Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Little Night Wrenching

I like to wrench, and that can be difficult to work in around raising toddlers and the other business of life. That's why it ends up being done at night. Toddlers give you no peace when they know you're out in the garage using tools and they are not, so you find yourself waiting until they are unconscious.

So anyway, last week while I was on an outing with the scouts I came into some power steering trouble with the Land Cruiser. About six years ago I replaced the entire power steering system except for the fluid cooler. That cooler finally gave it up. While correcting the problem (temporarily) I discovered bubbles and fluid coming from the radiator.

As Jeff Foxworthy once said, if things seem to be going smoothly, you're obviously overlooking something. And so it goes with car problems. I found the coolant level to be much lower than I thought, and that just highlights the importance of checking the fluids regularly.

A while ago a mechanic said I should replace the radiator. I actually agreed with him, but I didn't want to do it right away. I knew it would have to be done sooner or later, so when I found what I found, it wasn't really a surprise.

This project has been memorable in several ways. It has gone fairly sideways in some respects. Also, I have to open more systems than normal, simply because of how they all relate around the radiator. This is my third radiator done shadetree-mechanic style. When I was about 18 I did it on my 1989 Mazda 323. I did the whole thing in about four hours. The next one was in the summer of 2007 when my 1986 Toyota SR5 Pickup barely made it home. I'll probably end up taking as long to do this one as both of those took together.

This truck has a transmission oil cooler built into the radiator, so swapping it requires opening both the coolant system and the transmission oil cooler circuit. Add to that the extra restorations that are required of the power steering system, and the project scope begins to creep up.

In the next picture, you can see the inlet and outlet of the transmission cooler at the bottom of the radiator. On the floor to the left you can see the new aftermarket power steering cooler. Using an aftermarket one saved me $300.

I have been surprised at the level of disassembly that has been required. On the others I didn't remember having to basically remove everything from the front that I could.

Here's the new thermostat just before closing it back up in there.

Now, you may be asking what had gone sideways? Well, I sheared off three bolts and rounded one nut. The nuts pictured below came loose for the most part, but the last one rounded off and was being utterly unyielding. I looked over Youtube and found a great technique for rounded nuts that only involves the judicious application of a small cold chisel. This method worked great.

Those three bolts that I sheared off are going to be more problematic. I still haven't dealt with them, but I do have the plan outlined. One of them I could live without. It is one of four that hold the headlight assembly on. The other two are both of the mounting bolts that attach the steering damper to the frame. I can not drive without the steering damper, so I will have to sort that out before calling the project complete.

Now, I have never actually done this. I came close on my motorcycle project where I had to repair a sheared bolt. That one had some very challenging tight space restrictions. These ones are relatively open, but they will be difficult because I have to either extract the bolt or drill it out by hand, which means I have very little room for error. Today I bought some drills and taps to that end. I'll test my mettle on Monday. That will be the very last step because that piece is basically the last one to go together.

This is a good place to insert a plug for PB Blaster. I didn't give these bolts long to soak under the PB Blaster, but others I did came off just fine. If you plan to work on a car that is more than a couple of years old, go buy the PB Blaster. It will save you lots of heartache.

So, sometimes you start out thinking it will be really hard, but it turns out to not be so bad. Sometimes you start out thinking it will be easy, and the gremlins teach you the meaning of pain.

So why do I do it? What draws me to this self-abuse, if you want to call it that? I'm not sure. It would be tough to make the argument that I'm doing it to save money, although I do save money. I think I do it because I love to learn. I always finish a project with more knowledge than I had at the outset. I also derive a lot of satisfaction from repairing things.

I also think I do it to stay grounded. In my job I spend a lot of effort telling mechanics how to do work. Things look a lot different from your cubicle than they do when you open the system and get an adrenaline rush because water is just gushing out in front of you. It's difficult to describe the feeling when that bolt twists under your wrench and you know that it's head is coming off. Your stomach just sinks a little. In those cases, there usually is nothing for it. Since they don't let me turn wrenches on the ships, I have to do it in my driveway, and that's just fine by me.