a PITA, requiring you to set pinion depth with a crush sleeve and a 250 ft/lb torque wrench, set pinion bearing preload with a 15 inch-pound torque wrench and spacers prior to setting pinion depth, spread the case with a case spreader and use shims on the insides of the bearings to properly preload the carrier bearings, and adjust the shims on the inside of the carrier bearings side to side to properly adjust the side-to-side gear lash. It can take a couple of hours and a lot of cursing to get all the depths and preloads and everything right (and remember that the shims are on the *insides* of the bearings and the bearings are pressed on and pulled off with a bearing puller), and people justifiably charge an arm and a leg to do it. So when I have someone put in the ARB, it makes sense to do the gear setup for the 4.56 gears at the same time. That way they only have to do the gear setup *once*, not *twice* (once for the 3.73, once for the 4.56), which would save a lot of time and hassle. And remember, when you're talking about wrenching, time and hassle is $$$.

So anyhow, that leaves one last problem. Right now I have 32" tires on my Jeep. They still have at least 20,000 miles of wear left on them before I am ready to replace them (i.e., until the tread depth gets low enough to start affecting offroad traction). What happens if I put 4.56 gears on the Jeep before I put the 35" tires? Well... rpm at 75mph goes to 3016 rpm. As vs. 2937 rpm if I am running 5th gear (1:0 ration) with 32 inch tires at 75mph. So I tested 5th gear at 75mph, and it's a bit busier than 2600 rpm was with the stock tires and gearing, but still acceptable. Note that I never -- ever -- go faster than 75mph in my Jeep. It just isn't what a Jeep is made for. So I could go ahead and get my Jeep re-geared at the same time I get the locker put into the rear, and I'll still be fine, it's just that my Jeep will be a bit buzzy (but not excessively so -- 3000 rpm isn't all that high).

Now comes the final issue: Should I pay to have someone do the locker install and gear setup, or should I do it myself? Well, here's the deal. To do it myself, I'd need the following spendy stuff: A 0-30 in/lb torque wrench. A hydraulic press. A 500 ft/lb torque wrench. A case spreader. Probably a couple other things I've forgotten, while adding up the above $500+ worth of tools (all by itself) which is more than I'd pay for the gear setup. Given that we're talking about a job that'd take me several days, I'm taking names of any competent axle people you know in the San Francisco Bay area. Heck, anywhere else within reasonable driving distance, for that matter... I'd rather pay to have it done right but have to drive 250 miles to get there, than to pay someone local who screws it up and then I end up with the axle tearing apart and needing to buy a new axle. Bummer, big time, dude!

-- Badtux the Jeepin' Penguin

Monday, May 4, 2009

It'll buff out

A few things here:

  1. The driver was *not* hurt, she was wearing her seat belt and Jeep Wranglers have a very effective roll bar.
  2. The Jeep itself wasn't significantly hurt. Her hood needed banging back into shape but bungied right back down with the stock bungies, and there were a couple of holes in the top that needed duct tape to make it watertight again, and the rocks left a few dents in the sheetmetal here and there, but that was pretty much the extent of the damage. Jeeps are *tough*, and the sheetmetal is just that -- sheetmetal, with no structural role. So dented sheetmetal is nothing to a Jeep.
  3. The driver claims that the reason she didn't follow her spotter's direction to cut hard right to follow the seam was because the sun was in her eyes.
Which brings up the fatal flaw in this driver's excuse. If I'm heading up a seam like this and my left front starts heading up into the air and I can't see my spotter, I *stop*. I then wait either for my spotter to come running to my window to tell me what I should be doing, or for him to tell me over my CB radio what I should be doing, or for him to send a runner to tell me what I should be doing. It may be that the best thing to do is to back up and take another cut, it may be that I'm in a position where I can cut hard right where I am and still make it, it may be that the best thing to do is to put the hook (winch cable) on me to make sure I don't flip backwards and just keep bulling forward, but thing is, I'm inside the Jeep where I can't see clearly, and my spotter is outside where he can see everything.

In short, I don't buy this driver's excuse. She was an idiot, plain and simple. Bulling forward after she lost her spotter was just *stupid*. If she was a guy I'd accuse her of testosterone poisoning, wanting to prove how macho he was. Since she's not a guy, well, not much to say there.

So remember, boys and girls, if you're in a tricky spot like this where it's possible to roll over, and you can't see your spotter, and your wheel starts heading up, *stop*. Maybe slowly back up a little to get your wheel back down, but at the very least, stop! You might need the hook to make it up this seam, or you may need to back up and take another cut, or a hard cut to the right might get you out of it, but simply bulling straight forward when you can't see your spotter is just, well, DUMB.

-- Badtux the Jeepin' Penguin

Performance parts

I've had great fun looking at the excellent selection of performance parts at Kaleco Auto Supply. They have a plentiful supply of flux capacitors and muffler bearings for those tricky repair jobs.

-- Badtux the Easily Amused Penguin

Monday, April 20, 2009

Summer wind

Well, the thermometer crept near 90F here in Sodom by the Bay, so this was decidedly the time for the Changing of the Windshields. Since the Mule is gone to a new home, the Knightstrom was the recipient of its seasonal windshield transplant. I went from the big winter windshield: to the small summer windshield (the one that came with the bike): The fancy bracket that the windshield is mounted on is a Madstad bracket and allows moving the windshield up and down and tilting it back and forth and allows air underneath the shield to help reduce backpressure and buffeting. For the winter windshield it was set about midway, too high and too far back and the mirrors or the handguards hit it when I turned the wheel lock to lock. For summer use, I put the summer shield all the way down and all the way pointing back. This puts the maximum air on me.

In other news, I paid off the Knightstrom today. The loan lady gave me the choice of either giving me the title with a signed lien release, or having her handle the paperwork to send the title to the State with the lien release and they send me a clear title. The latter takes four to six weeks for the state to send the clear title back. So I told her to go ahead and do the second one, of course. That gives me four to six weeks to decide whether to sell the Knightstrom or not. I'm a bit reluctant to do so, it's a great bike, but I really do need to simplify my life...

-- Badtux the Wrenching Penguin

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Goodbye to the Mule

Well, the Mule is sold. An era is ended. Sigh. I am becoming ordinary.

-- Badtux the Ordinary Penguin

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Kenwood TM-D710A

Well, I installed the radio today. Not much more to say. Now I have to figure out its obscure menu system and so forth, and input some channels... it was starting to get dusk by the time I was done. 'Nuff said there.

Last thing left to do: Add some speakers so I can actually hear the thing in my loud (!) Jeep...

-- Badtux the Experimenting Penguin


Dammit, I still haven't put the Mule on Craigslist! It's just sitting in my garage with a couple gallons of fuel in the tank (with fuel stabilizer in it, of course). It runs fine, the cruise control works great when I ran it up and down the street for ten minutes or so to warm it up and make sure everything worked, just haven't listed it. Sigh.

-- Badtux the Procrastinating Penguin

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Mule at ready

Well, I got the wiring sorted out on the Green Mule today. There's a big pile of wires sitting by the bike, I took off my ad-hoc relay kit for the headlights that never seemed to give any improvement for some reason (I think my ground wasn't good enough), I took off all the GPS wiring (for two different GPS'es!), the brackets for handlebar-mounted windshield and GPS, and I got all the cruise control wiring sorted out I hope (still need to test it). The fuel tank is bone dry empty and clean (it's plastic so no worries about rust), the float bowl is empty, it's waiting for fresh gas. I took the lowering links off the back and lubricated the needle bearings and put the original dogbones back on, and put the front forks back at their regular position.

The only thing left to do, really, is to change that frackin' fork seal. Now, there's a number of ways to do this, but I'm going to try to take the shortcut way. I'm going to take the fork leg off, remove the boot and then the C-clip that holds in the fork seal, and then put some air into the fork leg. The old fork seal ought to pop right on out at that point, then I can slide it off the end of the fork, slide the new one in, and push it right on down to where it needs to be. The "canonical" way is to disassemble the fork and use a seal remover, but that requires a looooooong extension to unbolt the bolt at the bottom of the fork tube that keeps the fork tube from escaping from the fork lower, and it's a general PITA all the way around. But anyhow, once that's done, I'll be ready to list it on Craigslist for sale -- hopefully just as the warm weather arrives and people's minds turn to thoughts of dual-sport bikes :-).

-- Badtux the Motorcyclin' Penguin

Friday, March 13, 2009


Communications are important when you're far from civilization. So my Jeep has four antennas on it. The satellite radio antenna is hidden under the padding for my roll bar. The AM/FM antenna is on the right front fender. Then here, on the back of my Jeep, are a CB (11 meter) antenna, and an amateur radio 2m/70cm antenna. Not visible is the FRS/GMSR antenna, which is fixed onto the "walkie talkie" that it came on and clips to the headrest in my Jeep, or the internal antenna of the SPOT satellite messenger, or of my iPhone (which, however, is mostly an inert lump if I'm away from pavement).

The AM/FM antenna and satellite antenna came with the Jeep, so let's talk about the CB and ham radio antennas. The CB antenna is a Firestik wire-wound fiberglass antenna that someone gave me. I mounted it on the center brake light housing on a Firestik spring through-hole mount, by drilling a hole in the brake light housing for the stud of the spring mount. I then ran the coax alongside the brake light wiring to inside the rear tailgate of the Jeep, made a semi-loop inside to allow opening and closing the tailgate, and from there along the seam of the tailgate doorsill, protected by a lot of duct tape. Once I reached the driver's side of the Jeep I then ran it alongside the existing wiring until it got to under the dash, where it hooks into the junction box of my CB radio. From the junction box I then ran the CB handset's wiring across the interior bottom of the dashboard (on the frame structure for the bar that keeps you from sliding under the dash if you're not belted and the airbag goes off, part of the federally-required airbag system), then inside the center console on top of the driveshaft tunnel, then it comes out under my seat, from whence it can be stashed alongside my seat or hooked on the dashboard microphone hook depending on whether I want that big heavy handset and coil wire hanging around (if I'm not on the trail and thus don't need the CB, it lives alongside my seat).

So anyhow, that's my CB setup. It shouldn't work, the textbooks say. Up there on the plastic brake light housing it doesn't have a good enough ground, they say, and it's too far above the tub of the Jeep for the tub of the Jeep to serve as a good ground plane (remember, the roof of my Jeep is fiberglass -- it's basically transparent to radio waves). But the 10 gauge wire running down to a ring connector slipped over one of the brake light housing mounting bolts appears to give enough ground for it to work, I hear fine on the trail, and talk good enough, and has fairly low SWR. So it works as good as the cheesy freebie antenna will ever work, I suppose, and good enough for the communicating I do with it.

Which brings us to the ham radio antenna. Now, one thing a lot of people have a problem with is the idea of putting holes into their nice purty vehicle. I've had the mount that I use for the ham radio antenna for, like, forever, but I had that same problem back when the Jeep was new. Not anymore. I put a Rock-It Parts CB Antenna Mounting Plate between the driver's side tail light and the body of the Jeep. This required drilling two holes into the body of the Jeep for supporting the top part of the bracket (the template for doing this came with the bracket), which raises the antenna up to above the level of the body of the Jeep to prevent reflected waves from messing things up and allows using the tub of the Jeep as an (asymmetric) ground plane (remember, my roof is either fiberglass or cloth depending on whether I have the hard-top or convertible top on, both will attenuate radio waves but do not reflect them). I then spaced the tail light out from the bracket a bit to give more room to get the antenna wire down into the hole for the tail light wires.

The next thing to add was the actual mount. I used a Diamond C101. I had to drill out the hole in the CB mount to be big enough for the UHF connectors and I did not have a big enough drill bit, so I went over to Cheap Chinese Tool Place and bought 2 Piece Titanium Nitride Coated M2 High Speed Steel Step Drill Bit Set for my drill, which did the job of reaming that hole out nicely. I just kept going up one step until the mount fit through it! I could then put the antenna onto the mount. I chose a Diamond NR77HA antenna. I wanted a 2m/70cm antenna because those are the two frequencies most used by repeaters (the 2m for local repeaters, the 70cm for interconnected repeaters), and the longest antenna that could still be protected by the roof of my Jeep from being whacked by brush, and the vibration of offroad driving also was a factor limiting me to about 40 inches of total length. Size matters with antennas (unlike with, err, other pointy things), but like with all good things too big is just too big. This was the best size I found for my Jeep.

Once I had the mount mounted in the hole, there came the job of running the supplied coax into the Jeep. I just looped it on the *inside* of the tail light and ran it through the existing hole behind the tail light. I protected it with plastic wire loom to protect it from anything that might abrade the coax. There is a rubber grommet where the existing wiring passes into the tub of the Jeep, I poked a new hole through it and pulled the coax through the new hole into the Jeep, then ran it alongside the existing wiring to the front of the Jeep, adding a mini-UHF to UHF converter and coupler to extend the wiring enough to get to the antenna location. Then I tested the antenna system by using an SMA-to-UHF converter to attach it to my VX-8 portable radio, used a local repeater's signal test function late at night (when nobody is using that repeater, which is 20 miles from my apartment), and found that it gives approximately twice the transmitted power as even the long Diamond SHR940 HT antenna on my VX-8.

The next thing to add will be a mobile 2M/70cm radio. I am looking at the Kenwood TM-D710A, which has some nice features. It will output 50 watts, unlike the 5 watts of my little Yaesu VX-8, and will make long-distance communications within line-of-sight much more reliable in the desert areas where I travel. The big issue is money, but that should be resolved shortly for reasons I won't say more about here. Once I am finished with that, my Jeep's communication systems will be pretty much finished, and I can then move on to other mods to the Jeep. More as that unfolds...

-- Badtux the Radio Penguin

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

End of an era

Last night I started the process of preparing my 2002 Kawasaki KLR 650 for sale. Given the fact that I can't stand on the pegs and really will never be able to trust my left leg to hold up again when doing so even after it's finished healing, having a dirt-ready motorcycle just doesn't seem like a reasonable thing right now. The trusty KLR has been a reliable steed and I'm not feeling good about selling it. I just don't trust the machinery that operates it anymore when it comes to offroading, and my V-Strom is a much better on-road motorcycle.

One part of this process is removing whatever accessories have value once removed, because accessories really don't add anything to the value of the bike at sale. I took out the Brake! LED tail light / brake light module and put the old-style filament tail light back in. I also put the license sticker on it and started going over the bike looking for problems that I need to solve. In the process I discovered a puddle of ATF on my right wheel. Yeppers, my right fork seal is leaking (I use Mobil 1 synthetic ATF in my forks, which about an 8W fork oil but easier to find and a lot cheaper than "fork oil"). Sigh. So I'll have to fix that before I can sell it. Luckily fork seals are cheap! Over the next few days I'll clean up the bike to make it showroom shiny (yeah right, it's a KLR!) and repair any other problems I find and remove any other accessories that I can sell separately without hurting the resale value of the bike (e.g., the hand guards, skid plate, and engine guards go with the bike, because I'm selling it as a rugged desert cruiser, but the relay kit for the headlights comes off as do the GPS power cables and the GPS RAM mount).

And so the process of simplifying my life begins...

-- Badtux the Saddened Penguin

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A bad joke

This isn't mine, just passing it along. Don't have much else for this blog because this month's been a waste -- haven't been able to walk worth a flip for most of it due to injury, so my motorcycles are lurking unhappily in the garage and the Jeep is getting tired of the trek to work and back every day not getting any raw beef thrown its way.


A gynecologist had become fed up with malpractice insurance and HMO paperwork and was burned out. Hoping to try another career where skillful hands would be beneficial, he decided to become a mechanic. He went to the local technical college, signed up for evening classes, attended diligently, and learned all he could. When the time for the practical exam approached, the gynecologist prepared carefully for weeks and completed the exam with tremendous skill. When the results came back, he was surprised to find that he had obtained a score of 150%.

Fearing an error, he called the instructor, saying, "I don't want to appear ungrateful for such an outstanding result, but I wonder if there is an error in the grade."

The instructor said, "During the exam, you took the engine apart perfectly, which was worth 50% of the total mark. "You put the engine back together again perfectly, which is also worth 50% of the mark."

After a pause, the instructor added, "I gave you an extra 50% because you did it all through the tailpipe, which I've never seen done in my entire career."

-- Badtux the Easily-amused Penguin

Monday, January 5, 2009


East Germany's national car was the Trabant, a cramped and woefully obsolete atrocity with a maximum speed of 62mph that was suspended on transverse coach springs (no shock absorbers) and powered by a 600cc 2-stroke engine that smoked (and sounded) like a chainsaw engine. The only advanced feature of the Trabant was its front-engine front-wheel-drive layout, in an era (the early 50's) when most cars had a rear-engine rear-wheel-drive layout. Here is an example of a Trabant in action, trying to tow a dead Czech 4x4 out of a yard:


-- Badtux the Auto Penguin