Friday, November 7, 2014

November's Interesting car videos.

This month I'm introducing a new regular feature to this blog.  I haven't come up with a cool name so for right now we're kind of stuck with, "Interesting Car Videos."  Still, we need some regular content in here and why not start off with a few cool rides that I happen to be personally acquainted with.

The First one is also the newest one.  My friend recently achieved his dream of ordering a brand new car exactly the way he wanted it.  The result, a 2014 Mustang V6 with more options and cool bits than most GT's.

Check it out....

The next is a sentimental favorite.  This video was actually taken the last day I owned this car and friends, that was a tough day for me.  Still I have the video and the memories.  It's a 2008 Mustang GT and my first and only Ford.  I'm pretty much a GM guy but for my money Ford never made a better Mustang than this car and I did't want it forgotten.  I actually have Greenlight Die Cast versions of this car.  Imagine owning a car that was immortalized in Die Cast!.

The next up is an old friend and constant companion....even if I can't always trust it.  It's my 1974 Chevrolet El Camino Classic and it's been with me for half of my life.  I've put a lot of blood, sweat and coin into this car and never regretted any of it even if I was occasionally riding in a tow truck.

Finally, my newest acquisition is actually an old family friend.  I bought this 1995 Formula from my mother who was the original owner.  In fact I was there the day she bought it new.  It's a cantankerous car that's less reliable than I'd like but when it works it works beautifully.  I've only owned it a year now so my restoration plans are still in the early stages. Meaning I'm still just trying to keep it running after living a life of commuter duty for over 150K miles.  So far it's needed a new radiator, distributor, ignition coil, ignition module, intake elbow, tires, hoses, some interior bits.... You get the picture, it's a project car.

 You'll see this car again, in fact you've already seen it as it's been the topic of a few articles on this blog already!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Chameleon cruiser.

Check out this video I found.  It's a Dodge Challenger painted with Paramagnetic paint.  Apparently the process allows the paint to change color when an electric current is passed through it.  Just think, your car's color could match your mood.

Ok, it's probably fake but you know it'll happen...

Lke from this article here...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

This Blog's got a YouTube Channel now!

Hey guys!

Just like the title says, this blog's got it's own YouTube channel at:

Below is a video playlist of my most recent uploads.  You'll find videos about cars, auto repair and car themed games just to mention a few.  

If you want to really know what this blog is about watch a few of the videos.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Rear Transmission Mount on my 1995 Formula

Yesterday I received my new Transmission mount from RockAuto.  I got it because it's the first thing I thought of when I heard a very noticeable "Thud" from the floorboard when I gave it a little more gas than normal.

Now I wasn't completely sure that was the problem but for $8 it was cheap enough to give it a shot.  Well, it turned out it was indeed the problem.  The telltale sign that your LT1 F-body (93-97 model year) has this issue is a noticeable THUMP in the floorboards that comes from the rear console area when you nail the throttle and a general looseness in the rear end.  When the mount is bad it causes the torque arm that runs to the rear differential to rise with the tranny making the rear end even more squirrelly.

Mine was completely shot as you can see from the video.  

It's a simple enough procedure.

1. Raise the car to a convenient work height
2. Grab a jack and support the transmission. 
3. Remove the mount to crossmember nut (5.8)
4. Remove the trans crossmember (4 bolts, 2 per side)
5. Unbolt the old mount from the transmission (13MM socket)
6. Install the new mount to the transmission, flat side facing the rear of the car
7. Re-install crossmember, If the stud doesn't go through the hole you likely have the mount on backwards
8. Lower the jack holding the transmission up.
9. Re-install the bolt and washer on the tranny mount stud that's poking through the crossmember.
10. Get your crap out from under the car and lower it down.
11. You're done, go take a test drive.

Note, I've included a section in the video showing the part numbers for the transmission crossmember for these cars.  If you have to go on a junkyard hunt they'll be helpful.

The stamping on mine are:

Hope this helps!

Enjoy the Vid!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Real Dudz Fryd: Why the gamer hasn't been gaming

I originally posted this article back in October 2013 on another blog of mine.  It's perfect content for this one, however, as it's an excellent example of a what it's like to be a gearhead...Enjoy!

Gaming hasn't been a priority these past few weeks and here's why....

The last month has been hell....

Let me give you the cliff notes version of my tale of woe.  It contains a cast of completely unrelated characters that somehow managed to simultaneously screw up my life. 

I recently had to sell my 2008 Mustang GT.  Not by choice but by need.  This hasn't been a good year for me financially and like so many others in this skewed reality we call an economy something had to give.  In my case it was my Mustang.

I've already chronicled my disastrous results of trying to get a "regular" IT  job( I've been a private IT consultant for 15 years) so I won't rehash it here.  However, my latest efforts to rejoin cubicleland bear mention since they were the catalyst for my latest tribulations.

After 3 weeks, 6 interviews for not 1 but 2 different positions at a security software firm, what should have been a sure thing ended in a two line e-mail reading.

"Van did go with an internal candidate, but he wanted me to make sure you knew it was a tough decision.

Thanks indeed.  I can guarantee Van's decision wasn't going to be as tough as the one I would have to make.
They say never to put all your eggs in one basket but I had only one egg and my basket had holes in it. 

It was like trying to reach level 50 in Borderlands 2 without any DLC or savegame hacks.

With no other opportunities it finally came down to either clinging to hopes of regaining my lost success before I starved or cutting my losses and liquidate some assets.   After a week of serious deliberation and living on 2 year old Ramen noodles my Mustang was up for Sale. 

When the buyer came and presented me with the check it was bittersweet. I'd survive but I'd also taken a giant step backward just  to live another day.  I told myself that at least I had enough foresight to have an asset I could liquidate but it didn't make me feel any  better. 

I couldn't even watch when they came for it a few days later.  I sold it through CarBuyco and it took them a few days to pick it up.  Those two days were like looking at a ghost in my driveway. 

Of course I still needed a car for work (assuming I'd eventually have some) but I knew with the money I had to spend it was not going to be anything near what I had lost.  So started the search for a suitable (barely) replacement with a budget of no more than $6000.  That would leave me enough money to live on for awhile and take care of the inevitable repairs that come with a vehicle not so well loved as what I'd given up.

Or so I thought.  My search yielded disappointing results with most candidates either too abused or too expensive for what was offered.  I came close to buying one car (A 2001 Camaro) until I pulled the dipstick on the transmission and found black, burnt fluid.  That vehicle had over 100K miles, was 12 years old and started at 7K with tax and license fees.  By the time I was ready to leave the dealership the price had dropped $1000.  I no longer had interest but still get called every week about that car.  Last weekend the price had dropped to $4991. 

My search continued and I found a few other less flawed examples but they too came up short either already being sold or having a questionable background history.  By the way, CarFax is your friend.  I found at least 5 cars that had serious damage or questionable mileage that was otherwise undisclosed. 

It was like living a real life version of Flatout 3.  All the promise but nothing ever delivered.

A week went by and my folks called to see how I was doing.  I told them about the lackluster examples of pre-owned automobiles and they made a suggestion.  They had 4 vehicles 2 of which are rarely if ever driven.  They offered up one that I was very familiar with.  My mother's 1995 Firebird Formula.  I was hesitant to accept the offer not wanting to deprive them of an asset of their own.

 I knew that the car was well maintained, had most of the problem areas already addressed and would stand up to my relatively light usage but it was still a well used high mileage car that was already 18 years old.  Still, it was becoming obvious that I wasn't going to do any better with the examples I was finding.  It also didn't hurt that they were already looking to get rid of it anyway.

They offered up the car with no strings attached aside from having to pay for it to be transported from Colorado to Arizona ( A cost of $1100.)  Now survival is one thing but I wasn't about to let my folks on a fixed income get nothing for an asset.  I checked Edmunds and gave them what was reported as the highest retail price for the car.  It was less than I'd pay for the far less pedigreed examples I'd been entertaining but a better price than they'd get for it otherwise. 

Happily my search ended.  I set up the transportation for the car via Reliable Auto Transporters and awaited its arrival.  I knew there was the possibility of a 2 to 4 week delay from the carrier but a week later I got the call that the car was going to be picked up and delivered a few days later.

While I waited I was forced to use another car for transportation.  Not that I had anywhere much to go but the nearest supermarket is 2 miles away and that's a long way to go with armloads of groceries.   In case you're wondering, yes I own 2 cars or at least I did before I sold the Mustang.  My other car is a 1974 El Camino.  I've owned it for over 20 years and while it's more family member than car I can't rely on it.  I knew I couldn't use it for daily commuting for example; if for no other reason than the fuel costs would bankrupt me.  It's also insured as a classic, recreational vehicle so daily commuters are a no-no. 

Let me add one wrinkle and a bit of foreshadowing.  I could never register this car as anything but a classic in my state because it would never be able to comply with the stringent emission standards demanded.  Thus it's only meant for glorified parade duty and occasional boulevard cruises.  You may be asking why I didn't sell it instead of the Mustang at this point.  The reason is, I didn't have time to wait and wouldn't have gotten anywhere near the money out of it. The Mustang was a guaranteed quick sale for a fair price, the El Camino wasn't.  I may have been in survival mode but I'm not stupid.

So at least I had a decent car coming and something to drive in an emergency if need be.  Or so I thought. 

Here's where the real fun starts...

Before I go on let's recap my adventure thus far.

1. Sure thing falls through
2. Have to sell car or starve
3. Went car shopping found junk
4. Ended up buying car from parents

At 10AM on a Tuesday morning I got a phone call from the folks.  The car was picked up and on its way.  An hour later I got a call from the truck driver informing me that he'd be at my door by 6:30PM the next day. 

"Wonderful!," I thought, that means I'd have 2 days to take care of all the necessary evils of getting an out of state car registered and insured and I'd be able to show it off to my friends for the weekend!

It was not to be....

Wednesday morning I received another phone call from the truck driver.  He blew a heater hose outside of Flagstaff and didn't know when he'd be underway.  He was going to have to be towed into Phoenix, 150 miles away and the schedule was blown to hell.

At this point I was ok with the delay.  After all, bad things happen and it wasn't the driver's fault that his rig broke down.  Having paid $1100 for transportation I assumed the Reliable Auto Transport's dispatch would make arrangements.  All was well.

Except it wasn't...

Two days went by and I'd heard nothing from Dispatch.  Friday afternoon I received another call from the unfortunate driver.  He was in Phoenix holed up in a motel and didn't know when his truck would be ready.  Apparently Reliable Auto Transportation had yet to send another truck out to complete the deliveries.  Mine wasn't the only car on his trailer and there were at least 5 other unhappy people not counting the driver who was losing money every day his truck was out of commission.

In our conversation I let him know I didn't blame him but was unhappy with the dispatch operation.  My car was sitting in a trailer in a repair yard 30 miles away for no other reason than somebody wasn't doing their job.  The driver gave me the number to the local dispatch office and I called them immediately after I hung up with him.  Of course there was nobody at the office but I left a long voicemail detailing exactly why I was happy with the driver but unhappy with dispatch.

Well, at least I had the El Camino for the weekend....

Except I didn't.  I started having trouble with the car backfiring through the carburetor.  For those of you who don't know what that is, it's a cantankerous lump of metal whose only reason for being is to defy its primary purpose.  That being, to get gasoline into the engine.

I spent most of Friday and Saturday trying to connect the problem and only managing to asphyxiate myself from the noxious fumes that resulted from my efforts. 

This was bad...

Saturday, 5PM, I had one car and it wasn't running.  It's disassembled carburetor lying bare on my workbench.  I needed to take action or I could potentially be without wheels for a week.

Reluctantly, I called for a rental car.  I'd had good experience with Enterprise Rent A Car in the past so I made a reservation.  Unfortunately, renting a car at 5PM on a Saturday means you have to go to the airport to pick it up.  I have at least 6 car rental offices within 2 miles of my home but all of them were closed. 

No matter, I'd get a ride to the airport somehow.  I was supposed to meet a friend later than evening and after making the reservation I called him up for a ride to the airport.  It was him or a $60 cab ride.  Luckily for me I have good taste in friends and the only compensation for his trouble he'd accept is me buying dinner.  Done deal and we even got to try a new restaurant on my side of town before we went for the car.

My friend dropped me off and confident my troubles were over I went to the rental car counter, reservation in hand.  All went well, I enjoyed pleasant conversation with the agents as they finalized the paperwork. 

Except they didn't finalize anything.  They ran my credit card for the full rental plus $100.  Unfortunately a recent payment hadn't posted from my bank so it was rejected.  Undaunted, I suggested my debit card which had more than enough to cover the cost.  I was told, " We can't run a debit card without a trip itinerary." 

Really?  Remember, I had a confirmed reservation and a fully loaded Visa Debit card ready to go and they were hanging me up on policy. 

"Ok, can you just change the reservation to one day?"

"No, we can't change a reservation"

"So basically you're saying I'm 28 miles from home with no ride and nothing but my shoe leather..."


"Well, you can go upstairs and see if they can do anything for you..."

So I did and after standing in line 10 minutes at the Enterprise counter I realized that all I was doing was wasting time to hear the same BS I heard downstairs.  I walked out onto the concourse and did a quick game of eeny, meeny, miny,  moe.  My finger stopped on Avis.

I walked up to the football jersey bedecked agent and asked him, " Do you take debit cards?"  Without so much as a breath, quoted policy or anything about Itineraries he said, "No problem."

Needless to say, Avis in now my favorite car rental company.  After a few minutes I was tossed the keys to a better car than Enterprise was offering for only 5 bucks a day more. 

Time for another recap...

1. Sure thing falls through
2. Have to sell car or starve
3. Went car shopping found junk
4. Ended up buying car from parents
5. Delivery truck with new car breaks down
6. 2nd car breaks down, no ride till new car shows up
7. Reserved rental car
8. Get ride to airport to get car
9. Denied rental car I reserved from Enterprise, granted one from Avis
10.  Spend the rest of Saturday night trying to forget the last 3 days

After Saturday had passed I spent the next 2 days trying in vain to get the El Camino to run.  No joy and I spent a lot of time at auto parts stores. 

Tuesday brought a phone call from Reliable Auto Transport's dispatch department.  My car was going to show up within the hour. 

Joy among joys!

Right on time the huge truck showed up and I greeted a very pleasant husband and wife driving team.  In short order the Firebird was in my driveway.

As soon as they left I took the car out for a shakedown run.  Everything seemed to be working and having driven it 10 miles I decided it was time to get it registered.  I went to my local AAA office because I knew that was going to be easier than dealing with the DMV. 

Upon arriving at the AAA office, I dutifully went to the counter to start the process.  Where I was told I couldn't title the car till it had passed emissions.  They wouldn't do a title without registration.  That meant I still didn't own the car but had to drive it to the emissions testing station.  That put me in a grey area that I was uncomfortable with but considering what I'd already been through to this point it wasn't that big of a deal.  The title clerk gave me a temporary registration sticker and off I went.

I went back home, collected the car and took it to the emissions testing station.  I expected it to go well, it didn't.

In Arizona  the emissions test for cars older than 1996 consists of running through a gauntlet on a dynamometer supposedly simulating a series of real world driving scenarios that take about 15 minutes to complete.  The simulation is designed to stress emissions control systems  by operating the car in situations that would rarely occur in real life. 

I'm all for clean air but this whole process is a racket.  I mean how often would you take your car to 70Mph, slam on the brakes to a complete stop then speed up to 70 MPH again in daily driving.  I know the freeways are bad but they're not THAT bad!

After about 12 minutes of this torture testing my new ride decided to puke coolant all over the emissions testing station.  To my mind I felt it was suitable commentary all things considered but the end result is that the car failed on one reading. 

I took the car home and checked the radiator.  It appeared that the coolant had overflowed from the recovery tank and just needed more added.  If only it were that simple...

I replaced the missing coolant, started the car and upon checking the results of my handiwork discovered the radiator had a leak that was spraying coolant all over the engine like a kid with s super soaker.

Great, now I have 2 cars that don't run and I'm already into my rental car for $250. 

I called up the folks and couldn't resist the jibe.  I said, "Hey, thanks for the lemon." 
I  expected to pay up to a grand to fix things on a used car within the first 6 months of ownership.  What I didn't expect was to have to fix it in the first 6 minutes!

Truth be told, I hold my folks blameless.  The car had sat for 3 years only gaining 100 miles since they moved to Colorado.  They live in an area that rarely gets above 80 degrees and in the winter can go below zero.  For them, they would never have seen the problem, in fact where I refer to that red oily water as coolant they call it anti-freeze. 

In my mind, this was still a win-win situation.  It was just going to take a bit longer to get my trophy.

It was like a boss battle in Borderlands 2 except you run out of ammo, he spawns 20 underlings and your special ability hasn't recharged yet.  You got everything but the bullets....

Now add this to my little recap and consider my state of mind at this point....

I called up Avis and extended my rental car another day and lined up a ride back home from the drop-off point from a friendly neighbor for the following Thursday.

I spent the next 12 hours fighting the dubious engineering GM employed in the removal and installation of a radiator on a 1995 Pontiac Firebird.  There was much cursing, numerous lacerations and even a bout of nausea involved but by daybreak my task was done. 

I had read a few car forums discussing the process and most of them said it would only take a couple of hours for my car.  Gentlemen, if it only took a couple of hours you did it wrong.  It took me 3 hours just to bleed the air out of the cooling system!

I don't want to do this job again anytime soon so I'd rather suffer the pain up front.

I finally went to bed and 4 hours later woke up and proceeded to take the car on a test drive to make sure all was well.  Satisfied I went back to the emissions testing station and it passed with flying colors.  Amazing what a difference it makes to actually keep the coolant in the radiator.

Happily I left the testing station and went back to the AAA office where I was able to finalize my paperwork.  I left with a new license plate, title and registration.  Finally the car was all mine and all legal.

I'm still aware that I'm driving a car almost 2 decades old and I've spent the last few days cleaning it up and fixing minor issues.   I know, however, that it's been better cared for throughout its life than the examples I was looking at before.

The El Camino is still down but I've ordered the correct parts online after having no luck finding them locally.  Hopefully I'll be back to 2 functional cars in a week or so.

Somebody once said God didn't give you more than you could handle.  I was starting to doubt that during the past month.  What came to light, however, was the kindness of people who had no stake aside from the knowledge of their own kindness. 

My faith in humanity was validated in the selfless act of my folks to give me a cherished asset for no other reason than I had the need.  It was further validated by the actions of my friends and neighbors to help me out however they could and finally to the Avis car rental agent that saw my plight and got me a ride.

Balanced against that were: The actions of the security software company dangling a carrot while knowing full well there was no opportunity to be had  The arrogance and callous attitudes of Enterprise car rental, The questionable motives of the emissions testing station and the careless disregard of Reliable Auto Transport dispatchers. 

So if you've wondered why I haven't been posting many gaming articles or videos the past few weeks, now you know.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The First annual pony car shootout!

This isn't Motor Trend, Car and Driver or Automobile Magazine....

Nobody is sending me the latest cars to thrash and hurl around the slalom course.  The closest I can do is a rental and with limited exception you're not going to get to experience the best of the breed.  

However, when it comes to pony cars I've got a good deal of experience.  Which means, at least for the purposes of this blog, that I have some degree of authority about comparing them.

For the uninitiated, a pony car follows a basic formula.  It's a  2 door coupe with sporty styling consisting of a long hood and a short deck (or trunk) and rear wheel drive.  That's right, you'll never see a front wheel drive pony car.  The only torque steer you'll experience is the rear of the car sliding sideways when you tromp on the go pedal.

While not as practical as your average minivan they aren't the gas slurping monsters they once were.  Modern engine technology has actually allowed pony cars to be more fuel efficient than their more pedestrian competition with their V6 (and some cases V8) engine options.  And yes, most of them can accommodate a child seat easily.

The term comes from the namesake of one of our competitors, the Ford Mustang.  First available in 1964 the basic design set the ground rules for all that came after.  The iconic silver Mustang emblem is where the "Pony" in Pony car comes from.

This comparison will have a few basic ground rules. Those being...
  • They must follow the Pony Car formula
  • They must have the same basic equipment (meaning no performance upgrades or extra options)
  • They must have a V8 engine
  • They must have a manual transmission.
  • They have to be available at a dealer, no special orders

So this year's competitors come from Ford, Chevy and Dodge in the form of:
  • Ford Mustang GT
  • Dodge Challenger R/T
  • Chevrolet Camaro SS (1SS package)

They all come in around the $32000 mark when equipped according to our rules.  Comparisons are primarily based on purchase and not leasing although lease options are still available on one of our contenders.  It's late in the model year so we're primarily looking at dealer inventories as automakers have moved on to their 2015 models.  

This is a bang for the buck shootout meaning we'll look at what a base model pony car with a V8 gets you at similar equipment levels for the same money.

In other words, we're looking for more Go than Show for as little money as possible.

Even with a basic level of equipment it's important to note that all our competitors are still considered "premium" options for their respective manufacturers .  Nobody would ever put a Camaro in the same class as an Aveo or a Focus as a contemporary of any Mustang.  Features like power windows, locks, and other creature comforts are a given.  

Upgrades above our base configuration usually consist of leather seating, performance upgrades, convenience electronic packages and special body kits and paint.  

So sit back and enjoy the video below while I walk you through the magical land of new pony car performance on the cheap.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Optispark distributor, the best and worst idea GM ever had

Ever get that sinking feeling? 

Gearheads do, all the time.  For many it's almost like ESP.  We just know something's off even if we can't quite put or finger on it.  Maybe it's subtle.  The occasional misfiring ignition, a hard start condition or maybe the not so subtle hint that's something gone wrong when your car just stops.
Any of those symptoms can indicate a problem with the ignition system but when it's a car equipped with the GM Optispark optical distributor you're going to be questioning the "excellence" in the "GM mark of excellence"

What's an Optispark?

The Optispark is a unique ignition system found primarily on GM's venerated LT1, LT4 and L99 V8's from 1992 to 1997.  This was the second generation of the GM small block V8 motor and the first major design change since 1955.  Unlike its predecessors, the Optispark distributor is an optically triggered ignition system much like those seen in high performance and race vehicles. 

Optisparks showed up in everything from Corvettes to Cadlillac Fleetwoods and they all have the same design flaw.  That being, putting it in the absolute worst place you could possibly locate a component sensitive to heat, moisture and oil contamination.

Put yourself in the following scenario.  Imagine having a job where you were forced to work next to a blast furnace every day with the threat of a huge water pipe bursting over your head.

That's pretty much the life of an Optispark distributor.  Buried deep under belts, hoses, pulleys and a water pump, the unit can be barely seen and hard to service. Replacement is always a major undertaking involving the removal of the aforementioned bits and pieces as well as assorted brackets, wiring harnesses and other assemblies depending on the vehicle being serviced.

So just what's different about an Optispark?

Other than the look of it, not much really.  It's still a distributor that requires a rotor, Ignition module and coil to provide spark to the spark plugs at the right time.  The primary difference is that timing is determined via an optical signal instead of the position of a reluctor or cam follower.  Normal distributors usually have shaft with a rotor on one end and a gear on the other that meshes with its counterpart on the camshaft.

Where the only indication of incorrect timing on a regular distributor is a poorly running engine, the Optispark ignition provides feedback to the engine's PCM.  Using data from other sensors at its disposal, the PCM can then adjust the ignition timing to optimize engine operation.  

It utilizes an optical pickup assembly that reads a thin rotating disk with two rows of perforations punched into it.  One row is comprised of 360 slots on the outer ring with another row of 4 cutouts of differing size on the inner ring corresponding to 90 degrees of engine rotation.  The disk rides on a bearing assembly mounted into a base plate that engages with the timing assembly on the front of the engine.  As the engine rotates the optical pickup reads the position of the disc and reports that information back to the PCM where it can adjust the ignition timing according to current conditions. The major components of the distributor are fairly simple consisting of:
  • ·         A cap
  • ·         Rotor
  • ·         Plastic separator
  • ·         Metal separator
  • ·         Optical pick up assembly
  • ·         Timing wheel
  • ·         Wheel support disc
  • ·         Bearing assembly
  • ·         The man body or base plate

Aside from some sealing gaskets and the wiring harness there's not much more to it.

Depending on the year of the engine, the distributor engages the crankshaft timing gear with either a splined shaft or on later engines (95+) a large bearing resembling a hockey puck with cutouts to engage a pin on the engine's timing gear.  An issue with condensation and ozone buildup in earlier models of the Optispark (92-94) caused premature failure.  GM redesigned the distributor for later models in an attempt to eliminate the issue.  The easiest way to tell the difference between the two is the presence (or absence) or two rubber hoses connected to the distributor.  One is connected to vacuum while the other usually connects to the intake ducting of the engine.

The Optispark distributor allows for both fine and coarse tuning of the engine timing and has a certain amount of redundancy because of the presence of those two timing rings.  Should something short of catastrophic failure (which usually happens anyway) interfere with either timing signal, the engine can continue to run at reduced power levels.  It usually sets a code in the engine's PCM that will trigger the Service engine light. 

Most common codes are:

P0372 - Loss of the high resolution timing signal ( not reading any of the 360 slots) 
* 92 to 95 engines will set an OBD1 code of 36

P1371 - Loss of low resolution signal ( Not reading the 4 cutouts) 
* 92 to 95 engines will set an OBD1 code of 16

The design allows finer control of the timing by reading not just what cylinder is firing in relation to mechanical engine timing ( what valves are open, where the pistons are in their stroke etc.) but exactly what degree in rotation the engine is currently in.  In this way the Engine's control computer or PCM knows exactly where the timing sequence was in relation to a specific condition and how long it lasted.  For example, If a condition such as a misfiring plug were indicated, the PCM would be able to either correct the condition or set a trouble code.

Sounds great, so what can go wrong?

Oh wow, let me count the ways...

I remember when optical pickup distributors were cutting edge.  Using light to time an engine might as well have been rocket science to most shade tree mechanics. 

Usually, optically based ignition systems are among the most accurate and reliable ignition systems available.  Even modern so-called "Distributor less" ignitions use "flying magnet" or Hall effect sensors that operate similarly to optical triggered ignition systems but use magnetism instead of light to determine timing.


Unlike most ignition systems that are generally designed to keep the most sensitive components away from harm the Optispark stands in stark contrast.

It sits low on the front of the engine between the water pump and crankshaft pulley and sandwiched between a rats nest of cooling hoses, brackets and engine accessories.  It's at just the right height to get drowned by the undercarriage spray at the local car wash and sit's below a notoriously leaky water pump.  Lest we forget seals for both the distributor to timing cover and water pump shaft whose inevitable failure are sure to coat the Optispark in a greasy mess. 

There's usually some degree of warpage on most Optispark distributor caps which allows gaps in the seal between cap and distributor.  That makes it even easier for infiltration of water and oil.

Then there's the issue of varying quality of replacements.  I've yet to find any source for replacement of just the optical pickup assembly which is the most critical component of the Optispark.  That means failure of it requires replacement of the whole distributor.  With prices ranging from $50 for a unit guaranteed to leave you stranded to $900 for a GM aftermarket unit that may be no better you could go broke before you found a reliable source.  Nothing like doing the same job two or three times before you finally get one that works.
We've talked a lot about failure of the Distributor itself but don't forget about the wiring.  Mid 90's wiring harnesses tended toward the flimsy and after 2 decades they can get a bit crispy.  It's always good policy to check the wiring  before going to all the trouble and expense of replacing an Optispark only to find out a $20 Distributor harness would have fixed the problem. 

A good source for troubleshooting Optispark ignition issues can be found at  While focused on 93-97 Camaro and Firebird models the troubleshooting steps will work on LT1's installed on other models.  If you have one of these engines, this is a bookmark you'll use often.

So if you've made it this far you'd probably like to know how to fix your Optispark problems.  Aside from the link above we'll leave that topic for the next article.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Need for Speed for the gearhead and the gamer

I like a good action movie just as much as the next guy.

Make an action movie about racing around in hopped up cars and I'm in love.

I just happened to catch Need for Speed the other day.  It came out earlier this year and starred Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad fame.  As I watched I was reminded of another favorite film of mine from 2000, Gone in 60 Seconds, which was a remake of the 1974 original of the same name.

While the story differed the premise of both movies was the same.  In short, a bunch of gearheads drive really cool cars really fast.  

That's pretty much it and there's nothing wrong with that.  Leave all your prejudices against inflated male stereotypes and gaping plot holes at the door.  

What makes Need for Speed special, however, is that it's not just a car movie.  It's a car movie based on a video game.

I've got an entire blog as well as most of a Youtube channel devoted to gaming and a big part of that revolves around driving games.  Need for Speed is one of them and a favorite.

So as I'm watching a cool movie about gearheads driving cool cars I'm also noticing elements of the game in the movie.  

I saw scenes that looked like tracks I've raced in the game and action sequences that could have been lifted right off of the game box.  It was an epic experience.  

So for me it was the trifecta.  It tickled my gearhead fancy, had cool cars going fast and reminded me of one of my favorite games.

It made we want to go rearrange my toolbox and rotate my tires afterward.  

The story revolves around Toby Marshall.  He's a top notch car builder that always seems to be on the brink of financial disaster.  He's got a cadre' of wacky friends all with their own unique talents that help him along the way.

Toby has a nemesis, Dino Brewster, a cocky, ruthless a-hole who makes Toby an offer he can't refuse even if it's against his better judgement.

As expected, tragedy soon ensues when Dino causes the death of Toby's friend Pete whom Toby sees as a little brother.  

Of course there's a girl and some romance but the plot really revolves around Toby's quest to bring Dino to justice.

That's as deep as it gets and that's a good thing.  Nothing ruins a car movie faster than an overreaching plot.  I'll watch Gandhi if I need a life lesson.

It's at least worth a rental or a few hours on Netflix.

A Gearhead and proud of it!

I've been doing blogs for almost 4 years now so it's only appropriate that my 4th offering be a little different.  I've written about video games, information technology, job hunting and even current events.  In other words, anything that struck my fancy except for the one passion that frequently makes me question what I do for a living.

I've often said that I can be working on my cars and lose hours in a day without noticing it.  Whereas working in IT means spending most of my days being painfully aware of every second that slowly ticks by.  

I like to be doing things, moving forward, making things better and know I'm moving toward a goal.  IT can offer that but only if you've got an active project. 

It's the primary reason that I consider myself a "Gearhead" which is pretty much the same thing as a "Petrolhead" everywhere else in the world.  I think there's one distinct difference, however. 

It strikes me that most people who call themselves petrolheads tend more toward the driving experience than turning wrenches.  Gearheads like to get their hands dirty and they'll be the first to tell you so.  

That I can watch a popular UK series like Top Gear and see a Mercedes sedan called a "Muscle Car" is an indicator of either a misunderstanding of the term or a completely different definition.  

In my view, Mercedes never made a "Muscle Car."

Hey, I appreciate that getting a 5000 pound car to hit 60 Miles per hour in less than 6 seconds is an accomplishment.  But doing it while seated in heated Italian leather seating "surfaces" while enjoying every conceivable mobile amenity is the realm of luxury.  Muscle cars are about going fast and not much more.  

We coined the term in America in the 60's and the legends that it came to be applied to definitely left most of the options on the order sheet blank.  In fact even air conditioning was considered luxury back then. Gearheads don't mind a little sweat.  

With those cars you were probably going to be sweating anyway as they weren't the most reliable vehicles and many a Saturday night was spent under the hood.  

So maybe there is a difference in terminology but the love of all things that move under their own power is the same.  So I can claim that kinship even if I don't agree with all the terminology.

Gearheads don't mind getting their hands dirty, in fact they prefer it.  They enjoy a more spirited means of getting from point A to B just like their petrolhead counterparts but it's far more enjoyable if they know they've had a hand in making the drive happen.

Nothing is more discouraging to a gearhead than popping the hood and finding a bunch of stuff they can't fix.  Engineered obsolescence has been around since the days of the Model T but in the past few decades it's been downright hostile to our kind.

Cramped engine compartments stuffed with engine covers and beauty pieces designed to hide all those "ugly bits."  Pop the hood (or bonnet) of many European cars these days and you'd be hard pressed to find the engine let alone identify how many cylinders it has.  Some are so shrouded in covers and useless trim that you'd be excused if you thought you were looking at the trunk (or boot for my UK readers.)  

That doesn't stop the determined gearhead. however.

For us "stock" isn't good enough.  We're going to figure out a way to go faster, get better mileage and look cooler than the next guy.  If we can do all three it's even better.  

We wear high mileage like a badge of honor.  100,000 mile trade-ins are for wimps.  Real gearheads can get at least twice that before they give up on their ride, assuming they ever do.

We can point to those little victories that come with fixing it ourselves with a pride that other people get from kicking the winning goal or receiving a university degree.

Which means gearheads are forever chasing the win (or the wind in some cases) and we'll do whatever it takes to have our fix.  

So I've drawn a line in the sand.  If you don't enjoy working on your car as much as you do driving it you're not a gearhead, you're an enthusiast and that's fine.  I'll have stuff that will appeal to you as well.

So I start this new blog with a new gearhead mantra...

If it ain't broke you're not looking hard enough!