The penguin's motorcycling and Jeep blog

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Six Million err Thousand Dollar Jeep

"We have the technology, we can rebuild her."

As readers of my blog know, someone ran a red light in front of me and I t-boned him a couple of weeks ago. The right front corner of my Jeep was a mess and the steering box Pitman shaft sheared right off. But never fear, the Silver Demon is back on the road again:

Because the bumper was toast, I bought a cool Warn bumper. It cost the same amount as the OEM bumper but is much stouter. The fender is a new replacement, but rather than the OEM fender flare I bought some Bushwacker flat fender flares to replace the OEM's, this gives me more clearance under the fender for bigger tires and also some trick side running lights (DOT certified so they're street legal, don't worry). The fog light on that side was toast, so I bought some Hella 500 fog lights rather than an OEM replacement light, they actually use the same reflectors so that wasn't a big deal. I had my mechanic do most of this work because a body shop would have been utterly clueless.

I brought her home Thursday evening, and have spent most of this weekend going over her making sure everything's okay. I swapped out the lower control arms with some new JKS control arms and checked the OEM's to see if the impact had caused damage to the bushings, no, it hadn't. Doesn't appear to have hurt anything else either, the Jeep drives the same as it did before it got whacked. Jeeps are *tough*. Well, except for that OEM steering box, but I'm wondering if that fault line might not have been there on purpose so that if the wheel ever got a whack like that, it wouldn't cause the steering wheel to spin and break my fingers.

The shop mostly did things okay, but two things were wrong -- the wiring for the marker lights was reversed (so it would not blink when the lights were on), and the right marker light was hard-wired rather than having connectors (because the original wiring had been sheered off by the fender when it was crumpled). Easy fix for both. And the alignment shop did not center the steering wheel, grrr, but that was an easy fix too, just grab the spinner near the pitman arm and spin away (it doesn't affect alignment, just the centering of the steering wheel)... took me two tries, the first time was a little too far, the second try was successful, the only way to know whether it's okay is to drive it down the center of a straight road (so the crown doesn't make it want to go one way or another) and see whether the steering is straight, clearly the alignment shop didn't do that. Oh well!

Now to put the new (well, used, bought from someone else) Old Man Emu front springs on her to deal with the sagging front springs... I was going to do that today, but discovered that the new (well, used, being thrown away by work) workbench I'd put in my garage was too big and didn't give me enough room to jack the front of the Jeep up. I remedied that by shifting everything around to put the workbench in the corner, where it's now out of the way... but that ate up a bunch of my time, I have too much junk in my garage (for a definition of "junk" that is "tools and supplies"). And of course once I do that, I'll need to align the Jeep *again* and re-center the steering wheel *again*. Meaning I wasted my time centering it the first time, but what the hey, ain't the first time I've wasted my time ;).

-- Badtux the Wrenchin' Penguin

Monday, March 8, 2010

Toyota is the new Philip-Morris

Philip-Morris, you might recall, is the cigarette company that for years insisted up and down that cigarettes were good to you... all the while knowing, within their labs, that they were addictive and caused cancer. They became the poster child for companies that care more about profits than about the health and safety of their customers, so hated that they had to change their name to "Altria" (I guess if you can't X it out, effin' A it out) to escape their reputation.

So why bring up Toyota and Philip-Morris in the same breath? Well... it's because of the testimony of David Gilbert, an automotive technology professor who demonstrates a fault condition that Toyota's electronic throttle control software doesn't detect. Note that Mr. Gilbert does not say -- or prove -- that this particular error condition is the cause of Toyota's problem. Rather, he shows that there is a condition that Toyota's throttle control should detect -- two shorted wires to the throttle position sensors, which are supposed to have different voltages on them because they go to different resistor packs -- which it does not, in fact, detect, and therefore there is at least one bug in Toyota's throttle control software. And software bugs are like cockroaches -- if you can see one wandering around on your kitchen counter in broad daylight, likely enough there's a thousand more in the wall behind the counter hidden from view.

Toyota can try to spin this all they want, but as someone who has an EE+software engineering background, I agree with Gilbert that this seems to indicate that Toyota's throttle control software is not as robust as they claimed and thus cannot be eliminated as a possible cause of the problem. So what's Toyota's response? A) say that Gilbert was paid by trial lawyers (true, but so what? The software problem doesn't go away just because of who Gilbert is paid by), and B), to hold a dog and pony show claiming that Gilbert's *SPECIFIC* bug is not the cause of the acceleration problem. Uhm, okay, but Gilbert himself did not say his bug was *THE* cause, just that it indicated a problem with the software.

All Toyota is accomplishing is making themselves look like the cigarette companies -- i.e., a bunch of lying bastards more concerned about the bottom line than about the health and safety of their customers. This points to a problem in the Japanese psyche that has been sort of shoveled under the covers since WWII -- the Japanese unwillingness to ever admit that they made a mistake or are not perfect. The Japanese refused to believe that their codes had been broken for years after Pearl Harbor, allowing the U.S. to know exactly what they were doing at all times, and even when things happened that should have just blatantly told them "our codes are broken" (like American carriers appearing off of Midway Island *just in time* to sink their own carriers) they refused to believe that any mere American could ever do such a thing to their "perfect" codes. I'm seeing the same mentality at work on the part of Toyota right now... and it ain't pretty, ain't pretty at all.

-- Badtux the Car Penguin

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Gimme heat!

I'm not sure when the low speed on my Jeep's heater quit working, but I noticed it one day while driving down the street -- no hot air blowing out of my vents. WTF? I checked the next three speeds up, and they all worked. So it wasn't the motor, and given that my Jeep has less than 40,000 miles on it, it didn't seem likely to be the switch. At that point, it clicked: Heater resistor.

To understand what I'm talking about, here's the deal. Your heater blower motor takes 12 volts. The way pretty much all American cars are wired, it takes that 12 volts straight from the fuse box, through a relay controlled by the "Hi" setting on the air conditioner/heater fan control. If you want the motor to run slower, you have to feed it less voltage. The way that American cars do that is to have a resistor network, where each resistor gives you a progressively lower voltage, and use the heater control switch to switch which pin of the resistor network gets sent to the blower motor. The higher the resistance, the lower the voltage, and the lower the fan.

Checking out my handy dandy factory service manual, I decided to pull the resistor out and test it. The problem was, where is the blasted thing? Finally after sufficient digging around I found where it is: mounted right above the passenger side footwell light. So I unbolted the light and unplugged it and put it aside, unplugged a bunch of wires under there and moved them aside, and there we were, two 8mm bolts holding this thing in so that it sticks into the airflow where it can get cooled down while the heater is operating. So I removed it and it turns out to be a flat circuit board with resistive traces on it. I take my ohm meter, and yeppers, the connection between the last two pins (the smallest one is the low speed pin) is gone, and a glance at the circuit board shows that the trace apparently exploded where the connector's pin attaches to it, probably due to a manufacturing defect that allowed moisture to get into the circuit board.

A quick trip to my local Jeep dealer and $25 later, and I have a new resistor, and have all fan speeds going again. And yeah, this was probably caused by a manufacturing defect of this Hecho en Mexico hunk of junk, but my OEM warranty ran out at 36,000 miles, so fat chance of getting reimbursed. WTF, it's just $25. So anyhow, if you ever run into this with your own car, it might be as simple as that: a $25 resistor panel might be blown. It's a cheap and easy first thing to check anyhow, and it's not as if they're (usually) expensive...

-- Badtux the Now-Warm Penguin