The Spechtacle

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Tag: Saab (page 1 of 2)

Requiem for a machine

I drove my Saab home last night. I could feel the oil and gasoline coursing through it’s veins. The news was bad. Saab may have reached the end of the line, no new offspring to carry on the name. Like an extinct species, Saab has reached the end of the line, mainly because some CEO saw a spot of red ink on his ledger.

“I’m gonna do something about that spot”, says he. “No red ink for me”!

The Saab 92

The Saab 92


Several suitors came and went. Finally the only solution left was to give it away. The Russians said they would take it, if the European Union also gave them 400 billion Euro’s. The EU also didn’t like that red spot of ink either, so Saab is relegated to the scrap heap.

Who would have thought that a guy could have made his living for his whole adult life on a quirky little car made in another country, and one not made in huge numbers, either. And quirky they were. The engineers from Saab, airplane guys, needed to come up with a car after WWII to diversify their company. They bought some old DKW’s in a junkyard to help design their car. The DKW’s had 2 stroke engines, hence Saab’s first cars did too.

I remember this old country boy I worked with. He did Dodge cars, as our dealership at the time had multiple car lines. He remembered some oddball neighbor of his that had an old 2 stroke Saab. “I used to blow past him so fast I ran him off the road”, he said proudly. He didn’t think much of quirky little foreign cars.

Greg and a 1958 93

Greg and a 1958 93


My first one was pretty pokey too, but when they started hanging turbochargers on them, fewer country boys could blow past them. They have quite a following also, by the numerous web sites and forums dedicated to the car.

On Friday the 11th of December, 2009, the CEO of GM announced that talks were over and they are going to close down Saab. The newspaper guys were hanging out at the shop, like sharks looking for a good story. Saab is heading for the history books, like the dinosaurs, Edsels, and analog tv. I’m going to miss them when they’re gone.

greg

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

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

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

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

Winter Olympics… in a Saab…

saabwinter

Yeah, the snow finally got here.. On the way to work I was remembering my earlier years in old cars during the 60’s. Everything was rear wheel drive and had a V-8. Also usually had bad tires too so that you ended up with one wheel drive, and that was the bad wheel. To get to work in the snow it was usually balls out and out of control..

My Saab, on the other hand, couldn’t be a better snow car. Cars with front wheel drive (which most are now, none then) are good anyway because all the weight of the engine is over the drive wheels. But you add snow tires and an electronic winter driving program and you’re pretty unstoppable. And if ice really becomes a problem some studs will solve that.

Most people think abs is unhelpful in the snow, and it doesn’t really help you stop when it’s real slippery but it does allow you to steer somewhat (although more like a boat than a car). And with front wheel drive you can also use the throttle to steer… push on it and you go wide, let off and it tucks in. Kinda fun in the slippery white stuff.

Another thing us old Saab guys used to do is spin around in parking lots. Just put your car in reverse, crank the wheels hard over and hold them there and blast the throttle for as long as you can stand it. Kind of like the air force’s centrifugal tester, the car’s rear end stays planted and the front swings around in fast circles. That will make you dizzy, but make sure you have lots of room…

And it’s off to the Olympics!

Saab control units, then and now…

I’ve got the control unit blues lately… Trying to replace them is getting to be a pain. There always seems to be some kind of problem and it always ends up being faulty or wrong software.

My latest problem is with this new Saab. But while working on it I did notice a few things. These modules have gotten really small. This generation, called ME9, does a lot more processing than the old Trionic, and a lot faster too.

controlunit1
Trionic on left, ME9 on right

The other thing is they don’t need to be protected from the weather any longer. This module is bolted onto the engine. The old T7 was either inside the car in the kickpanel or in a protected area under the hood. I even found a control unit under the car on the rear end on our new Xdrive cars (4WD).

controlunit2
control unit installed on engine..

These modules seem more durable and robust than ever before… however they still need software…

greg

More space… please..

In an earlier post on the new Saab V-6 engine, I mentioned how GM and Saab were becoming packaging companies. One thing about modern cars, everything is jammed in there. I remember when they replaced the old Saab 900 in 1994… mainly because the engineers couldn’t stuff anything else in it. It was full up. They were shoving control units under everyseat and kick panel till there was no where else to go.

My co-worker John put a Serpentine belt on one of the new V-6’s today. Good Lord! I was talking to some GM engineers the other day and they were bragging that they had at least 6mm between the engine and everything else. I just measured my fingers and they are at least 18mm thick. Hopeless. They design them to build, not to repair.

v-6belt
Note: the space between the lines is 6 millimeters, the belt is down that space.

Things you notice is that small things like hose clamps are faced to the frame. You can’t get a tool on them because the engines were put together completely before being dropped into the car. The clamp was installed by some auto worker standing next to the motor, without a car in the way.

Well, I guess if this stuff was easy, they wouldn’t need me to do it…

greg

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