Sunday, April 26, 2009

relative merit

Quick shot of the finished base coat from jdh's camera phone. A satisfying cartoony blue - the camera phone hides all ills.

House paint was the best idea ever.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

the lulz live on in spirit

Today was painting day for the minivan. No more EPIC LULZ, no more perversely charming smiley and frowny faces eying you from the rear.

We begin with sanding:

Meanwhile, JDH worked on stripping the dash. Later on I discovered, by pouring it all over myself, that the heater hoses from this removed A/C unit are actually still full of coolant.

I honestly wouldn't have thought it possible, but the partially-sanded minivan hit such new lows of disreputability that we scratched our plans of driving it to a nearby spray-n-wash (especially since we could actually hear cops driving all around our semi-industrial suburban neighborhood, occasionally hitting a siren and laying on the megaphone.) There was no hose in the parking lot we were using, so we had to rig something up:

Somewhere around the time when we were scoping the parking lot to try to figure out the hose situation, I remembered the freshwater pump still sitting in its box in the ambulance. I bought it months ago, intending to rig up a sink for the ambulance, but never got around to using it. It takes 12v dc and I also already had the water bladder and some basic fittings. Jdh took one look, ran out to Orchard, and came back with all the necessary parts to hook up two bladder tanks in parallel, with a real hose attached. Go team!

This came in handy, since being able to rig a hose meant that we could work in the nice spacious parking lot, rather than invading Laz's driveway (especially classy with him being away for the weekend at a NASA race) and imposing on his long-suffering wife.

Meanwhile, Rob rigged an awesome fix to our how-are-we-going-to-paint-the-windows? problem, with sheet aluminum and pop rivets. Instant minivan-to-panel-van conversion.

When we planned out how to handle the painting, we contemplated a lot of options. Last time around we had pretty good luck with Sears appliance enamel, but they don't really make appliance enamel in Mystery Machine Blue. We thought about Rustoleum, which comes in lots of colors, but it lacked a certain visceral appeal. Eventually, we collectively worked our way around to realizing how awesome it would be to paint our van with house paint.

House paint on a car works both better and worse than you might suppose. For example, the orange peel sponge texture that you get from roller sponges works better on walls than it does on cars. On the other hand, it went on nicely, and after a few beers or about thirty feet of distance, it actually looks a whole lot better than the original battered burgundy.

And here she is, with the blue base coat nearly finished:

Still remaining:
- cage (happens this week)
- fit a seat (requires fabricating a base)
- front brakes, etc
- wheels and tires
- harness, cutoff switch, fire extinguisher
- find and tape up that one loose wire
- add the temp sensor to go with the nice new(ish) temp gauge (or "gage", as Plymouth spelled it)
- paint the green and orange bits

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

mystery machine pics

A photographic tour of the Mystery Machine, in all her current glory:

The lulz are, in fact, epic:

We swapped on some cheap KYB-2 rear shocks and some ridiculous helper springs for the saggy rear leaf springs, and swapped out the rear brake shoes.

I learn why working on drum brakes is awesome:

Engine compartment, with some additions and subtractions:

Interior, as we strip the remainder of what was left:

The suspension work raised the rear a tiny bit:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

spark test

Plan for today was to paint. Minivan had other plans - it was once again doing a solid impression of a heavily-graffitied rock, and we discovered that the ignition problems really are a lot more serious than a dead battery. (First bad sign: JDH put the suspect battery into the other junker minivan, his Town & Country which sounds like there is an angry man inside the engine with a baseball bat, and it fired right up.)

So we went back around with the usual round of troubleshooting: battery is sending voltage? Check. Coil is getting voltage? Nope. Spark plugs are sparking? Nope.

Excellent, replace coil. Reassemble.

No spark. This is a massive sad.

For the historical record, and mostly as a note-to-self, here's the rough order of things tried:
  1. Car does not start. Massive sad. Starter cranks, slowly.
  2. Jump battery. Starter cranks much faster. Car does not start. Last time we waited a while and tried again, and it worked, so we were like OMG YAY!!!!11!! and burned rubber around the parking lot and celebrated victory and then called it a night.
  3. Test current to positive side of ignition coil. Intermittent before, now zero.
  4. Look up wiring. Discover that current in to coil is controlled by a relay, the Automatic Shutdown Relay, or ASD. It shuts off current to the ignition coil, the fuel pump, and the injectors when the key is on but the engine isn't running.
  5. Look up ASD on internet. Discover that it basically connects red wire (J2) coming from battery, to green-and-black wire (Z1) which powers the rest of the motor.
  6. Hard-wire red wire to green-and-black wire. Fuel pump now audibly runs whenever the key is on! We now get 12V to the coil while cranking the starter! Car still does not start.
  7. Grrr.
  8. Test spark plugs (again) to see if they are making sparks. They are not making sparks.
  9. Pull ECU, which in this car is amusingly called the SMEC. Stare at it dubiously.
  10. Try all of those previous things again, in lots of different orders. Halfheartedly price replacement SMEC.
  11. Go back to reading about computer, and start testing wires. The negative side of the coil connects back to the SMEC as well. The computer provides ground to the circuit, and sometimes suddenly removes the ground, which causes the coil to dump all of its accumulated charge onward, thus powering the distributor. The moral to this story is that even without the ASD, the SMEC needs to be happy in order for the whole thing to work.
  12. Figure out how to make the check engine light blink out the numeric codes which indicate why it's firing. Look these up. Discover it's complaining about several things, including the ASD relay. Yeah yeah, we know.
  13. Following instructions from the internet, we hard-wire pin 10 on the SMEC to the output of the ASD, which happens to be the positive wire to the coil, thus bypassing the ignition part of the ASD cutoff entirely. Heh heh. 12V to the coil all the time now, bitches. How you like me now?
    (Secondarily: JDH notices that the ASD is clicking on at startup, then immediately off again. This seems suspicious, like the cpu is seeing something it hates, and getting angry.)
  14. Car does not start.
  15. After some research, discover that there's another sensor, a really important sensor, called a Hall Effect sensor, which lives inside the distributor. Its job is to detect the distributor firing off spark plugs, and send this back to the SMEC, which uses it to get timing information. (Newer vehicles just use crank or cam position sensors.) If this sensor is not working, the cpu will stop the engine from firing. Remove sensor, clean it, try to test. Perfect continuity on the wires to the sensor. The sensor itself starts to fragment during cleaning. Bad sign? Maybe. It's just a little plastic UFO with lots of fragile wires in it.
  16. Discover that the guy at Kragen has never heard of a "hall effect sensor", nor of an ignition reference sensor or distributor sensor (its pseudonyms), nor can he look one up, or order one. Same for Autozone, and, disturbingly, the same is apparently true for parts stores on the internets. Pick-n-pull it is, then.
  17. Sad!
  18. Clean up. Try to start the van a few more times, just for the hell of it. Sadly this does not work. How cool would it have been if it did, though?
  19. Beer and tacos.
Some links which turned out to be incredibly useful in this process (the heavily-tabbed Haynes manual that we inherited from the previous owners being largely useless):
Update: Yep, totally the HEP sensor. Jdh installed a pick n pull special, and she fired right up. :-D

Friday, April 17, 2009

chequered past

The minivan came to us with what we assumed to be a rich and varied history. For example, between the graffiti tagging and the stripped interior, it kind of looks like it might have been abandoned in Oakland. (I'm pretty sure this contributed to the amount of unhappiness displayed by the local security force when, in a temporary lapse of judgement, we left it up on blocks in a public area overnight.)

Most of this is explainable by its recent ownership history, which is probably better linked to than described: forum post by previous owners

Ooh, plus: If you're bored on weekends, you can help us out... it can be a community project!

All of which makes me super glad we only paid $100 for it.

When we got it, the van's previous owners had managed to render it completely inoperable, apparently through systematic application of cheap kragen performance parts. After some investigation, and a small but surprisingly effective quantity of caffienated malt liquor, this turned out to be caused by an extremely dead battery, which was vampirically sucking the life not only from the poor mystery machine, but also from the car we were trying to jump it from.

The thread has some speculation on the van's legal status, so I ran a carfax report. Let's see:

  • 1992 - passed smog. Exciting!
    JUNK TITLE/CERTIFICATE ISSUED. (No surprise: its salvage status is clearly marked on the title.)
  • 05/10/1997 - Passed emissions inspection. Phew.
  • 06/28/1997 - JUNK TITLE/CERTIFICATE ISSUED. Again?
  • 07/08/1999 - New owner reported. JUNK TITLE/CERTIFICATE ISSUED
  • ...etc...
  • 08/23/2007 - Automotive Recycler. Vehicle at automotive recycler facility.
    VEHICLE SCRAPPED. Vehicle reported as crushed and should not be on the road. (Awesome!)
  • 09/11/2007 - New owner reported. JUNK TITLE/CERTIFICATE ISSUED

I have to say, 25 entries is the most I've ever seen on a carfax report. But nice to see it's not stolen.

Now that Reno's getting closer, we've been shopping for parts. All this week, assorted brake parts have been showing up in the mail. Pads, rotors ($10 on closeout), rear shocks (KYB-2, bitches!), shoes for the rear drums, etc. This weekend we get with the installation.