Monday, March 28, 2011

Built-in underhood cupholders

A little-known feature designed into early Miatas encouraged drinking tasty beverages while wrenching! Eric and I were working on replacing my steering rack. After a lunch break, we discovered these handy holes just in front of the radiator. They're the perfect size for drinks from Popeye's.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Some great automotive writing

John Phillips is one of the few truly great writers in the industry. C/D lately has been exhuming choice articles from their archives, and this one from 1998 made me smile all the way through.

The passage describing the engine's noise is probably my favorite part, but there are so many nuggets of verbal pleasure throughout. I'll let you get to that one yourself (it's on page 2 of the feature), but here's a taste of his writing:

"We next installed a set of lower-compression pistons that allowed us to double the boost, a combination good for a total of 370 horsepower and, unfortunately, more detonation than Navy SEALs encounter in a whole career — enough, in fact, that on a 95-degree day, as we were noodling out engine-computer calibrations at Ford's test track, a connecting rod tunneled its way through the iron block and, last time we saw it, was touring downtown Dearborn."

I picture a broken connecting rod adorned with a top hat, bouncing happily past the tourist traps. I chuckled.

The tells that this is from a bygone era: Seventeen-inch wheels are "monster meats;" horsepower in the 400s is considered heroic; Csaba Csere is C/D's editor in chief; and the Mercury Marauder is just a rumor.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I'm having hot patches.

Taken in front of a mirror, then flipped back in Photoshop. Did I just blow your mind?

Thanks to recessbilly for the sweet TeamZX2 patch. I ironed on the LeMons Chicago and the TeamZX2 patch to my racing suit this afternoon. It took a couple tries. I'm excited to show it off at the track this year!

Portable soldering iron: Such a wonderful thing does exist!

Whiskey not included.

Have you ever stumbled across a tool that made you wonder how you ever got along without it? How you never so much as considered such a thing might exist or how it would work?

The Weller Portasol is one such tool. A couple Xmases ago, I received this butane-powered soldering iron kit and the standard tabletop electric kit behind it. Both were gifts from Amanda's dad, Jim, and both had been sitting at his place unused for many years. The Portasol is probably the best unexpected gift ever.

I've often needed to solder something inside a car, but it was impractical or impossible to take the part out and bring it indoors to solder. Using a soldering iron in a driveway is also annoying, especially when you don't have a long enough extension cord and it's too cold and/or windy outside for the iron to stay hot. Herein lies the joy of this little tool.

The kit has a sponge, a stand, and a handful of attachments including a hot knife. There's even a striker in there, so to take it anywhere all you need is a wet sponge and some butane. The solder has an on/off control, and a flame (temperature) adjustment.

It was 30-some degrees and windy last night when I went outside to repair Amanda's coil pack connector. I loved being able to just grab the kit and go to work. No need to run an extension cord out the window and down one story. It's easy to use and does everything you can ask of it. A perfect tool. Even for quick indoor jobs I prefer to use it over an electric one.

This particular model is no longer sold, but you can find new Portasols out there.

Mad props to Jim for this gift. The variable temperature electric iron is handy as well. Thanks!

Broken wires!

Bad connections can be impossible to troubleshoot.

Amanda's car (2000 Protege 1.8L) has been having drivability issues, and a P0300 error code (random misfire). Gas mileage was awful, it was seriously down on power half the time, idle was low and shaky, the exhaust smelled like gas.

After a lot of driving around with the computer hooked up and trying a number of things, my dad and I deduced that the coil packs were overheating. They're mounted almost directly above the exhaust manifold. So we ordered the part (~$100 from RockAuto). When the new coil arrived, I went outside and replaced it only to find the problem was still there. When I was putting the original coils back on, I noticed the problem above. One of the three wires for one coil pack had broken off at the connector.

Soldering when you have no room to strip insulation is tough. It's additionally difficult when you do this in a parking lot on a chilly March night with only a flashlight to illuminate your work. But I managed a good enough connection, and the problem is gone. The solder will hold until I can hack a new connector and wires from a junkyard car.

Problem is, Proteges aren't particularly common. And unlike the very common 1.8L BP engine, this 1.8L FP was only in the Protege ES in 1999 and 2000. The later 2.0L FS engine is related, but didn't use these coils. Finding a plug and pigtail might take a while.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Speedometer replacement

This is from last summer. Right around my birthday, I bought a used speedometer head from the guys at BTDT Racing, a local Spec Miata outfit that also sells used Miata parts. Why? My speedometer did weird things in the winter.

It makes this chattering/chugging/scratching noise. It's weird. While it's doing this, the needle will seriously bounce across a range of 15-20 mph until the car warms up, and is exacerbated by bumps even when it is warm. I learned to tell speed by my RPMs.

The noise will get louder, turning into a constant whooshing kind of sound, while the needle shoots WAAAAY up. Seriously, I saw 120 mph indicated when I was going about 65. Thankfully, I clocked this and it did not affect the odometer, just the instant indicated speed. I won't bore you with the details, because this is boring enough.

I tried lubricating the speedometer cable many times with a penetrating graphite-based lubricant -- the proper kind to use on cables and such -- to no avail. So I just got a new head. To test it, I did what you see above: just stuck the head onto the cable and took it for a spin. It's really disconcerting to drive a car without most of an instrument cluster.

Anyway,the needle in the new cluster was still just a little bouncy, but much better than before. The real test was coming this winter.

Which is when I found out that it's considerably better for accuracy and doesn't do the shooting-way-up thing it did before, but it's still really bouncy when cold and makes that scratching noise (actually, Eric likened it to the chugging of a steam engine). So I included a new speedometer cable with my recent order of engine parts from Mazda Motorsports. In the mean time, I did get improved functionality. 

And my trip odometer had stopped resetting the tenths place on the old unit. Don't worry: I was honest and replaced only the trip odometer reels and the speedometer head. I kept my original 229k-mile odometer in the car. Below is the final result. I'm currently reading more than 240k miles, but my trip odometer works and the speedometer works better (though not perfectly). I'll put in the new cable soon; I'm certain now that's the primary culprit.

Update: Fixed!