Friday, June 28, 2013

Jetta TDI

Forgive me for I have sinned, again...

Its a 1998 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, 177,000 miles at a used car lot in New Hampshire. Considering the ongoing problems with my 240D and the rising price of fuel (28mpg is about the best to expect of the 240D) I thought it might be wise to look around for something newer and more efficient. As much as I appreciate the 240D it'll never be all that fast or efficient, it is a big heavy car after all.

The Jetta Mark III (or A3) was made from '92-'99.5 in some fair numbers. The later TDI pictured above has a 1.9l 90hp 4cyl turbocharged diesel. The numbers thus far really don't tell the engine, its the one that comes after 90hp, 149 lb/ft of torque, compare this to the 72hp, 96 lb/ft for my '84 190D which is also a longer and probably heavier. The TDI is quick, the turbo spools right up and its quite fun to drive.

This particular unit has issues though, theres typical New England type rust, along the hood at the grill, in the wheel arches, at the bottom of the trunk lid, nothing too scary but theres probably more underneath. The central locking doesn't work, it seems to be a pneumatic system with an electric pump like on my 190D so it shouldn't be too hard to fix. Check engine light comes on about 30 seconds after starting the car and it started hard cold which make me think the glow plugs don't work. The radio and parking brake both don't work, I think the radio is asking for a code but its generally beat and would get replaced if I were to buy the car.

At this point my iPhone decides that I want to delete all my notes about this car. Well thanks iPhone, just another reason to hate you.

Heres the thing though, around the used car lot this all seems to me to be no big deal. In fact later on I did a cost analysis and figured the car would need around $700 in parts to fix everything I've found so far plus some missing badging and a missing engine cover. Then I took it out for a ride on the road.

Again, zippy little car but I kept hearing this whine not unlike the noise in this video: which bothered me. Upon further inspection this probably means the bearings in the turbo are bad. If I were to guess I'd say this is from using oil not up to the standard VW requires for this engine. There was a bundle of documentation in the back seat which I took a few minutes to look through. Looks like the last owner lived in Watertown and had the car serviced wherever she was nearest to at that moment so I suspect somebody has put conventional oil in it and its cooked the bearings in the turbo.

Surprisingly a bad turbo is not the end of the road, apparently the swap is actually pretty easy, the problem is that a new turbo is expensive. Fortunately used aren't so bad. I decided if I could get the guy to come down $1000 from his asking price, which was $1300 above "excellent" blue book value, I'd buy the car. In the end I got him down $500, which considering I'm a pretty lousy negotiator I was reasonably pleased with. Not good enough for me to buy the car but enough to make me feel like it wasn't a Saturday wasted, I definitely need the practice in negotiating.

Anyway its not all bad news, after I put out on the OkieBenz list that I'd looked at a TDI a friend responded that he has one he might want to sell. Same year although its white, its been sitting in a garage for a year and a half. He runs a charity for kids and this was a donated car so I should be able to get a bit of a deal on it, we'll see.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Some good news for a change

Just got back from "the proving run" which is about a 25 mile lap I take from our house up into New Hampshire and back. The reason for tonight's proving run was today's replacement of the radiator and last week's brake job.
The brake job was required because of a failed caliper. Actually the caliper locked up last fall (disengaged fortunately) and since it was a rear I made a note to fix in the spring and ignored it. Interestingly a couple weeks ago the bugger started working again. This was a problem only because of the amount of noise it made grinding the rust off the rotor.

Rear disc brakes are pretty easy to replace, especially when you go all the way, rotors, calipers, pads and hoses. Other than the parking shoes theres nothing else to do back there. The first one took me awhile as I had to remember how to get the hoses off the car and to loosen the parking brake adjuster but after that it was a snap. Except I couldn't get the air bled out. Angie came home and I put a pint of fluid in the master cylinder and on the rear right didn't get anything out...
On the advice of one of the guys on the OkieBenz list I bought a pump oil can and another pint of fluid and tried pushing fluid up from the bottom. I again used a pint of fluid to no avail. Tail between my legs I went back to the parts store (Car Quest in town, great shop!) and ordered a master cylinder figuring it was hosed.
I brought the issue up again on the OkieBenz list and was told I still had air in the system, Fred, who is about the greatest guy in the world, offered the use of his Speedy Bleeder which I accepted and picked up Sunday. Sunday afternoon I  gave it a shot and 5 minutes later the brakes were done.
Seriously, I'd dinked around for 2 hours and the Speedy Bleeder got it done in 5 minutes. A bunch of that time was just spent figuring out how to use the thing. Fred's is great because it connects to your tire and the air pressure forces brake fluid through the master cylinder to wherever you've opened a bleed valve. I'm going to use it again this weekend to flush the system on the Ranger. Who knows how long that stuff has been in there?

Today's job was to replace the leaking radiator. I'd had this done once in the past but its clearly leaking again. Fortunately its not a big job, unfortunately it POURED rain the whole time. When it first started raining I put up our EZ Up tent which was better than nothing, better still would be a big garage I can work inside of. Anyway I got that replacement done with relatively little fuss other than messing up the transmission cooler lines. The guys on PeachParts helped with that, I was just having trouble figuring where the lines were supposed to go is all.

After doing the radiator I finally took some advice I'd gotten to fill the cooling system through the upper radiator hose. I'd tried it once and couldn't remember why I didn't like doing it that way. Today I discovered the trick is to be patient. The hose fills up and you need to wait a sec while it runs into the engine. You keep filling until coolant runs out the upper hose fitting on the radiator at which point you connect said hose, add a bit more to the expansion tank (on cars that have such things) and you're done. This is a big improvement on the old fill and burp and wait and fill and burp and wait method...

Oh for Pete's sake!

Who is Pete anyway?

So that *&^%$! 240D...

Trent turns out to have gotten himself in over his head and has everybody mad at him including me. The 2 hoses I really needed for this car turned up but they're wrong, both for a gasser, not even close to what I needed.
I finally got some standard heater hose and crammed it into place. Really crammed it since its supposed to be bigger at one end than the other. The other little hose I took to the parts store and they let me look around until I found one that was close. What I bought is too big but it should do short term.

So I get it all assembled and guess what? The friggin thing bubbles coolant out of the radiator again...

ARRRGH! The boys on the Mercedes list ( came up with a bunch of cockamamie theories but have finally settled into thinking its probably a cracked head or block.

Angie is going away this weekend so I think I'll make one last ditch effort and re-torque the head bolts. Its possible they've stretched a little since I've had the engine running. Unfortunately thats a bit of a PITA because the cam has to come out of the way. I intend to zip tie the cam to the chain so the timing can't shift, we shall see what we see...

Friday, June 7, 2013

Peoples is CRAZY

The 2014 Coleman Collectors Convention is due to be in Michigan, 2015 in Ohio. Both of those are quite drivable for us but the idea of driving that far and sleeping on the cold hard ground doesn't really suit so I thought maybe it'd be nice to have a little camper. I LOVE teardrop campers, especially the wood, stainless or aluminum ones. As soon as you make one white or god forbid beige and plastic or fiberglass you've taken all the fun out of it... That said I can't afford what they go for, or rather I don't want to pay $5,000 or more for something I have plans to use twice.

An admission here, doing somewhere in a camper, even a teardrop is not "camping". Camping involves a tent and ideally, hiking. If you've got a roof and can watch TV thats bringing your house with you. Now as I said at the outset I'm not opposed to bringing the house with me and sometimes it has a lot of advantages, not sleeping in wet bedding is a big one. The thing is I can't see myself using a camper all that much, I've got stuff to putter around the house and do so I don't think I'd be running to some campground on the weekends. In high school I dated a girl who's parents had a camper and I went with them on a couple trips but really that kind of "camping" is best done at home, we did an awful lot of sitting around watching TV.

So anyway I don't want to spend a ton of money on a teardrop and really I'd like to have somewhere we could sit up so my research brought me to Little Vintage Trailer, a blog about, well look at the name. There I learned about "Canned Hams" which are small, aluminum trailers of yesteryear. Go on there and take a look at the '65 Trotwood Lark. Thats what I'm talking about, just over ten feet long with just enough space for 2 and no more. The problem is that a nice one costs as much as a brand new (but ugly fiberglass) teardrop.

Take a look at campers or Craigslist, you'll find a TON of 20-30 foot monsters, mostly in a tragic state of disrepair. The smallest you're likely to find easily is nineteen feet although there is the occasional fifteen footer. What happens is the roof leaks and it ruins the interior. Travel trailers are built on a wing and a prayer, the walls are generally 2x2 with an aluminum or fiberglass skin, a little (dammed little) insulation and an interior panel. If the wall gets wet its ruined. Some people will (strangely) continue to overlook the leak and let it ruin the floor too. You can buy big trailers in the $1000 range all day, of course they're total crap but they're out there. A small trailer, if you can find one, will command twice that price, even when its a total wreck. Strangely almost all new trailers are either teardrop, pop up, or HUGE. Seriously, theres almost nothing being made today under 15 feet.

So lets review, used big trailers are worth almost nothing, little used trailers hold their value but almost nobody makes new little trailers, which of course explains why the old ones hold their value so well. I'd bet that Trotwood sold for more than its original purchase price. After all in 1965 $6800 was two to three times the price of a new car...

People are crazy.

Okay, I take it back, there are several companies making new small trailers, but I'll go back to my hatred of plastic and fiberglass. Scamp is a good example, sure they're small but they're UGLY. Also they have a terrible website and that seems to be a common factor among camper websites. If I get a main page that doesn't prominently feature a trailer I'm immediately put off, after all what are they trying to sell? I never have gotten Scamp's website to show me pictures of the 13' trailer, its perpetually loading or "connecting to server".

What really makes me laugh is how the new trailer manufacturers seem to go out of their way to make the inside look like the inside of my house with no real thought for style. I refer you again to Little Vintage Trailer but this time to The 1951 Cozy Cruiser which is my absolute favorite. Its a bright color, the inside has everything you need and nothing else. Sadly its sold, but I think what it all boils down to is I need to work hard, continue my economy measures and just buy something like the Cozy Cruiser. Then keep it nice and consider it an investment we can travel around in...

Saturday, June 1, 2013

MORE 240D repairs

The following morning I managed to just loosen the 4 bolts holding the fan so I could retrieve the trapped belt, got everything finally hooked back up and the alternator tensioned and fired it up. No leak that I could detect from the tensioner. Thats not totally a win yet because the tensioner is hidden under the thermostat housing and behind the AC bracket but you can get a relatively good look at where the oil has to fall when it drips. Anyway back out on the road for another test.

This time the road test is a complete success, 20+ miles later I'm happy and as the day is heating up I retreat inside.

In the afternoon I decide its probably time to tackle the broken wire to the AC compressor. This is the trigger wire for the AC clutch and without it the AC won't come on. Before the head gasket debacle I'd done some testing and it looked like this was the only reason the AC wouldn't work. I'd had some work done on the AC last year and it worked pretty well then although used up a lot of the limited power the OM616 engine could provide.
Anyway I crimped on a new wire with a new ring terminal and found a bolt (which we appear to have lost when I disassembled for the head gasket job) and got everything together nice. Then I had to fart around trying to get the AC belt tensioned enough. The tensioner on the AC belt is a weird system that looks like it should be spring loaded but isn't.

Unfortunately at some point I had decided to put the radiator cap on tight, I hadn't done that in some time because I had been worried about the head gasket. With the radiator cap loose I theorized the limited pressure in the system might keep from breaking a fragile head gasket. At some point I'd decided since the new head gasket is good I could pressure to the system which will make it cool better which would be important if I were running the AC on a hot day.
The tensioner for the AC belt lives just under the upper radiator hose and to loosen or tighten the bolt on it I had to push the hose out of the way. At some point doing so stressed the LAST cooling system hose which hadn't been replaced on the car. This hose (which Mercedes calls a bypass hose) goes from the thermostat housing to the water pump. Its about two and a quarter inches in diameter and maybe three inches long. It lives just under the timing chain tensioner...

You know what that means right? Lather, rinse, repeat.

I called Trent at and ordered up the hose. While I was at it I ordered a thermostat and a gasket for the thermostat hosing where it connects to the block. I put a new gasket there when we did the head gasket but I hate reusing gaskets and it was only a buck for a new one. I also ordered the 90 degree heater hose that lives just under the AC compressor. That one has been swollen by oil dripping on it for years and looks as if it'll fail next.

Angie asked me if this was the last straw, am I ready to junk this car and move on? She's got it all wrong of course. I'm so close, I've replaced so many parts in the past year:
Head gasket
Radiator hoses
Oil Cooler
Oil Cooler hoses
Now I can't possibly give up, I've got too much money, time, blood, sweat and yes I'm not to proud to admit tears invested in this car. It WILL ride again!

240D repairs continued

Guess I should bring you all up to date on the saga of my 240D.
When we left our intrepid heroes the team had successfully replaced the head gasket on the 1978 Mercedes-Benz 240D. The next few days I was busy and didn't have any chance to work on the car so it waited patiently for me to give it a longer run. I finally snuck in an hour, got the radiator and hoses and whatnot installed and ran the car for awhile. It sounded good but as usual (for me anyway) there were air bubbles in the cooling system that made the temp go higher than I like. Of course just when I gave up and shut the car off a big bubble popped out of the radiator and the coolant level dropped considerably, typical...

Anyway then we were on our yearly spring trip to camp where it rained almost the whole week, so no car wrenching.

Upon our return I ran the car some more and make some tentative runs around the neighborhood. I really hate idling the car in the driveway waiting for it to warm up and putting the engine under load warms the cooling system much more rapidly. That seemed to go pretty well until I discovered the upper radiator hose was leaking. This could in part be attributed to the old hose clamp but considering all the work we've put into the car thus far I didn't want to take any chances so I ordered new hoses from my local CarQuest. They were cheap enough (under $30) and they had them the next day. While I was at it I changed the oil. I figured any bits of schmutz or whatever that we had dislodged during the head gasket job would have worked through to the oil filter (or would be suspended in the oil) by now and it would be a good idea to get it all out of the engine.

New hoses in I had to do the bleeding the coolant dance which is actually considerably easier after this job as I only lost about half a gallon of coolant in the process. With the engine temp stabilized I took a couple more rides around the neighborhood before I decided it was time to head out on a longer ride. This longer ride gave me the opportunity to put some speed on and I'm pleased to report that the engine seems to perform better than it did in the past, especially the recent past. Unfortunately after about 5 miles there was a strong smell of burning oil and I figured I'd better turn back. Good thing as when I got home I discovered a truely massive oil leak. This engine has always leaked some oil somewhere above the alternator but now it was really bad. I searched around with a light and decided the leak had to be coming from the timing chain tensioner.

The timing chain tensioner does exactly what it says it does, keeps the timing chain tight. Its a spring with a hydraulic dampner of some sort that uses engine oil to damp the movement of the spring. It has to come out when you pull the head and if I remember correctly we originally tried to just unscrew the spring which doesn't actually work, you have to pull the whole assembly. Unfortunately it would appear we left it loose.

Unfortunately for me the timing chain tensioner lives behind the AC compressor. This in itself isn't a big deal but the bottom front bolt for the AC compressor bracket lives behind the water pump pulley. The water pump pulley lives behind the fan and since I wasn't removing the radiator to get the 4 bolts that hold the fan out requires working between the radiator and its shroud in a way my wrists and elbows just don't want to bend.
I managed it all in about an hour, the tensioner cap was loose (very loose, like turn with your fingers loose) so I tightened it and got everything back together only to find that I'd trapped the alternator/water pump belt behind the water pump pulley. Theres a little gap there just big enough to allow you this mistake without (fortunately) harming the belt.
That was it, I was all in, my back was killing me from hunching over so long and I was sweaty and tired so I quit for the night...