Monday, December 29, 2014

New Belts for a New Year

The 99 was starting to squeal when the A/C was turned on, so it was one of those signs it might be time for some new engine belts.  The Miata gets two new belts today.  One to drive the power steering and the other to drive the A/C and alternator.
Old belts removed from the pulleys and waiting for the new ones.
A few turns of a 12mm and 14mm wrench on a few bolts loosens the tension on the two belts to remove the old ones, swap in the new ones and then tighten it all back up.  Pretty straight-forward.  Everything is running good as new and the A/C doesn't complain at all when switched on.  About $35 and 30 minutes of time.  One step closer to the 2015 season!
The belt on the left side is new, smooth, no cracks on the ridges that keep it lined up on the engine.  To the right, the old belt is getting pretty rough.
On the test drive, the stereo switched on and off a few times and then finally blinked off for good.  Fuses seem good and I can't track down anything out of place for now.  Time to dig the new head unit out of the dashboard again and see what we can find!  

Monday, December 22, 2014

Cars, Coffee, and A Lot of Rain

This past Saturday was the Columbia area Cars and Coffee event and it was a bit wet.  We got a steady drizzle all morning, but a few of the hard-core gear heads stuck it out to chat about cars.  Friends of the blog, little Kyle and Harlan were there, so there were at least 3 Miatas.
Miatas Left to Right: Little Kyle, Harlan, Me
Nothing particularly caught my eye in the smaller than usual group.  Better luck next month I suppose.  The real bummer was the CEL came back on while driving home, so it looks like back to work on the EGR and intake to try and really clear it out.  More to come on that.

Hope everyone is keeping warm and dry and getting ready to have fun over the holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

December Miata Maintenance

Before the last autocross I was down at Panic Motorsports to pick up a few things for the 99 Miata when one of the guys noticed a hose connected to the wrong port on the intake manifold. They did a quick swap back to normal and off I went.
Time to target that intake manifold.  For the non-car folks, that's the big silver bit with 4 metal tubes on it.
Days later we ran the final autocross of the season and on the way home the check engine light came on.  Knowing we just monkeyed around with engine hoses, I wasn't too surprised.  Checking the code, it showed an issue with the EGR (exhaust gas return), which is exactly what I expected.  After some research online, I found out the vacuum hose re-route that had been done to my car was a known quick-fix to stop the code from showing especially done in states where they need to pass emission inspection (like North Carolina).
After pulling the throttle body off, looking into the manifold from the front of the car.
The quick fix wasn't hurting anything, but it did indicate there was a build-up of gunk somewhere in the intake manifold preventing the correct flow of exhaust gasses back into the engine to allow the emissions control devices to work properly.  Time to clean it and resolve the issue instead of bypass it.
Now pulling the top half off.  It's tough to tell, but the severely clogged port is in the lower right corner.
Pull the intake off of the throttle body, remove the upper half of the intake manifold and there ya go.  There's little channels for the air or exhaust gas to flow that get clogged up with caked on gunk, as if it had been eating a steady diet of Big Macs for the last 16 years and it was time to scrape clean some arteries.
A somewhat less-blurry shot down into the lower intake manifold.
A good amount of dirt came out and the pieces were sprayed with cleaner and all put back together.  The check engine light was turned off and the car ran smoothly around the neighborhood.  I'll drive it a bit more this weekend to double check the light is staying off, but so far so good.  Added bonus, the car is about 5 grams lighter too.  Zoom zoom.

And that's just the pile of dried stuff that was scraped out.

I'll be hanging out at the Columbia Cars and Coffee this Saturday with some of the other SCCA and Columbia Miata Club folks.  Head out to the Village at Sandhills shopping center on 12/20 between about 8am  to noon near the Cracker Barrel area.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

FIAT Abarth New Spark Plug Day!

I also thought about titling this "How Many Packages Does It Take To Ship Four Spark Plugs", here's why...

The NMS-North FIAT 500 Abarth crossed the 32,000 mile mark on the odometer a while ago, and that means new spark plugs for all four cylinders.  Our chief mechanic at NMS-North  (that's me) is a big believer in following the maintenance guide in the owner's manual in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. Besides, how much could a couple of little old spark plugs cost?

Well, if you're shopping the OEM iridium tipped spark plugs for the FIAT Abarth, and look up the price from the FIAT-Chrysler-Automobiles website, you're going to see them listed for $22.  Not bad for a bit of a tune up was my first thought, but then the fact that it was $22 EACH kind of got my attention,  like "jumping-into-a-bathtub-full-of-ice kind of way! Don't ask me how I know what that bathtub experience feels like, but I can guarantee that you DON'T really ever want your body to go through what the Titanic did.

OK, 88 bucks for four spark plugs makes no sense to me, so I did a bit of research on line, and found something similar at my local auto parts store. Managed to stop by there after work one day, and the very helpful counter guy looked it up on his computer and said they were about $12 each. Hey, now we're talking, maybe only 48 bucks instead of 88!  Oh, except that they didn't have them in stock and then he said something about eight dollars for shipping. Hmmm, I thought to myself, 48 plus 8 is still only 56 bucks, so that wouldn't be too b...  WRONG. That was eight bucks PER BLANKETY BLANKING SPARK PLUG, so now (if my math is correct) four times 12 plus four times 8, carry the three, and that would be 81 bucks, not counting tax or a possible military discount.

Back to the drawing board, and let me just say right about here that AMAZON.COM sells pretty dang much everything, so now I find spark plugs on Amazon for 12 bucks each, plus a little bit of tax to keep the government running, and no shipping thanks to a little thing that rhymes with "Amazon Prime".  I ordered the spark plugs and THEY WERE OUT OF STOCK! Regardless, I let the order ride, and it only took a few weeks before a friendly email said that they were on the way. FINALLY!

Then an odd thing happened. Another email arrived saying the spark plugs were on the way. And then a THIRD email said the same thing. Wow, I wonder if I clicked "order" three times in all the excitement on line and I accidentally ordered 12 plugs? Another mystery!

The mystery was solved when the first package arrived, and it contained not 12, not 8, not 4, but only TWO spark plugs! So it seems that these NGK iridium tipped spark plugs are so hard to find that even Amazon had to send me 4 spark plugs in 3 shipments! By this time I'm at a loss for words on how that reflects on society, the amazing mail-order system, the design of specialty spark plugs in Italian cars built in Mexico to be sold in the US, so let's just get on with it and put these sparking plugs (as they might say in England) into the FIAT.  Here we go with the highlights:

You can remove the red engine cover with your basic 8mm socket, just three of these bolts on the front, and then we'll loosen the rest of the stuff that's in our way. This red cover also has some flanges that slide into holes in the back, not too tricky to wiggle it out.
Here we've just removed the red cover, and now you can see my immaculately clean...I mean gently used air....hold on, let me say dirty K&N air filter. Good chance to remove a few dead's just amazing how dead bugs can work their way into ANY place in an engine bay.

The air filter just lifts out. Imagine if you were doing this in zero-gravity, it would just float out!
Air filter out of the way, here's what's left. First I'm going to loosen the hose that goes into the lower right of the photo, it just has another little 8mm bolt holding it into the grille for air intake. By taking that off on the far end I won't have to remove the hose end that you see coming in from the lower right corner.
Also, in the upper left portion you might see another large air hose that feeds into the air box, which we'll loosen with that cool metal clamp that can be removed with either a regular screwdriver or a small wrench. This is a genius bit of engineering, having TWO ways to fasten the same part!

On the right you can better see the hose coming straight at us, just that little bolt to take off!

Now we're back to the air hose in the upper left, I'm holding it and the bolt/screw is just there by my left thumb. The photo makes my hand look like it's pale enough to belong to the Mummy, but trust me I'm wearing some rubber gloves, although I probably could use some sun!

Over on the right, you can finally see where the spark plugs live, each of the four in it's own man-cave under those black rectangles. The black hose going over the one on the left then up above the plugs shouldn't be too much of a problem.

On the left, proof that a 5/8th wrench will work, although you should get a 5/8th spark plug wrench, which is exactly what I did after removing the first one. Why did I do that? Well, I enjoy buying new tools, and going to the auto parts store, and because a regular wrench isn't really good for your park plugs.

Regardless, old used 36,000 miles of spark plug on the top, and shiny new unused spark plug on the bottom.  If you don't like the out of focus effect of my camera, Christmas is coming!
 Maybe your car's manual recommends 100,000 miles between spark plug changes like my old Mustang did, but FIAT goes with changing spark plugs every 32,000 miles. I didn't notice any problems by going an extra 4,000, but as they say, "your mileage may vary".

On the right, we're ready to go in there with my new spark plug socket and get to the next customer.

Just a closer look into spark plug world. You can click on the photo to maybe enlarge it a bit.
Besides buying a new tool, I also invented one! The first time I used the new socket, the little plastic or rubber piece inside of it came off and stuck on the spark plug, you know, way down there.
Luckily I had an old style wire coat hangar, and bent it up a bit to hook it down and get the plastic piece off the new spark plug. What an idiot I am! Probably time to buy some more tools, like a long reach plastic what-ya-macallit thing made for stuff like this!
This plug on the far left of the engine bay was the most difficult, only to work around that black hose that is partly over top of the hole. Not a big deal, but I guess next time I'd suggest just removing it from one end or the other to make life a little easier.

One good thing to note here, the FIAT has only 4 plugs, and since the engine is mounted sideways, it was very easy to reach all of them. Now if you have a 6 cylinder or 8 or 12 cylinder, and half of your spark plugs would be on the other side of the V up against the firewall, well, good luck!

Hey, if you're a spark plug expert and read the tea leaves here as far as what this kind of discoloration means, feel free to drop a comment on this blog page. Otherwise, I think it was worth it to finally get to replace these old spark plugs. Just for fun, feel free to use the English term and refer to them as Sparking Plugs: it's a ton of fun!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Car Show = Motor Trend Magazine!

Greenville Show 2012
One of my favorite things to do, right up there with eating, drinking, and breathing, is attending new car shows with an emphasis on the word NEW.  New car shows are typically sponsored by manufacturers or your local dealers in an attempt to sell new cars by displaying all the latest and greatest vehicles and getting us to drool all over ourselves while dreaming of more horsepower. Most of us don't get too excited about car payments, but when that new car fever hits, our brain power tends to diminish to the point of forgetting about what a shiny new car will cost in the long run.

Shelby Mustang

My favorite new car show is sponsored by Motor Trend Magazine, here's why: With every paid admission to the show, you get a year's subscription to Motor Trend magazine FREE! As I always say, "free is my favorite flavor", especially if it's car related.

FIAT 500

Plus, you will get a chance to test drive some of the new cars, so just make sure you don't have a beer before the auto show, because you will be taking a breathalyzer test before anyone lets you get behind the wheel of a brand new car. The first time I drove the new FIAT 500 was the red one pictured below at one of these Motor Trend car shows, so it's well worth a few bucks to visit and see what is new.

Here's the link to their shows across the USA:     
Motor Trend Auto Shows 


Corvette Stingray

If you are in the NMS-North or NMS-South parts of the country, you can mark your calendar NOW for these two shows in 2015:
     Greenville, SC  16-18 January
     Richmond, VA  20-22 March

Thursday, December 11, 2014

McLaren F1 Drivers for 2015...

Today, after a long delay, and after every other team announced their drivers for 2015, the McLaren F1 team finally announced that two former world champions, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button will be their drivers for 2015. Along with this announcement the other exciting news at McLaren is the return of Honda as engine supplier, which reunites one of the dominate combinations in F1 history. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the McLaren-Honda team was always in the hunt for the championship, and with drivers such as Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, they brought home a lot of  hardware for both drivers and constructors championships.

Get all your Formula 1 news at the official site: 

With my favorite driver Fernando now on board, looks like I'll be cheering for McLaren next year! Look for how well they've combined with Honda at the first on track pre-season practices starting on February 1st.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

It All Starts at Turn One

While I'm still considering all of my goals for 2015 as we approach the new year, one is for certain; learn how to drive on a race track.
My view of Corner 1 at Road Atlanta between sessions. Pit exit on the right.  Lots of great elevation changes.
This weekend was the first major step toward that goal.  I volunteered with NASA (National Auto Sport Association, not the space guys) and worked the flagging station at corner 1 at Road Atlanta this weekend.  NASA has a pretty cool program where you can volunteer to work for them in exchange for credits.  One credit per day worked, and you can trade in two credits for a free day of driving.  The general formula here is to work two weekends to earn one free weekend of driving, so I'm half-way to earning free track time!
From paddock, you can see the bridge and control tower at the Start/Finish line and turn 12.
NASA runs lots of different sessions on track, starting with the High Performance Driver's Education (HPDE) sessions for those of us who want to learn how to drive on a track with with instructors provided at the lower levels.  There is also a Time Trial program, where drivers compete to bank the fastest lap as well as a few different wheel to wheel race series they run with tons of classes. Check out their national site and if you're in our area there's the South East region's website.
Even the crazy-cool Mosler super car has to start somewhere.  This driver was in HPDE 1.
So it all started this weekend working at turn one.  Over the next few months the 99 Miata will get a rollbar, suspension upgrades, and a set of performance brake pads for the track so stay tuned as that car progresses.
Friday night track walk in the light rain.  Looking down into turn 6. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Here's My Christmas Wish List!

 First off I'd like to wish everyone a happy holidays, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year coming up in 2015! Just for fun I thought you'd like to know what's on my wish list, since you only have 17 shopping days left. Remember, nothing says you care like a Ferrari 308 or 328! (photos in this post are from the Euro Fest car show in 2013, see if you can spot the one Ferrari that isn't black in the lineup!)

Travel wise, I could use a year long set of tickets to all the Formula 1 races, and enough airfare and hotel money to make sure all race weekends are spectacular! With races everywhere from Brazil to Austria to Abu Dhabi and Japan, I could even let you keep the frequent flyer miles and hotel points! Quite a generous offer on my side don't you think?

(If you have a bit more than Ferrari 308 money in your budget, an F40 is another great stocking stuffer. Just get a BIG stocking!)
To attend all those races I'll probably need some new clothes, nothing too fancy, maybe a team shirt and hat from each of the F1 teams. The only problem in this area is not knowing what teams will be racing next year. We can assume Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull, Williams, and McLaren will still be around, but the Caterham and Marussia teams likely won't be back. In fact, next week the Marussia team equipment will be up for auction, so maybe instead of new clothes you could just outfit NMS with whatever you can pick up at the Marussia auction! Thanks! Here's the link to the auction, good luck! Marussia Auction

Let's see, if you read the small print on that auction, you noticed that they are NOT selling any used F1 motors, so we're going to need something to put in those used carbon fiber car bodies. Since they used 1.6liter turbos this year, probably anything like a FIAT Abarth or the new Miata engine will fit, that should be fun to figure out!

 (No you don't have to buy that special someone a new car! Heck, just get them some stickers for their favorite car! Remember that every sticker is worth 5 additional horsepower!)

So far we have some great trips to see races, new car parts to mess with, so what else would be nice? Oh yeah, throw in some world peace with another year of safe driving in 2015 and we'll call it good!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dead Weight

The NMS 1997 Ford Ranger has been hanging with the team for just over 11 years now and despite being 17 years old, it only has a little over 126,000 miles on it.  This year it's done everything from moving furniture to hauling a Miata engine, three sets of wheels at once, and even made it out to an autocross event to spectate.  Unfortunately a few months ago it started making a horrible metal on metal clanking noise.  This weekend I finally stepped in and fixed that problem.

It turns out almost all Rangers have an issue with a round metal weight that sits on the drive shaft, just behind the transmission.  There is nothing but a rubber gasket holding it on, and as rubber gaskets do, it fails some time after 100,000 miles.  Based on the wisdom of the Internet, most folks just take it off and don't notice a difference.

Above it's resting about where it should be, but it's loose.  As soon as you hit a bump, turn a corner, or pull out of the driveway, it slides off and starts rattling around.  Below you can see I've moved the balancer weight.  This is right at the front of the bed.  The non-rusty bit it's hanging on now is the transmission.

Step one is to go to the rear of the drive shaft and disconnect 4 bolts that hold it onto the rear differential.  Below I've marked one corner of the drive shaft and the differential with a yellow grease pencil to make sure they line up when put back together.  Note the blue jack stand in the background safely holding up the rear axle.

Depending on rust levels, apply hammer liberally.  The shaft will come free and rest on the ground.

Step three is to slide the shaft out of the transmission...oops, and clean up the little bit of oil that spills.

Remove the ring, discard.  Re-assembly is reverse of dis-assembly.

There we have it.  You can see the inner edge of the ring is shiney where the rust has been worn away from rubbing on the drive shaft and transmission, so it was good to get this thing off of there.  The truck is still driving great, and it only took a few minutes.  Pretty soon it'll be time to load it up with camping gear and head out to Road Atlanta this weekend to work during the track day.

Monday, December 1, 2014

FIAT 2014 Autocross Final Thoughts

Back in March I posted my autocross goals for the year, so now that the season is over and I've moved to Virginia, let's see how I did with the FIAT Abarth.

GOAL:  Compete in all the South Carolina Region events this year.
RESULT: Missed it due to one weekend of work, and later moving to another state. Overall though, I competed in more events than last year, and had even more fun!

GOAL:  Finish each event safely, with no mechanical issues. 
RESULT: Mission accomplished! Of course I'm driving a 2013 model car, so it shouldn't have any issues, but it's also important to have goals that are both realistic and attainable. Always checking tires, fluids, brakes, etc. is still part of driving safely no matter how new or old your car!

GOAL: Score points at each event.
RESULT: In 2014 I competed in GS class, usually not against a ton of drivers, so yes, I scored  points in every event. Not as many as I'd like, but still in the competition.

GOAL: Most points for GS cars.
RESULT: Missed this one.  Congrats to Michael Arnold driving a Focus ST and Justin Robinett driving another Focus ST for scoring more points than the FIAT. No complaints from me, they both out drove me, and I won't even mention that the Focus has about 90 more horsepower!

GOAL: Top 5 in Street.
RESULT: Not even close! At the start of year our South Carolina Region was going to lump all the Street classes together for competition, but then they changed their plan to keeping everyone in their own class (AS, BS, CS, DS, ES, FS, GS, HS).  Looking at all the times from each class in each event, I was lucky to get in the top 10 overall only once, so I have to say the decision to have each class compete separately was the best way to go!

GOAL: Improve RAW and PAX places.
RESULT: Mission accomplished here, and we're still crunching some data to see how I did when compared to not just G Street or all the A-H Street classes, but EVERYONE that drove. Last year I started only beating about 20% of all drivers on PAX adjusted time, so this year's improvements in driving and more experience had me in the top 50% in every event.

So that's the FIAT wrap up of Autocross 2014 with NMS.  I'd say I accomplished 3 of the 6 goals, so if this was baseball then batting .500 would be awesome!  Once the calendar turns into 2015 I'll have to again publicly post my goals and try to improve my driving skills. Here in the Virginia Beach area there are two groups that sponsor regular events, the Tidewater Sports Car Club and the Old Dominion region of the Sports Car Club of America. Right now I'm planning to drive as many events as possible, so we'll see how that turns out in the new year.