The Spechtacle

A site for sharing information, dropping dimes and plotting overthrows...

Category: Cars (page 2 of 5)

Talk about your rides…

Electrical connectors.. an automotive conundrum..

I like electricity. I like everything it does for me, between listening to Neil Young on the Ipod to firing the spark plugs and fuel injectors in my Saab. But for the guy who has to fix his own car, it has a price.

connectors

And that price involves connectors. No matter how your car is set up, things have to be plugged in, and therein is the rub. I saw some statistics somewhere that electrical problems consume 80 percent of warrenty expenditures. And of that 80%, the majority is connection problems. Auto engineers are hot on the trail of this problem too, but they are really getting on my nerves.

They have made some progress though. 40 years ago, there was only one kind of connector. For each wire. And these connectors could be plugged into anything, so you really had to have some kind of idea where they went. This wasn’t to big of a problem because there were few wires.

Then they started gathering wires into groups. There were connectors with 2 wires in them, then 3, 4, 5 and up. However, all the 2 wire connectors were all the same, so you wouldn’t be able to plug a 3 wire connector into the item, but any 2 wire one would fit. You still had to know where the wires all went.

Engineers finally got the problem, and now no 2 connectors will plug into the same thing. Every last one is different, even though they might look the same. One problem solved, and another problem resulted from this.

Connector locks.

Now connectors hardly ever fall off, but we have new problems. Getting them disconnected. Engineers have bent over backwards to devise locks and even extra locks to keep them from falling off. But sometimes to fix something you have to take it off. And trying to figure out how this or that lock even works is almost a race against your sanity. With the advent of unique connectors for every electrical item in the car comes a unique lock solution for that individual connector. And worse that that, Engineers have devised an extra lock system that locks the original connector lock. This is called the quality assurance locks.

Now, I really have to study the connector to figure how it comes apart. And every now and then I don’t figure it out and end up destroying it. (Oh Well…) I’ve got this problem right now on a vacuum motor for a brake booster on a 2008 Saab Combi. I still haven’t figured it out, but a new motor is coming in tomorrow. Maybe I can get some clues from that…

greg

GM and the retirees…

mad-max-4

Looks like GM is heading for bankruptcy court soon. I guess it was inevitable anyway.. Anyway this makes it easier for GM to do something that they’ve been trying to do for years… get rid of their retirees.

It’s true that GM workers have had a good deal in the past. They usually enjoyed above average wages, and get what I think are great benefits when they retire. And they usually retire young. Almost all the GM retirees I know retired at 50. I’m 59 with no end in sight.

I don’t hold it against those guys though. It’s an American’s duty to do the best he can. Hell, he’s got kids to raise and bills to pay like everybody else. I don’t get that kind of a deal, but if I signed up with a company that promised retirement and worked 30 years for them, and they dropped me like a hot rock, I’d be pretty upset.

Well, I guess that’s the American way now, lower wages and no benefits. Sound to me though that GM isn’t living up to their bargains. The 3rd Mad Max movie, Beyond Thunderdome, had the answer. “Break a deal, face the wheel!”

It’s a shame corporations are faceless and unfeeling entities, I’d like to see a few CEO’s face the wheel.

greg

Auto Info… The way it should be done…

I had to fix the boss’s toy yesterday, a chinese go-kart imported by Manco in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. The boss wanted a new tire, a new kill switch, tuneup and all fluids changed. And he doesn’t have any owners manual, etc, to go with it.

gokart1

A quick internet search got me everything I needed. All the parts lists and repair manuals and anything you could possibly want to or need to know about this little machine are all wrapped up in PDF documents and free for the asking. Everything is available here.

Admittedly this is just a cheap gokart but why hasn’t the car business done this? Manufacturers of all kinds of stuff do this for their customers, any kind of computer equipment has drivers and support info online. What do you get from Ford, say? Thousands of documents that don’t pertain to anything useful.

I know, there is a large industry grown up around this need, and you’re fooling with their jobs. You can get this information online, but at quite a cost. If you want online access to major american car info, it’s about $2500 dollars a year. You can usually get a big paper manual on a specific car for one or two hundred dollars. That really is a lot of money, especially since the father of a normal family has about 4 or 5 cars laying around, and they all need to be fixed occasionally. And it’s not like you didn’t already pay a ton of money for these cars in the first place. But it seems to the manufacturers that your just paying to rent them not own them.

Anyhow, my hat is off to Manco for doing it right, and not to Ford or Chevrolet who want to keep their info to themselves and their clique.

greg

As the mechanics world turns.. some more..

I think the economic downturn is starting to accelerate some changes that have been coming anyway. GM and the American auto manufacturers are going to ditch the unions. Maybe not right away but soon. It’s kind of a shame too, although I never got to be in one I can see where they sort of invented the American middle class. I work on Saab vehicles, a division of GM, and they’re gonna get ditched too. It makes you wonder how all this is going to shake out.

Years ago, the auto manufacturers went on a buying spree, buying up all the brands they could. It’s funny now that they can’t get rid of them fast enough. And not only the foreign brands they bought, but they want to get rid of anything thats not absolutely their core business. As far as GM goes, that means getting rid of everything that doesn’t say Chevrolet or Cadillac on it’s nameplate.

I’d like to think Saab will come through all this ok, but nothing is for sure. There is talk of the Swedish Government buying into the company, or the company going out on it’s own. If GM hadn’t bought them when they did, Saab already would have been history. I don’t know if a couple of hundred thousand cars a year can prop up a manufacturer or not. (last year 2008, Saab probably sold about 95,000 cars, not great, but their best year was around 250,000)

I would think that if downsizing the number of models and car lines is good, what about economies of scale? Doesn’t that count for anything anymore? A lot of parts on Saabs come straight out of the GM partsbins, so with a divorce this will hurt Saab greatly. But if GM survives this crisis, and get back to being profitable again, I can see the day when they start thinking about rounding out their offerings by buying up some of the competition….

greg

As the mechanic’s world turns….

general-motors-logo

Since the Great Depression of ’09 happened, I have a lot of free time at work. Some ways to kill that time, in time honored mechanics fashion, is to play cards, drink beer, or pitch pennies against the wall. Or you could catch up on your training, which I opted for since I don’t drink anymore.

I noticed that GM is going through another training metamorphosis. Back in the 80’s the American car manufacturers were contemplating how to reduce the amount of money that mechanics made. I guess this was because they didn’t want to pay us so much for warranty work, which they don’t pay much for anyway. They’re big idea back then was to hire some experts, and make them available to mechanics for assistance if they got bogged down in some technical problem. This morphed into (in GM’s case) the Technical Assistance Center or TAC.

The idea was simple. You could hire a bunch of minimum wage guys and turn them loose on customers cars, and if they needed help it was just a phone call away. Needless to say, this didn’t work. You can see how good guys with no experience are by how many motors get lunched that just got their oil changed at well known cheap oil change places. And since cars got more complicated, they can’t even get rid of the TAC center now. They need every brain they can get their hands on to fix modern automobile systems.

It came home to roost in the preamble to the latest GM training guide. They don’t want mechanics to follow a repair procedure by rote anymore… they want them to think outside the box, use their own initiative, get down and dirty and figure the problem out.

This is what Americans have traditionally done best, and have always done, and it is about time GM and the other American car manufacturers acknowledged it.

greg

Pioneer and the aftermarket radio industry…

radio

I heard in the news recently that Pioneer is getting out of the flat panel TV business and returning to it’s core business of selling aftermarket car radios… I don’t know if that’s a good idea or not.

Cars have been undergoing a transformation lately, and one the the things being transformed is the audio system. Traditionally, the car radio occupied a hole around 2 by 8 inches in the dash. This is called a DIN opening. Some upscale cars at first wanted to put more stuff in their radios, which led to the double DIN opening, or around 4 by 8 inches. Companies that sell aftermarket radios have traditionally made their wares to these sizes.

But, car companies being what they are, and progress being what it is, this is all over. The audio system now is spread all over the car. (This is not true for all cars, but increasingly so..) The picture above is a 2005 Saab 9-3 dash. At the bottom of the picture are the radio controls, and just the controls. The radio display is the other module at the top of the dash by the windsheild, and the radio itself in buried deep in the dash. (There actually is more, The Woofer amp is under the drivers seat, and the other amps are in the trunk.) No DIN openings here.

And it’s spreading. The current trend in radios is a control head that you see in the dash, and this usually incorportates the HVAC controls also. The guts of the radio is buried out of the way, and the display is also separate. This is not good news for the aftermarket radio industry. The DIN and double DIN openings are slowly disappearing. And so far, I’ve seen no response from the aftermarket radio industry. They have no solution to this problem so far.

The other loser in this scenario is the guy who bought the car. So far his audio options are pretty much fixing what’s in the car. You can use your ipod and whatever, but that solution relies on the factory radio working. The factory audio systems have proved to be pretty durable, but if a replacement unit is necessary, your going to wish you had those DIN openings in your dash….

greg

The best tool in the toolbox…

tool

The one thing about being a mechanic is you need and accumulate tools throughout your career. Every year they introduce a new method to drive the humble screw, and of course you need a whole new set of tools to deal with it. And every year they build new cars with unaccessable items ( like oil filters) that need special tools to get to them. It never ends…

But there is one great tool that I have that can’t be replaced and hasn’t been updated. You’ve seen it in PDF’s and Photoshop. You guessed it, it’s the hand tool.

The hand tool is so good it can pick up stuff you can’t even see. And the hand tool has the sensation of touch, so that you can see what you’re doing without seeing it. The hand tool is covered in a skin like substance that is waterproof and impervious to a lot of chemicals. Sometimes the hand tool’s skin like substance gets a little rough from the wear and tear, but there are gloves available to cover them, but they are never as good as the original skin like substance. If you use latex gloves, any oily bolt will defeat their grip. If you use leather gloves, any small nut or spring will defeat their grip. None of this stuff defeats the hand tool’s original skin like substance.

The hand tool can adjust to grab any size tool handle, and they have great mobility, so good in fact that you can always get the hand tool into places you can’t always get it out of. In sum, the hand tool is the best tool in the toolbox…

greg

Car guys in the Nam…

I got dropped into Vietnam at the tender age of 21 or 22. Of course all the young guys were car guys, but mostly the talk was of hot american iron…. I was the weird guy who liked foreign stuff.

nam579

But all the foreign stuff in Vietnam was old left overs from the French occupation. But it was still neat stuff.. Citroen Traction Avants from the 50’s were everywhere but was hard to find one in good shape. Those cars are still there. In fact, you can still hire restored examples of these cars from the Hotel Sofitel to tour Hanoi.

dec_07_vietnam_ect_042

All the trucks and buses were old French things too. All the big commercial trucks were worn out, sometimes you see them shaking violently when getting over 35 mph or so. It’s only natural I guess, when a 1st world country leaves all it’s stuff in a 3rd world country, it gets used till it quits. The buses were everywhere too.

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Neat little Renault Goelettes and Saviems puttering up and down Highway One.

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The Vietnamese could make a bus out of anything!

But the coolest Veitnamese drove (or were driven around in) American cars. The commander of the 1St ARVN, General Phu, had a black ’59 Chevy staff car. And it looked new. Another guy I used to hang around with had a ’57 Plymouth, and it had absolutely no glass left in it. But he didn’t care, cause he was the coolest guy in Hue city! Even a few of the white mice (civilian police) rode Harleys.

nam165

Since then I rarely owned any American cars. I got my first MG when on leave in 1972 and never looked back. Now if only the French could work on adding a little reliability…

greg

Xenon headlights… A bridge too far?

xenonlamps

Sometimes car companies outdo themselves to sell cars. Xenon bulbs comes to mind. I think it is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. We all do need to see better at night, but the small contribution xenon bulbs give are not worth the cost or the safety concerns.

The old square sealed beam that got us into the seventies was replaced by the radical new halogen bulbs. They were brighter but at double the cost. Of course that cost was about 15 dollars as opposed to 6 dollars, but you did see better at night.

Since progress never stands still, we have a new solution. Xenon headlamps.. or high intensity discharge lamps (HID). They are brighter, and do allow you to see better (somewhat). They also put out more light per watt. But the complexity required is amazing, and there is the problem of oncoming drivers.

To get those HID lights to light up you need several things. You need a transformer that can generate about 30,000 volts to get it started… Then you need a ballast that can generate about 85 volts to keep it lit. All this stuff is pretty high energy and can hurt you if you get yourself crossed up in it. Finally, to keep from blinding oncoming drivers, you need a system for beam leveling, that usually includes suspension sensors and a control unit to keep it all together.

When your halogen headlight blinks out, the usual reason is the bulb. No problem, you go down to Autozone and get one for fifteen bucks and away you go. At your worst case scenario, the wiring has failed at the bulb or the relay quit. If you have to get someone to fix it the most it could cost you is a hundred bucks.

When your xenon headlight blinks out, it’s usually the bulb. That alone is a couple of hundred bucks for the part. If anything else goes wrong your in for an expensive fight. And to add to the headlight problem, is something goes wrong with the leveling system, and it does a lot, your headlights can be as bright to other drivers as airplane landing lights!

So, in conclusion, I like to live by the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid!). I’m just getting around to accepting power windows and power seats, mainly because you can hardly find a car without them anymore. Plus I like to save a buck when I can and I like cars that are easy to service. That kind of thing is getting increasingly hard to find.

greg

The Saab 9-7 and the pregnant woman…

saab9-7

A few years ago Saab and GM (mostly GM) decided we needed an SUV in our lineup. GM had this big hulking trailblazer that was selling well at the time and hung a Saab bumper skin on it and away we went.

We had teething problems for awhile getting up to speed on repairing those things, as they are almost an alien beast to an old Saab guy. But we caught up and things are kinda going smooth.

But repairing them is not living with them. A guy in a shop rarely puts a spare tire on a car (or truck) because we usually repair whats wrong with the tire, or replace it. I haven’t had my spare out in ten years or better.

So in comes this pregnant woman in her new 9-7. She wants to know how to change the tire in an emergency. I didn’t know, but offered to read the repair manual to catch up. She came unglued. We’re supposed to be experts, and on and on, and she can read the repair manual as good as anybody. (But she didn’t).

Well besides all that, the 9-7 is a big heavy truck. It has huge 18 inch truck tires on it, and the lug nuts are torqued at over 100 lbs per square inch. This woman was 7 months pregnant and couldn’t have weighed more than 120 pounds. I have since changed a tire and you have to lay on the ground to get the spare out the bottom, and drag it out from under the truck, plus jacking it up and on and on… and the lug wrench is far from adequate.

However, I am now well versed on changing the spare on these 9-7’s, but since road assistance is free during the warranty period, I’ll just call them.

greg

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