Thursday, December 24, 2015

Happy Holidays from Gearhead Garden!


Merry Christmas !!!

&

Happy Holidays!

I just wanted to take this opportunity to wish all of my readers the Happiest of Holiday seasons.  If it's December and there's something for you to celebrate I encourage you to live it up to the fullest!

Be safe, Be happy and keep it pointed between the lines!

Check out the following video from my one of my other YouTube channels sharing this year's tour of my neighborhood's Christmas light displays.  Nothing better than a holiday tradition in a classic car.

I'll be back around the first of the year with more in my ongoing tale of Formula Vs. Smog Check!

Peace!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Formula Vs. Smog Check: Testing Fuel Pressure and the MAP sensor


On this page are a couple of videos showing you the results of my Fuel Pressure Leak-down test and how to test a MAP sensor on an LT1 V8.  These are two important tests when you've got an emissions problem especially if the car is running rich.  

The fuel rail will bleed off some pressure over time but not all of it in a few minutes!  Anything more than a couple of PSI drop after a few hours means there's a leak in the system somewhere.  

It's important to mention that if at all possible, you really want to isolate the individual components of the fuel system when troubleshooting.  If you're testing the fuel rail and you don't know the condition of the fuel pressure regulator, for example, then ideally you'd want to block off any return lines to the tank so you don't confuse a bad fuel pressure regulator with say a stuck check ball in the fuel pump. 

If that's not possible then you're only going to get a general idea that there's a problem.  In which case you'll have to take into account other factors.  In my case I know the Fuel Pressure regulator is good ( brand new ) so I'm fairly confident that any pressure loss seen at the rail is going to be isolated to a component of that rail.  Note that all of this testing is done with the engine off.  With the engine running other factors like the Fuel Pump, Injector pulse time and engine vacuum come into play which can mask a basic fuel pressure problem.  

Incidentally, you won't see it in the video but the way to isolate the fuel system to check for what part is causing you the headaches involves either pinching off the return lines or installing a shutoff valve.  I don't have the valve and I'm not about to start pinching anything made of plastic that's been baking under the hood of a car for 20 years.   So I didn't do that test but a rich mixture is more likely to be a fuel injector than a check ball in a fuel pump at the back of the car.  I was more interested in seeing if there was a drop in pressure in general.  

Once I can afford a new set of Injector O-rings I'll be pulling the injectors out, priming the rail and seeing which one(s) are leaking.

As for the MAP sensor testing, well, it's always the first thing blamed right behind the O2 sensor when an engine is running to rich or lean.  That makes sense since those sensors as well as the MAF (Mass Air Flow) provide critical data to the engine's PCM to adjust the mixture rate.  There are others like the Coolant Temperature sensor, Throttle Position Sensor and others but basic emissions troubleshooting will have us starting at the MAP sensor since it's usually the easiest one to access and check.  

The MAP sensor's job is basically to read engine vacuum and send a signal back to the PCM.  With an LT1 the PCM takes that vacuum value and compares it with the Air flow data from the MAF to see if the two values complement each other.  That allows the PCM to make more minute adjustments to the fuel mixture for performance and emissions.  It's also a sanity check for each sensor since the failure of one can be compensated for by the other.  Either one can provide enough data to allow the engine to continue to run but not as efficiently.

Some cars only have a MAP sensor but LT1's are a bit of a wild animal when it comes to tailpipe emissions. Getting the engine into emissions compliance takes a lot more data points than your average grocery-getter especially with high compression that lends itself to problems with NOx and CO issues.

So if you ever wondered why there's so many wires under your hood, now you know....

For me this is all kind of a reference exercise but for  you it might be instructional.  Enjoy!


Fuel Pressure testing...




Checking the Manifold Absolute Pressure Sensor (MAP)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Formula vs Smog Check: 2nd Time not the charm


The saga continues...

The story so far.  My 1995 Formula failed it's emissions test.  We did some diagnostics and found out that the EGR, PCV, and Fuel Pressure regulator were all bad.  We also knew from the first test that the major problem with the car was it was running too rich.

There was also a suspicious rattling under the car which upon inspection showed a problem with the catalytic converter.  It's the original and a couple of soft taps with a rubber mallet confirmed it.
  
So after more diagnostics that involved chasing down vacuum leaks, replacing any crispy hoses I could find that were causing them, checking the EGR solenoid and changing the oil it was finally time to try again.

The first test a month earlier gave us readings of:


HC 1.57           .8 is the max
CO 13.77     12.0 is the max
NOx 5.99       2.0 is the max

Today's second pass at it:

HC 1.57           .8 is the max
CO 15.57     12.0 is the max
NOx 4.59       2.0 is the max


So we've taken a chunk out of our high NOx reading, done nothing for the HC but what's this?  The CO went up!  That's actually a good thing because it means we've got better fuel control.  Instead of gas leaking past the regulator it's staying in the combustion chamber.  In effect the gas is where it should be but there's too much of it!

It's also another indication (in addition to reduced NOx) that the EGR is working since it's recirculating exhaust vapor back into the combustion process.  It's taking that raw and partially burned gas and adding it back in just as the EGR system is designed to do.

The problem is that the exhaust is so rich with fuel that it adds to the CO problem.  HC stays the same because we're not adding any more raw fuel into the exhaust stream.  That any reading stayed the same across 2 tests a month apart also indicates that the catalytic converter is doing virtually nothing to help us.  It's also indicative that our rich mixture is being caused by something other than what's been fixed.

I'll cut to the chase.  We've still got an over-fueling problem and it's likely related to a leaky fuel injector.  Admittedly, all I have to back up my diagnosis is some fuel injection tools, a multi-meter and a code scanner that works with OBD1.  

And a bit of experience...

Before I changed the Fuel Pressure Regulator I'd have intermittent long starts when the car was cold.  With some of the fuel pressure bypassing the rail for places less useful it wasn't a surprise.  

What was a surprise had to do with warm starts.   I thought my fuel pressure problems were over but noticed longer starts (more cranking) after the car sat for a short period of time (15 minutes to an hour).  

That has everything to do with the fuel rail bleeding off pressure when the car was warm.  Remember that when the engine's cold the fuel pump will prime the rail but when it's warm it shouldn't need to.  So when it does it has to build up pressure again.

I also noticed that during these longer warm starts I'd sometimes see a bit of grey smoke out of the exhausts.  That told me there was un-burned fuel in the cylinders.  With the engine off the only way that can happen is if something is dripping fuel into them.

Something like a leaky fuel injector.  Which is the likely cause of my over-fueling issue.  Of course without a scan tool that can read fuel trim or at least the state of the O2 sensors it's still a guess.  

The only way to know for sure without one is to pull the injectors out of the manifold while still attached to the fuel rail.  Then turn the key on and prime them to see if they leak.  That's a story for the next installment.  Yes, I can put my fuel pressure gauge on the rail but that only tells me there's a problem on the rail not where it is.

So that's the story up to now.  I'm convinced I have a leaky injector and a bad catalytic converter even given my limited resources to diagnose the problem.

But when I got the results for the second test which I half expected to be a disappointment anyway something struck me.

Those results I showed you earlier?  They're absolutely useless for diagnosis.  All I know is that the car failed.  For all that time and trouble I have no indication what the conditions of the failure were.

In Arizona it's always been that way as I'm sure it is in other parts of the country.  But like everything else that's supposed to be "progressive" in the state Arizona's managed to turn it into a profit center.

Which is a great segue to the video below.  It's a bit of rant but for me it was a bit of an epiphany as well.  
Stay tuned!


Friday, October 23, 2015

Formula vs. Smog Check: cleaning up the combustion chambers with some B12 ( not the vitamin )


In the continuing saga of trying to get my beloved Formula to pass emissions this year I bring you my latest adventure.
Just to catch you up, the story is this.

My registration came up and when I dutifully reported to my local emissions testing station I was sadly informed that my car had failed...badly.

The only thing I passed was the gas cap test.  HC and CO were twice the acceptable values and NOx was even worse at 3 times the standard.

So I attacked the problem by switching back to Premium fuel, dealing with a bad EGR and Fuel Pressure Regulator and chasing down vacuum leaks.

Which is an excellent segue to my current project.  During my "leak" hunt I discovered that my PCV valve appeared to be the original piece.  Meaning it was time for replacement along with its associated vacuum line which after 20 years was as brittle as a potato chip.

I'd been doing some research on emissions failures and happened across a few videos about the benefits of combustion chamber cleaning.  I'm not talking about sticking a bottle in your gas tank at the next fill up.  Rather this is a process targeted specifically at cleaning up the combustion chambers and upper cylinders.  Some may call it snake oil but there is something to be said about trying to get rid of some of that built up carbon that inevitably bakes itself onto the tops of your pistons.  The cause?  Poor quality fuel, neglected maintenance and issues with the ignition system just to name a few. 

LT1's have a compression ratio of 10.5 to 1 right out of the factory, a bunch of crap on top of a piston after 100,000 miles decreases cylinder area and increases compression.  That leads to pre-ignition which is an uncontrolled explosion that happens sometime other than when the spark plug fires.  Uncontrolled explosions are ok for diesel engines, not LT1's.  It's a bad thing unless of course you like the idea of hammering the tops of your pistons and potentially bending a connecting rod.

There are a number of products out there to clean up the combustion chamber with some more snake oil than others but the two most popular are Seafoam and B12.

I chose the B12 Combustion Chamber Cleaner Part # 2610 after seeing a few YouTube videos and reading up on it.  I'd been running lower octane fuel for the past year to save a few bucks.  The car could tolerate it for awhile but not indefinitely and there would be a price to pay.

Call it a penance for the few bucks I'd saved by not giving the car the quality of fuel it really needed.

The procedure was fairly simple once I figured out what vacuum port to use.  Access to anything under the hood of a 4th generation Firebird is difficult.  Finding the right vacuum port without breaking parts that have been cooking under it for 20 years even more so.

I found a suitable port in the driver's side of the LT1 intake manifold right above the PCV valve I was fighting with earlier.  

I popped off the vacuum tee that was attached to it and connected the hose from the can of B12 making sure it wasn't in danger of contacting anything that could ruin my day.

One thing to be careful with here is to make sure to use the included hoses that come in the B12 kit.  There's an inline tee that functions to vent the line to keep the flow constant.

Once connected, it's pretty simple.  Start the car and let it run until the can is empty.  In my case it took about 15 minutes. 
I noticed some white smoke and water vapor coming out of the exhausts during the process as well as a slight chemical smell.  Nothing of note really aside from the wet spots immediately under the exhaust tips that seemed to stain the concrete a bit. 



If there was anything that alarmed me it was the sounds my catalytic converter made while the B12 made its way to the exhaust system.  A steady rattle that sounded like ball bearings in a metal coffee can.  Happily, a sound that went away once the can was emptied.

Recall that the catalytic converter is likely on its way out anyway.  In fact the whole point of this  emissions adventure is to see if I can get the car to pass without investing $250 in a new one. 

After the process completed and everything underhood was returned to normal I took the car out for a few runs up and down the freeway to burn off whatever B12 was left.  Some have reported dramatic smoking akin to all those SeaFoam videos but I didn't see much of anything. 

What I did notice was a bit smoother power delivery and a lessening of a slight miss at idle that I've had since I bought the car.  The instructions mention that using B12 may set a trouble code that can be safely reset without concern.   I saw no such code get set.  Apparently in some cases the amount of contaminants being sent out the exhaust can give a false positive to O2 sensors. 

Will this finally get me through emissions?  I don't know.  The only thing left to do now is an oil change immediately before taking it in again.  I'll wait a week to make sure all the B12 solvents are completely burned off to ensure I don't contaminate the new oil.  Not a big deal since I don't have that much oil blow-by anyway so I don't expect much of the B12 got into the crankcase.

Whatever the outcome of the test, none of these activities were a waste of time even if the car fails again.  The EGR and Fuel Pressure Regulator weren't working, the PCV valve and its grommet was overdue for replacement, vacuum lines needed to be checked, the car needed to be running the right grade of fuel and the combustion chamber was overdue for a cleaning. 

I'm just hoping I can put off the bill for a new Cat!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Mustangs aren't Mustangs Anymore!

There's no denying it, when most people think muscle cars it's likely the first image they think of is a Mustang.  That is, if they're under 40 and don't know any better.  

Oh yeah, the hallowed names of GTO, Chevelle and Challenger eventually show up in there somewhere but Ford's marketing department has done a bang up job of obscuring history with the Mustang

So is today's car the best engineered example of the breed in its 50+ year history?  Of course it is.  

The question is, can it really be called a Mustang?  In Ford's rush to globalize its offerings it seems the Mustang is destined to join the ranks of other fine examples of Ford's "world cars." [sic]  An "honor" bestowed on such legendary models like the Escort and Fiesta.  [even more sic-kening]
So is it any surprise that the 2015 redesign was so "sophisticated?"

It saw the first appearance of an independent rear suspension as standard equipment in a Mustang (except for 99-04 Cobras) which until now was a feature left to those "copycats" over at GM and Chrysler.  Coincidentally, both the Camaro and Challenger owe much of their engineering to "them civilized" folk in Australia and Europe.  European tastes won't tolerate a car with a live axle unless it's 100 years old and requires a crank handle to start it.

Don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against IRS ( the suspension not the tax guys) but if your buyers don't care about carving corners at the Nürburgring then who are you really trying to impress with an American coupe?

Let's not forget such "must-haves" like that center mounted touch display with GPS and smart phone integration.  A feature no self-respecting BMW or Mercedes owner would be caught dead without.

Or the price.  This one's a sin all 3 current pony cars suffer from.  Instead of being within reach of "Joe Six Pack" the entry point of these cars is more in the realm of "Joe Six Figures."  Considering the average price of a pony car with a decent V8 hovered around 3 grand in 1969, you'd come up about 10 grand short (around 25%) in today's money when you adjust for inflation.    

I'm not even going to get into the very "euro" trend of sticking a damned turbocharged 4 banger in everything.  An option now available on the Mustang!  Yeah, Ford's done it before but nobody looks on those days with nostalgia.

Finally the look. 

Sorry, but the new Mustang isn't a Mustang at all.  It's a squished ripoff of an Aston Martin Vanquish.  Think I'm nuts?  Forget the goofy stripes or hood scoops and take a close look at the two photos below then tell me who the Mustang is really being aimed at.  It sure as hell isn't the traditional pony car buyer!


Nobody should be buying a Mustang thinking they're getting a cheap Aston Martin!

I've been screaming this from the rooftops since the first photos of the redesign leaked and nobody was listening.

I'm sure it has something to do with most buyers not getting past the engine compartment and 7" touch screen in the dash.

Ford is trying to upscale Mustang's market which is a mistake for a car as iconic to middle-class America as the VW Golf is to Europe.  

Get real, nobody looking at a Bimmer is going to consider a Mustang folks.  America's population is aging meaning the people with the cash to afford the gouging won't want it for much longer.  They'll go buy a 5 series BMW sporting big puffy seats with built in butt massagers.

That leaves the target demographic populated by debt-burdened millennials enamored more with smart phones and public transportation than an overpriced European wannabe.  

Offering up a 4 banger won't help either, especially when it costs 2 grand more than the base V6! 

The idiocy of it is stunning.

In short, the 2015 Mustang is all wrong.  It's only tenuous link to the mark's heritage is a throaty sounding powerplant wrapped in the bodywork of a cheap European knockoff.  It's more Ford Focus than Ford Mustang.  In fact, side by side it's hard to tell which one's styling is influencing the other.  My money is on the Focus...

Bottom line...It's a sellout with no redeeming features outside of its power train.

Not that it's all bad.  Take that power train and stick it in an '08 Mustang GT and you might have something!  Even the 2010-2014's retained more heritage than this car.  Those were cars I wasn't wild about either but at least they weren't trying to be a Ford Ka!  

Hopefully the Camaro and Challenger will stay true to their heritage and their market.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Formula Vs. Smog Check: EGR sadness


Last time I pretty much laid out my dilemma.   20 year old car, Emissions testing Nazis, questioning my life choices...

So I won't rehash it here.  It's a problem anyone with a car roughly the same vintage as their parent's high school diploma knows well.

This time we're going to attack the root cause of our NOx failure at the emissions testing station.  If you recall, the standard for a 95 Formula in Arizona is 2.00 and I managed to crush the scales at 5.99.

There are two primary emissions systems that contribute to this failure.  The first is the EGR or Exhaust Gas Recirculation valve and the second is the Catalytic Converter.

As I see it, the Catalytic converter is a secondary emissions component.  Meant to clean up whatever the other primary systems left behind.  There are exceptions such as certain vehicles that eliminate the EGR altogether and incorporate similar functionality within the intake system of the engine itself. 

But most of us with older cars will still have to deal with the tried and true EGR valve.  Considering it's exposed to constant exhaust heat, depends on a seal made of rubber and failure of said seal negates its function you're going to have to deal with it at some point.

The good news is that at least on mid 90's GM F Body cars ( 93-97 Firebird/Camaro) with an LT1 V8 the diagnosis and replacement is straightforward.

I should clarify here.  Diagnosis is easy, replacement would be easy if you could somehow wrest the engine out of the car in under 5 minutes.

That's not going to happen in a 4th generation F Body.

But enough of that...

The EGR's function is to circulate exhaust gases back into the combustion chamber to cool it down.  

Combustion temperatures above 2500F cause NOx, a noxious gas that creates excess ozone and irritates respiratory ailments among other things.

So the emissions Nazis are gunning for you if your car exceeds their standards.

On the 4th Gen F body LT1 (V8) cars the EGR is located on the back of the intake manifold in pretty much the most inaccessible location GM could come up with. 

Now if Camaros or Firebirds had hoods that tilted forward ( like the same vintage Corvettes do) it would be no big deal.  Thing is, these cars are cursed with about a foot of bodywork hanging over the engine.  Thank that 60 degree windshield for that one.

Still, you can deal with the EGR and the Fuel pressure regulator as well ( since it's in the same location) so long as you're willing to lay across the front of the car to get to them.

Which is what I had to do to replace mine. 
But we're jumping ahead here. 

Before we start turning wrenches we need to figure out if we need to.

Assuming the rest of your emissions components are working within specification, high NOx generally only comes from the aforementioned high combustion temperatures caused by a bad CAT or EGR valve.

The simplest test for a bad EGR is to stick a vacuum pump on the vacuum port on top of the EGR and give a few pumps.  If it doesn't hold vacuum it's junk, no exceptions.  The EGR relies on a flexible diaphragm that moves in and out as vacuum is applied to it. 

That diaphragm operates a rod ( pintle ) that allows a measured amount of exhaust gas to recirculate in the combustion chamber which helps cool it down and decrease NOx emissions.

If that pintle doesn't move then NOx can run rampant.

The other reason the EGR system can fail is if the EGR passages in the manifold become clogged up.   If the exhaust gas can't get to the combustion chamber it can't cool it down.

It can also cause the engine to run too lean ( too much air not enough fuel ) which can increase HC emissions as well.

Vacuum leaks can contribute to high HC and NOx as well and a torn diaphragm in a 3 inch disk is a pretty big leak.

So now we know the problem, the solution is pretty simple. 

Replace the valve...

While you're at it, check out the EGR passages and clean them out if they're full of crud( as best you can considering where the EGR is.)

Removal is easy, 2 (1/2 inch) nuts on a couple of studs.  Of course getting to them requires draping yourself across the front of the car but once you get positioned, it's not so bad.  I'd also recommend the use of an offset boxed end wrench since the bolts are partially shrouded by the EGR "disc."

Pop it off, remove the gasket, clean up the mating surfaces ( there's likely to be a sticky film left by the old gasket) and clean out the EGR passage of any carbon build up.  Then just bolt the new one on, torque the bolts down and reconnect the EGR vacuum line and you're done!

Really not much more to it. 


Below is a video that outlines the diagnosis and testing procedures.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Formula vs. Smog check: Feeling the (Fuel) Pressure!


You know the drill...

You get your registration renewal and in big block letters you see, "EMISSIONS TEST REQUIRED."

So you dutifully prepare to waste half a day sitting in your car inhaling exhaust fumes from the 30 other people ahead of you similarly afflicted. 

So it was with my Formula.

If you've kept up with this blog you already know the car's been an adventure having suffered more breakdowns in the 2 years I've had it than the last 5 cars I've owned combined.  Not that I'm surprised.  It's led a long life of commuting and road trips that have ticked off over 165,000 miles in its 20 years.

So things are gonna break.  I've been down this road before and the truth is that you're either in it for the long haul or destined to wave goodbye as it's dragged off to the scrap yard.

I was pondering the latter after suffering the indignity of the car failing almost every emissions standard except the gas cap.

Things are still tight and the last thing I needed was another dip into my wallet.  As it is I'm living on ramen noodles!

So armed with my failing report card I began my latest adventure.

The car failed on all the readings, CO, HC and NOx.  I've been suspecting the catalytic converter was failing but these readings went far beyond anything a single emissions component could cause.

The CO readings were slightly above the acceptable standard but HC was almost 2x.  HC means unburned fuel is leaving the exhaust pipe (rich.)  CO is also considered to be a condition of an overly rich fuel mixture but usually caused by weak spark not completely burning the fuel.  Remember we're dealing with chemistry here.  While CO and HC being high both indicate an engine being over-fueled (rich) they aren't the same thing.  

HC is unburned gasoline showing up in the exhaust stream.  It hasn't been chemically changed by the combustion process.  

CO is an overly rich condition as well but the difference is that it has been partially changed by the combustion process.  A weak ignition, compression loss in a cylinder, anything that interferes with the combustion process can cause this reading to go high.  

If HC is a raw steak, CO is that same steak but partially cooked.  Neither is edible.

I've had carbureted vehicles that ran lean but produced a high CO reading.  That seems contradictory but taken with the accompanying Low HC it made some sense.  The other component I failed to mention was that the reading only went high at high speed but was normal at idle.  That meant there was a problem with my ignition system not keeping up with the fuel being delivered.  

It's an example of the value of looking past initial readings and the importance of collecting all the information.  If I'd just taken the high CO at face value I'd be led to believe I had a fuel problem instead of an ignition problem.  Which ultimately turned out to be the case.

When computer controls get involved things get even more interesting.  The output from the O2, MAP, MAF and other sensors play an important role in keeping that ideal fuel ratio of 14.7 to 1.  Any failure of those measurements could effectively lie to the engine management computer and cause a response that makes it run inefficiently.  For example, a rich running engine with sensors telling it it's lean could literately flood the engine with even more fuel. 

HC and CO aside, however, the worst failure was the NOx readings.

It was almost 3x the standard.  NOx readings indicate how efficiently the engine is at using fuel.  High readings usually mean the engine is running too lean and heating up the combustion chamber.  But even a rich running engine (like mine) can make this reading go high if upstream sensors are getting bad information.  
It's kind of the canary in the coal mine since it's more of an overall indicator of the combustion process than just the HC or CO readings alone.  

Causes could be an overheating engine (which can happen from idling too long in that damned line) and/or a failing EGR ( Exhaust Gas Recirculation) valve.  The EGR is designed to force some spent exhaust back through the combustion chamber to cool it down thus removing the conditions for the gas to form.  If your EGR fails you lose that effect.

The other component that can affect NOx is the catalytic converter whose primary job is to clean up any leftover NOx before it leaves the tailpipe. 

So now we have some idea of the problem, time for the solution.


The Formula has always had a slightly rough idle which I attributed to mileage and age.  Thing is, with a completely new ignition system and no evidence of a compression problem on the cylinders, something else had to be in play.

Looking at the test results and noting that the car has been experiencing long starts intermittently it was time to dig deeper. 

I looked at the 2 most likely culprits that could cause both an excess of fuel and high combustion chamber temps.

That led me to checks for vacuum leaks (which can make high NOx worse) and fuel pressure.   I began by hooking up a fuel pressure gauge to the port on the fuel rail and watched the pressure over time.  What I noticed was a slow drop just barely noticeable but it was there.  

I then pulled the vacuum line off the fuel pressure regulator (FPR) and connected a vacuum pump to the fitting on the regulator.  It mimicked the result I saw with the Fuel pressure gauge, a slow bleed off but of vacuum not fuel.  The final test was to take a whiff of the vacuum line that connected to the regulator. 

Damning evidence, the telltale smell of gas where there should be none.  Gas fumes present in the FPR vacuum line indicate a ruptured internal diaphragm which compromises fuel metering and allows fuel into places it shouldn't be.

So I needed a new FPR.  That should help with the high HC readings but what about the NOx and CO?

The EGR valve on the Formula (and the FPR for that matter) is in an almost inaccessible area under the foot or so of bodywork that supports the windshield above.  Still I have my tricks and I was able to do some preliminary testing of the EGR valve itself.

Testing an EGR without the car running is pretty straightforward.  The first test is to try to move the internal EGR diaphragm assembly by hand.  If it moves freely then you know the EGR valve itself isn't frozen. 

This first test it passed.  On to the next test...

I connected my vacuum pump again and proceeded to give a few pumps. 

Nothing, absolutely nothing...

It was like attaching the vacuum pump to a straw which told me the internal diaphragm was ruptured.  Being a vacuum controlled valve no vacuum means it's broke.

The final test required the engine to be running.

With the engine idling I again moved the internal EGR assembly and the engine sputtered and died.  That's exactly what it should do and told me that the internal passages were clear enough to work with a properly functioning valve.

OK, so now I know I have 2 problems that are causing me all this grief with the emissions Nazis.  A bit of research and some shopping found me a deal on both parts ( thanks Amazon.com )

Thing is, even with a deal I was going to be out a C-note I couldn't really afford but I couldn't afford to be without the car either. 


Once more we fast forward to today and the first of my parts showed up.  The FPR.  I did a little more research to see how much of a pain it was going to be and if I was going to need more parts.

I made the decision that I had what I needed and if I didn't... Well, I was going to need more parts anyway so there was really nothing to lose. 

Instead of recounting the whole process of replacing the FPR I made a video.  I'll just touch on the major points you need to know.

Safety is always a primary concern so make sure you do the following before attempting the repair.


  • Disconnect the negative battery cable - Sparks and gas are meant for combustion chambers, not garages.
  • Depressurize the fuel system - A faceful of gasoline or worse spread all over the engine is not only annoying but dangerous.
  • The minute you open the fuel system gas is going to come out - make sure you've got rags or something handy to catch the fuel that's going to leak out the minute you pop off the fuel line and/or FPR

Once you've done all that keep the following in mind while you perform the repair...


  • Take your time - Better to do the job right the first time than wonder because you rushed through it.
  • Be organized - keep track of all the bits and pieces that you take off.  Nothing's worse than a 45 minute job taking 3 hours because you lost a screw you can't replace.
  • Follow directions - Use a manual or do some research on the Internet before you do anything.  You're not inventing the wheel here and chances are someone's done it before and wrote it down or posted it somewhere.
  • Use the right tools - For instance the retainer bolt for the fuel line clip that you must remove is a T-25 (Torx) the FPR retaining bolt is a T-27.  The T-25 kind of fits but you risk stripping the head of the bolt and ruining your day
  • Check your work - make sure you've got everything back where it needs to be.  #2 makes this a whole lot easier

So with that I'm going to close Part 1 and invite you to come along with me as I replace the FPR on my Formula in the video below.


Next time, we'll cover the EGR and see how that goes..


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Muscle Car limbo


It's a strange place to be.  That in between time when your ride is transitioning from being just another "old car" to a "Collector car."

So it is with my 1995 Formula.  It meets the definition of a muscle car  ( save for the year but who cares what GoodGuys thinks.)  It's got all the check boxes ticked including having the most powerful V8 available at the time (LT1), 2 doors, rear wheel drive and of course, it's completely impractical.


It also hits all those less attractive aspects like being unreliable, expensive to fix and forever in need of attention.

Right now I have to use the car as a daily driver but it is 20 years old so even with all the care its received over its life there's no hiding those liver spots.  

The catalytic converter's developed an annoying rattle, the rear end urethane bushings squeak like an old bed, the power windows worry me and there are times (like now) where it struggles to roar to life when the weather isn't quite to its liking.

In short it's an old car with all the requisite annoyances.  
Considering my meager income I've done a fair job of addressing a lot of the issues.  Projects that included things like replacement of a distributor, water pump, ignition system and radiator and some worn out interior pieces to name just a few.  It's a start but I know from experience that it's far from the finish.

It's times like these where I sometimes wish I had my old Toyota truck back.  That thing could run on a thimble of oil and two drops of anti-freeze and still take you across the country and back with the AC blowing ice-cold the whole way.

But it wasn't as fun.  Being towed home multiple times is a badge of honor for a collector car.  Even if it is inconvenient.  

Your Camry?  I Guarantee you're looking at Autotrader.com after the first tow...  Besides, did you ever notice how collector cars never seem to look better than on the back of a flatbed?  That's soul baby!


I mean think about it for a minute, not many things with a Toyota or Hyundai badge can be said to have a "soul" and no Kia, calling one of your cars a "soul" doesn't make it have one.  Nobody will ever get excited over an Avalon when its 20 years old either.

Besides, none of those would respond as well to my pleadings to "just get me home baby."

This is where I find myself now and while I foresee a bright future for the Formula for now it's often the stuff of nightmares instead of dreams.

It's the test all car-guys must go through.  If you just give up and trade it in on a Hyundai I have no respect for you.  All great things must be suffered for.

...and god do I suffer...

But this is the stuff of legend.  The stories to be shared with others so afflicted. 

Of course this assumes I don't have to sell the dream for a couple of bags of groceries...

Monday, July 13, 2015

I hate minivans


I hate minivans...

I have since Lee Iacocca strolled past an assembly line of half-built K-cars before proudly coming to a stop in front of an '84 Dodge Caravan.

It doesn't matter whose badge they carry, they're all awful...

It's not about the obvious assault on automotive design.  Face it, there just isn't any way to make these bulging weebles look good.  All the heavy metal rifts and pyrotechnics in the world won't make them cool no matter what Honda thinks.

They're the ultimate expression of the Costco generation.  And why not, they're perfect for it.  As in, perfectly proportioned for America's ever expanding... "proportions."  They're designed to let you stuff the kids, the dog and a pallet of Kirkland Peanut butter with plenty of room left over for that 32 Oz triple-mocha latte' in the cup holder.

They drive just like the family car mostly because they're just a top heavy, overweight and under-powered version of it. 

One thing you're not likely to see is a lot of turbocharged or "High Performance" versions.  That's because the whole "family friendly" thing kind of goes out the window  the first time soccer mom encounters  200 foot pounds of torque steer on a wet road.  Oh, did I forget to mention that most of them are Front Wheel Drive?

It's why anything over 300HP these days will have all that power going to either the rear wheels or ALL the wheels...

They have their benefits though...  For one, they're disposable.   When you're done with them you just ball them up and toss them over the wall of the nearest junkyard .  Which is how the majority end up when their owners discover their 6 foot blind spot.

I mean, let's get real here.  It's taken almost 20 years for the rear view backup camera to become mainstream and nothing has more need of it than a minivan.  BMW's and Mercedes aside ( that don't need them BTW ) the first mass produced vehicles to  have them as standard equipment were minivans.  

Not because it was cool but because there was a very real need especially when half your market is wearing trifocals and racing to get the senior special at Country Kitchen.

Thing is, I don't deny the need for something in that market segment but I think a small SUV or a wagon like the very cool ( sadly discontinued ) Dodge Magnum would have done a better job.

Yeah, the Smithsonian has a Caravan on display but is it really such an honor when it's sitting next to Jerry Seinfeld's Puffy shirt? 

Personally, I think the shirt was a more positive influence.

I'm a car guy meaning I have a deep appreciation for things like styling, performance and serviceability.  In other words, all things NOT a minivan. 


The sight of one of those lumbering sloths struggling to attain the speed limit just sucks the life out of my day.  They're everywhere!  weaving between lanes, cutting off traffic and generally just being a nuisance.

Worse are the drivers.  From my research I've come up with three primary types.

1. The Early Bird specials  -  Usually the senior set determined to slow traffic to nothing more than 10 miles below the speed limit on their way to fish stick Friday.

2. The Soccer Moms - Those terrible taxis piloted by frenzied souls attempting to find that perfect balance between their smartphone and actual driving.

3. The drag racer - Usually a male who hasn't quite figured out that not everything with a aluminium wheels is a "performance" car.  These guys are convinced that 150 HP in a 2 Ton bus is a match for any Corvette and they're going to prove it.  

I can't really blame him though, he's just desperate to reclaim his Y chromosome.  Thing is, that isn't going to happen in a rolling Uterus with third row seats.

I'd prefer not to be around any of them especially if they decide to "Crossover" to something like an SUV.  Nothing like throwing around an extra ton of steel while "soccer mom" juggles text messages, voicemails, screaming at the kids and driving...In that order.

I'm not anti-family, anti-senior or really anti-anything unless its perpetuating a bad idea.  Which lies at the core of my hatred for those ugly metal eggs otherwise known as minivans.  

They had their place and their time back when this country was still grappling with the need for more than 9 miles per gallon and vehicles made out of more steel than you'd find in the average 747. 

But that time has passed.  Time to move on.  Time to close a chapter on one of this country's worst inventions.


Die Minivan DIE!