Monday, September 29, 2008

Another rental car

You might remember back in June I was raving about the Hyundai Elantra I had for a rental car. Here I am again in Burbank, California and this time I've got a Ford Focus.

Search around you Youtube for a bit and you should find Hamster reviewing it when the new Focus came out. I'm a fan of the old Focus, I had one for a rental way back in '01 (nearly this same time of year too) and loved it. This one I'm totally under entralled with...

Of course the big issue is Avis stuck me in a base model. Lesson learned, take the 9:30am flight from Boston to Long Beach. This car hasn't got a sunroof, hasn't got satellite radio although it teases with its "Sirrius" button, and it hasn't got a remote door unlocker.
It does have a bucket of power with all the torque steer you could want. From a dead stop of you really mash the pedal it'll squirm to the right so hard you'd think it was an inline engine...
Its also got the world's worst headrests. Your head isn't allowed to tilt back at all which I find quite uncomfortable...

All in all an entirely forgettable ride...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Honda lives again

Haven't been riding the Honda (which is in my profile pic) for awhile. The last time Angie and I took it out we ran out of electricity. Thats bad, when your bike runs out of electricity its just like running out of gas.

At first I thought the problem was the battery. The one that was in it was 4 or 5 years old and thats really all you can expect from a starting battery. So I replaced it but the problem still plauged me.

Tonight I cleaned my desk and found the spare set of brushes I'd bought for the alternator. The old ones had worn out and I'd made a set (cut down some from the hardware store) but I didn't really trust them. I installed the replacements, used some 600 grit sandpaper (from the Hammie's hood project) to clean the commutator (thats where the brushes run) and then cleaned it good with contact cleaner. The alternator tested out fine which is to say it wasn't shorted out anywhere. The rectifier/regulator also tested fine so I fired it back up and....

Son of a gun, it works. At just over idle its running 14v when I put the multimeter across the battery. The "voltmeter" on the bike is very slow to respond but the multimeter was quick. Thats great, a weight totally off my shoulders.

On the downside the 190D has a bad differential bearing. Bob is loathe to replace it because he's worried about getting the pinion shimmed correctly. He thinks a good used one will be a better bet anyway. I don't really know what to do, maybe try someplace else? Bob's been good to me, he didn't even charge to diagnose the issue.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Lets clear up something about yesterday

Interestingly when I tried to make yesterday's post Blogger wouldn't save with the title set to "death and other entertainment". I saved the post without a title, then went back and added the title again and everything was fine. Odd...

I'd like to point out that I don't have a deathwish or anything like that. I'm not looking to die, I'm not suicidal, what I wrote yesterday was satire...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Death and other entertainment

Death is inevitable, theres nothing you can do about it. In the words of Jim Morrison "no one here gets out alive". The one thing about death that worries me is dying in a hospital bed hooked up to a million machines or in a nursing home after an extended illness has left me without my mind.

If I could choose my death I'd like to die quietly like my grandfather. He laid down on the couch to watch baseball like he had a million other times, just this time he never woke up. No fuss, no muss, no trouble.
Alternately I'd like to get hit by a bus. In fact lets take that one up a notch, I'd like to get hit by a bus full of nuns. Hows this for a headline "Man in clown suit killed by bus full of nuns" I'd like to see that printed somewhere other than the Onion.
In fact while I'm dreaming I'd like the Onion to do a totally serious story on the accident while every other news source is printing the insane reality.

Okay, thats it, I need to go out and buy a clown suit. That way if I ever find myself seriously depressed and contemplating suicide I'll be ready. I figure it pays to be prepared for these things. Think how upset I'd be if I were all ready to off myself and I couldn't find a clown suit....

I'm trying to figure out

Who should I vote for in the presidential election?

I can't vote for McCain, I believe in a woman's right to choose, I believe in gay rights including the right to marry, and I don't believe in drilling for oil.

I can't vote for Obama, I'm against gun control, I support gay marriage, I'm not for government meddling in health care.

I can't vote for Bob Barr (liberatarian), he's a nut.

I can't vote for Alan Keys, he's an even bigger nut.

I can't vote for Cynthia McKinney (green party), she loses focus when it comes to issues around black folks and she doesn't have a hope of winning.

I can't vote for Ralph Nader, he's burned too many bridges, he'll never get elected. That said I do agree with him more than the others except for gun control.

So who's left? Nobody...
I guess I'm going to write in Ron Paul.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The days of cheap oil are back?

Apparently those who said cheap oil would return are right. Well we don't know yet if its cheap, cheap oil or just cheaper cheap oil. Either way I'm okay with it. I've been real worried about heating my house this winter and how much that was going to eat into my toy and entertainment budget...
With oil back under $100 a barrel we should see the cost of gas, diesel and heating fuel continue to slide, I'm pretty pleased with that news. The thing I'm worried about is that Mr. and Mrs. American idiot are now immune to $2 or $3 a gallon gas and will go back to buying big stupid SUVs to haul their crumb grabbers in. We've made some advance in the last couple years in cutting our consumption, lets not let that slide. 30mpg minimum standard for cars and 25mpg for all trucks up to 1 ton capacity is something that can be done within the next 5 years, it should be done and indeed friends it MUST be done or we'll be even deeper in the crapper the next time theres an "oil crisis". Lets not backslide like we did in the '80s. Make no mistake, the next "oil crisis" is just around the corner.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Went to the first occasional ChowdaQ in Warwick, RI last weekend.
The ChowdaQ name comes from the form, other Mercedes enthusiast gatherings have names like IowaQ, OkieQ and RustyQ. In fact Rusty is the one that gave rise to the form with his yearly customer appreciation barbeque.
I'd tried to arrange one of these a few years ago and failed miserably. Dwight did a much better job and I got to be the grill master.
We had 9 people and 6 cars which is a pretty good turnout for our first year I think. I'm not sure we could have handled any more people from a food perspective as the grills at the park were not what I'd have hoped for. Next year we'll be sure to haul along a proper charcoal grill.
Undaunted we spent several hours looking at each other's cars and swapping lies. Some even swapped parts, Fred brought me a new blower motor switch and a seatbelt warning buzzer. Dwight gave me a replacement wheel center cap to fix the one that got blown out with a failed wheel bearing a couple weeks ago.
Goddard Park where we held the event is a really nice place and I wish the weather had been a bit better, we'd have spent some time wandering around. Angie and I got a hotel room for the night so we didn't have to drive home right away. Next year I'll consider a hotel for both nights so we can get an earlier start. Its a solid 2 hour drive from our house to the park and it'd be nice to be able to start cooking sooner.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cold starts

People who drive gas powered cars made in the last 20 years generally don't pay any attention to temperature. Those of us with older diesels (23 and 25!) do, at ~10F my 240D will get a little ornery at -10F it'd be difficult and at -20F it won't start without help. With the magic of the block heater it'll start no problem at all temps.
Anyway if you take a look at Youtube there are tons of coldstart videos. The interesting thing I find in those is that they're mostly from metric countries (not the US basically) so you get "Coldstart, 10C" or "Coldstart -10C".
This winter will be the 6th in which I've driven a diesel car, so 3 winters each the 240D and the 190D plus one winter screwing around with my 300TD. The 190D has a more modern engine and starts WAY easier than the 240D but either way I figure I've got a masters degree in diesel engine cold starts. Let me start by saying -10C isn't cold... Thats 14F which isn't even the beginning of cold. Cold starts at -10F, real cold starts at 0F and bitterly cold starts at -10F. Here in central MA we can expect one or two mornings a winter at -20F which is the start of take your breath away cold. The guys in the extreme north scoff at all this of course.
Anyway what follows here is what you need to know to start your old diesel Mercedes in the cold. This should basically apply to other makes too but I dunno...

#1. Throw that starting fluid away and smack yourself for even suggesting it. The MB is an indirect injection diesel with glowplugs, you use that crap you'll crack a prechamber and the engine is toast.

#2. If your battery is older than 3 years its automatically suspect, if its older than 5 you need to replace it. Don't kid yourself into thinking you can get "just one more year" out of it, you can't. I spent one miserable winter where the 240D wouldn't start even at 15F because the battery was bad. It finally failed completely and I was amazed when a new battery fixed a host of issues. If the battery is older than the toddler next door it needs replacing.

#3. Synthetic oil is your friend, Mobil 1 5w40 is best followed by 0w40. I'm not a huge fan of the 0w40 as my cars both clattered a bit more with it, I don't think it hurt anything but still... 15w50 will do in a pinch if its all you can get. 15w50 will still flow better than conventional 15w40 at cold temps but the other two choices will flow better still. Put a bottle of conventional 15w40 oil in the freezer and you'll see it turns into honey. How well is that honey lubricating your engine when its cold out? If you've got a block heater you can get away with conventional oil but remember you might want to travel somewhere that plugging in isn't an option...

#4. Glow plugs. Marshall used to chide me for my suggesting to change the glowplugs before they failed. He said that glowplugs would go 100,000 miles without being changed. I contend that when glowplugs fail its always at the least opportune time. If you've ever change glowplugs outside at -10F (I have!) you know what I mean.

#5. Water is the enemy. It'll condense into your fuel tank then freeze and you're in trouble. It'll also give a place for algae to live. Treat your fuel tank with a water remover at least once in the fall. I use isopropyl alcohol at 2x the recommended strength once in October sometime. Then I run a bottle of Diesel Kleen (from PowerService) in Novemeber sometime. I use a whole bottle of Diesel Kleen in about 1/4 tank of fuel which is probably 10x the recommended concentration but I never have water or gelling issues.

#6. Make sure you've got winter fuel. When I first got my 190D it had been sitting for months and had summer fuel in it. It would start but wouldn't go in any gear but first. I put a full bottle of Diesel Kleen in and ran it. That car has a fuel thermostat that heats the fuel so after 20 minutes or so I could drive fine. I drove until the tank was mostly empty and refilled.

-The actual cold start -
So its -10F out and you need to start your car. Lets say you don't have anywhere to plug it in either. When I was driving the 240D that was how things went most of the time for me as we lived in an apartment...
Okay get in the car, turn off all electrical loads. You made sure to turn off the wipers last night right? Make sure the heater fan is off too. We're going to need every amp available. Key on, the glowplug light should come on. Wait the 20 seconds or so until the light goes out and then wait 10 seconds more. Cycle the key back to off and then on, wait the 20 seconds again and then again 10 seconds more.
You're only going to get one shot at this, if the car doesn't start you're in the hurt...
Pump the throttle (gas pedal) to the floor 3 times, then hold it all the way down, FULL THROTTLE!
Okay key to start, the engine cranks, HOLD THE KEY ON START. Yeah I know, your dad told you to only crank for a couple seconds, he told you you'd ruin the starter otherwise because it'd overheat. Hey, its -10F, its not going to overheat. If you stop cranking now the car will be harder to start than if you don't and it will thus put more wear on the starter, crank until it starts. This is what momma benz says to do and thus the best thing for your car... Except maybe for my alternate start method, more on that later.

Within 20 seconds you should start to hear encouraging noises. If your battery starts to die at this point it needs replacing, even if the car does start. The battery should be able to crank for a good minute at this temp without dying. The encouraging noises should get more and more consistant (pop.....pop, pop......pop, pop,pop.....pop,pop,pop,pop...etc) don't give up yet keep at it until the car is actually running. Once the encouraging noises are mostly constant release the key and ease back on the throttle. On these older cars when its real cold out if you come off throttle too fast at this point lots of times they'll die, so ease back on the throttle, keep it at high idle for maybe a minute. You've used up a lot of what your battery had to offer, if the car dies now you might have a hard time restarting. My 240D has a high idle knob for situations like this, it'll keep the idle above what it normally would be. I've never had it working enough to try it. I've bought all the parts so I hope to try it out this winter.

So your car is running, take off eh? DON'T hang around waiting for it to warm up. All cars warm up best (most quickly, most evenly) by driving around. That isn't to say romp on it and merge with freeway traffic right away, drive easy for a mile or two and you'll be all set.

-Curt's alternate diesel Mercedes starting proceedure-
So the above didn't work, or you've got bad glow plugs or a bad battery or heavy oil or your block heater croaked or its -20F and your 240D won't start no matter what, what now? I had this a lot that year the battery in my 240D wasn't any good.
Start your pickup truck, its a gasser right? It always starts, no worries. Why do you drive a diesel then? Well economy of course.
Go wake up your wife, you'll need help for this. Get out the strap and connect the pickup to the car.
Let your wife drive the pickup, give her CLEAR instructions on where to go and how fast to drive. Don't make her guess about anything and remember not to yell at her.
Your car is manual trans right? So she doesn't have to pull you very fast so lets say 25mph. A fullsize pickup is better at this but any truck (or car) will do a smaller vehicle may have traction problems so your tower may have to go faster, you'll need to experiment.

So at 25mph you put the car in 2nd gear (maybe 3rd, experiment) and ease out the clutch. Don't just dump the clutch or the tow vehicle may lose traction... Ease out the clutch and you should hear the engine cranking over. You may need to let it crank over for awhile (especially at -20F) before it'll fire. Careful with the throttle here, you don't want to smack into your tow vehicle! Once the car is running and everybody's stopped get out and take the strap off. Put the strap in your car with you, you might need it later...
Thank your wife, appologize for yelling at her, bring her something nice that evening.


I love stirring things up.

I changed the oil on my '89 Kawasaki 454 LTD motorcycle yesterday. I put Mobil 1 5w40 synthetic oil which is a little controversial. The problem is some synthetic oils aren't okay for use with wet clutches like motorcycles have. So you switch to that oil and uh oh, now the clutch slips and you can't go anywhere.
The magic seems to be "energy conserving" on the oil label. Theres a circle brassard kind of thing on the back of the oil bottle which would have the words "energy conserving". The 5w40 I use in my car doesn't have that so I figure its okay.
The 5w40 thing scares people too. I've been using 10w40 for the 4 years I've had bikes, its pretty much the standard for Jap bikes. So plenty of people are telling me I need to use Mobil 1 15w50 since thats "better" than 5w40.

I don't want to get into get into a big discussion of oil weights and all that foolishness right now. Lets leave it at from what I understand about oil weights 5w40 should protect my bike at least as well as 10w40 when its hot and better when its cold since it should be lighter when its cold and should thus flow better.

Anyway I swapped in the 5w40 yesterday (burned myself removing the old oil filter) and took the bike for about a 5 mile ride during which... nothing happened. Nothing bad anyway, the clutch seems just the same as it was, the bike shifts fine, nothing bad at all. Thats sort of the downside with this, you do a change fraught with controversy and then nothing exciting happens, which is good but sort of a downer....


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Busy times

Apparently the Chineese have a saying, "may you live in interesting times" which basically says may you be so busy you're screwed...

The hood for the 240D is done, 10 coats of paint (or was it 9?) and the hoodpad is installed. I really need to do another coat on the underside, I painted it some just for continuity and it kind of looks worse than before. Another coat (brushed on with a foam brush) and it should be fine, doesn't take long to do anyway.

It'll be awhile before I get it installed since its really a 2 or 3 person job. This weekend is the Chowda fest MB gathering in RI so I won't be able to do it. Maybe Angie will have some time to help me this week, doubt it. I'd rather get another guy to help but I'm not sure if thats gonna happen either...
I still haven't gotten the rear brake parts yet, I'll need to email Rusty....

Friday, September 5, 2008

More on the hood

8 coats of paint down, 1 disaster passed, 3 different types of roller used and the end is in sight.

Okay lesson #1 it really does need to be thinned 50%.
#2 you NEED a HIGH DENSITY foam roller. Not the thing that looks like a mattress pad. The proper roller is tapered at one end. Spend some time squeezing rollers and pick out the stiffest one. Do NOT use a fabric roller, it'll leave brick like patterns.
#3 if it doesn't feel right wipe it all off and start over. I almost left a bad coat on to sand off later figuring it would cost me 2 coats to do so. Thats dumb, if its going to be WORSE I should just clean and repaint, which is what I did.
#4 more prep work (ie better sanding) at each step will make for a better job. I was too slow to get into 400 grit and didn't spend enough time there. Thats okay, this is a 50 foot car. If your car wants to look better don't worry as much about painting, spend more time on prep.