Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life

February 8, 2011

Cars and Trucks

Comments Off on Capitol City Honda – Olympia, Washington

I purchased a 2008 five-speed Honda Civic. It is a good car that gets great gas mileage. But my dealer, Capitol City Honda in Olympia Washington, is a turn off.

So far, here is my history with them:

1. My windshield wipers were squeaking. I bought new blades. They sold me the wrong ones, and they worked worse than the old ones. I finally went in to complain when they discovered the problem.

2. The car failed to start one winter morning. I called the dealership, and asked if cars like mine were having problems. They said no, and asked where I buy my gas. My answer was Costco, and they blamed my supplier for having water in their gas. They offered to repair my car for $400, to drain and refill my fuel tank. Of course, I would have had to have the car towed there, which seemed a bit silly.

I spoke with my local Costco sales folks and they seemed to be doing everything correctly to avoid water problems. I then realized that I had likely caused the problem by allowing my fuel level to get low while parking the car outside on cold nights. I bought a $2 can of gas additive (alcohol) and the car started fine. Savings: $398 plus tax.

3. The car makes a noise, perhaps a dashboard vibration, so I brought it in. At first, I was impressed with the mechanic on the road test. He could hear the sound, but he could not pinpoint it because his hearing is better in one ear than the other, too. Then the mechanic made a bee line for the dealership, asked me to press an interior panel to see if the sound went away. I did and it didn’t. The service rep was not going to give me a repair ticket until I demanded it. He also said that if this problem was not found before the warranty expiration, any costs for diagnostics and repair would be borne by me. Making matters worse, I received an e-mail about the quality of the service, saying I would receive a survey. I was supposed to get in touch with the person sending me that e-mail if I could not answer the survey favorably. So I e-mailed him. I got no answer, nor did I receive a survey.

The first Honda I drove was a 1984 Accord, assigned to me by my employer. At the time, Honda was beginning to enjoy a good reputation for quality. That car was reliable, but the gearing (5-speed) was very tall. It was an absolutely dull driving experience. The car had no zip or pep, and I decided there was no way in hell I would buy such a car.

Then I drove my mom’s 2003 Accord with a four cylinder and automatic. The engine vibrates like an egg beater with candy stuck on one side, but intermittently. The Port Richey, Florida dealer said there was nothing they could do – this was normal. The car was new and under warranty at the time.

Honda has pretty good cars, but Honda of America dealers do not know how to support the product. They should remove the words “customer service” from this continent until they can successfully introduce the concept. I am disgusted to have another car with crappy dealer support. (The last time it happened was with a Chevrolet dealer, the Chevrolet that existed before bankruptcy, not the current company).

The Seattle Times reports today that the federal government is proposing fleet average fuel economy of 62 miles per gallon by 2025. This is greater than the performance of a Toyota hybrid (about 45 mpg), or a Honda Civic with a stick shift, which gets anywhere from 32 to 39 mpg depending on the gasoline blend, driving habits, and the season.

The article also reveals that the standard will be higher for heavier vehicles, and quotes speculation that technology improvements in the next 15 years will get us there. Even more impressive is that the governors of several states, including Washington, support the change. Having our governor, an attorney who I am sure knows a great deal about cars, engineering and physics, favoring this imposition on the American public is heart warming.

Here are the likely effects:

  • All vehicles will become more costly, because the lighter materials needed to build new cars are more costly than steel.
  • The ratio of plug-in electric vehicles as compared to gasoline based vehicles must increase to roughly 50% of the American vehicle fleet.
  • Pick-up trucks and vans that are gas fired will be very expensive. You will pay for this when you hire contractors through higher overhead, even if you do not own one.
  • The richer you are the less the effect. You will be able to have a larger vehicle with lower fuel economy. The corollary is that lower income folks will drive old clunkers that consume lots of expensive fuel.
  • Gasoline fired vehicles will be more costly than plug-in electrics, but plug-in electrics will be more costly than they are now.
  • The roads will be more jammed with more vehicles than they are now. But don’t worry because you won’t be burning fuel while you are parked on the local interstate highway. Also, those governors who signed letters of support for the rule change will be retired when the rule goes into effect.
  • Like conservation efforts that have been made since the oil embargo of 1973, the U.S. reliance on oil and oil imports will not decrease under this kind of rule.

The local papers ought to actually reveal what a rule like this will do. Then people can understand the consequences and not draw the unlikely conclusion that technology will cause a vehicle like they have parked in their driveway today to perform about three times better in 2025. I could support policies that encourage the purchase of plug-in hybrids and their use in inner cities. I can even support closing urban cores to gas powered vehicles. There are reasons to do so. I do not support trying to achieve the same ends with the proposed subterfuge.

Also, it is time to defeat the Democratic legislative majorities, not because the Republicans have great ideas. We need to slow the rate of change and pass fewer laws until a political party emerges that actually can lead in these challenging times.

August 29, 2010

Cars and Trucks, Current Events, Opinion

Comments Off on Honda Extends Engine Warranty to 8 Years for 2006-2008 Civics!

Some 2006-08 Honda Civic 1.8 liter engine blocks are cracking in a predictable spot, leaking coolant. Some owners are reporting that the first sign of trouble is their heaters do not work; the coolant in the heater core is gone.

This is the second of three vehicles we operate with factory created cooling jacket problems. Our F-150 has a tendency to develop internal leaks due to gasket failures; the Honda has an external leak apparently due to a casting error.

While it is good of Honda to extend the engine warranty, I do not feel they have made owners whole. If failure occurs after eight years, we are stuck with the expense of a new engine (we keep our cars for over 10 years generally). Also, when I do take long trips, I am usually on a schedule. A failure on one of these trips could mean missing a flight or a seminar. Neither of these alternatives is something I wish to risk because of a known defect. Dealing with the unknown risks is bad enough!

August 9, 2010

Cars and Trucks, Miscellaneous Comment

Comments Off on The F-150 Repair

For context, please read the prior three posts concerning this topic before continuing.

Ford recommends changing the left and right lower intake manifold gaskets and the front cover gasket whenever there is unexplained coolant loss in their 1997 – 1999 pickups equipped with the 4.2 liter V-6. My hunch was that one of the intake gaskets had failed because of a rough idle when the truck was cold and because I had never f0und any sign of moisture in the oil. So I postponed replacement of the front cover gasket. The biggest problem I had was reattaching the IMRC actuators to the back side of the intake manifold. I would hold the lower cap screw, slip my hand in the small space between the left actuator and the firewall only to discover that I had dislodged the actuator and I couldn’t move my hand. My wife could do it, but I must admit being prone across the engine with no support at all from her feet and reaching down there looked like an activity that would shortly lead to complaints.

Upon finishing the job, I got another check engine light, but it was only the throttle position sensor. This was not a big concern because I did no work on the TPS but for unplugging and re-connecting it.  It did not re-appear after I reset the code, unplugged the TPS cable and plugged it back in. I may have a loose connection or a failing part, but I will wait for another check engine light before investigating further. The manufacturer recommends an immediate oil and filter change following the repair because removing the intake manifold causes coolant to enter the oil reservoir. I decided to drive the vehicle about one mile to get the water off the gallery in the engine, stir and mix the water with the oil,  and get it warm so it flowed out well. It did. It looked like a Starbuck’s frappuccino. Then the frightening part became apparent. When I re-started after the oil change, coolant started dripping from the exhaust pipe. This indicates a failed head gasket, cracked block or cracked head. But it could also indicate I pumped a slug of coolant into the exhaust on the last start before the repair. Based on the performance of the truck – it runs better than it has in years, the stability of  the coolant level, the continued lack of water in the oil, and the coolant drip ceasing on subsequent uses, I assume that my repair is holding and did in fact remedy the problem.

August 3, 2010

Cars and Trucks, Miscellaneous Comment, Opinion

Comments Off on Myth: Shade Tree Mechanics Can No Longer Do Major Engine Repairs

I had not played with head gasket or short-block replacements in over twenty years, at which time I did some work on two naturally aspirated (carburetor equipped) cars. One had an early computer control system and the other was fully vacuum controlled. Then came the needed repair discussed in yesterday’s post to our 1997 F-150.  If you are mechanically inclined and have done major work on old cars, you can work on modern ones, too. However, you will need more tools than in the old days. In particular, you should have an inexpensive OBD-II (On Board Diagnostics, Second Generation) scanner. This is the less-than-$100 tool that tells you what the trouble codes are after the check engine light comes on. I received two such codes in the course of my repair. One was a misfire in cylinder 3 on the final start prior to the repair. This allowed me to conclude the likely location of the coolant leak and pay particularly close attention to the area near the cylinder 3 intake. The second code concerned a faulty throttle position sensor. I reconnected the TPS, reset the code, and the code has not returned. I considered that code spurious, but will have to start repairs – probably starting with replacing the TPS –  if it occurs again.

The next thing you should have that is essential are directions. I particularly like factory service manuals, which are best purchased long before needed, while they are still available. It is an expenditure that has no return until years after purchase, but is well worth the expense. It makes sense to purchase these for your vehicles if you plan to keep your vehicles for a long time.

The last thing you need is a basic understanding of how fuel injection and modern engine control work. That will be the subject of a later post.

August 3, 2010

Cars and Trucks


I am one of those folks who is usually greatly impressed with the amount of information on the web. My search to understand the purpose of the IMRC system was not such an experience. You can find information on where it is on your engine, how to disconnect it, likely symptoms when it fails to operate, what it physically looks like and how it operates. But I found nothing on why it’s there.

However, I concluded why it exists by a description of how it is controlled. There are two inlet ports cast in the manifold for each cylinder. The IMRC is a vacuum controlled actuator that opens butterfly valves in one of the two inlet ports. A V6 engine has two IMRCs, one operating each bank of cylinders.  The actuators open the butterfly valves at high rpm, allowing plenty of air to enter the cylinders. The IMRC system keeps the airflow even to all the cylinders when the engine is operating at low speed by restricting airflow through the valved port. This is done by closing the butterfly valves, limiting each cylinder’s ability to get air by increasing the inlet resistance. With greater air velocity and pressure drop, inlet air will not take the easiest path to the nearest combustion chamber. The result is a reduced tendency for most of the air to enter the cylinders with slightly lower pressure losses associated with them. There is not a path of substantially lower resistance into one cylinder at low air use rates, which would otherwise occur at low engine speed.

An IMRC that failed to close at low speed would lead to poor fuel economy, uneven engine operation, and higher emissions. Failure to open at high speed would limit power and performance.

This was one of the big technological puzzles I studied last night before writing my first F-150 post. A week ago I didn’t know IMRCs existed.

NOTE: This post is one of my most popular. I edited it on November 12, 2010 and February 2012 to make it more clear. If this post helped you or you think it could be improved, please comment. I moderate your comments – that means I approve them before they post. But additional information in your comments could be helpful to subsequent readers, and I will definitely post such comments. Having good information on the web for the do-it-yourself crowd is good for all consumers. We save a ton of money and learn a lot in the process. And there is plenty of work remaining for the professional mechanics to make a good living.

August 2, 2010

Cars and Trucks, Miscellaneous Comment

Comments Off on Fun with Ford F-150

My excuse for not posting is my recent work on our 1997 F-150 Ford pick up, the oldest operating vehicle we own. We used it a normal amount in the early years, but now we drive it less than 3000 miles a year, usually for hauling gravel, refuse, plywood and other heavy loads, and for getting back and forth to work in snow storms.  We have owned the truck since new, taking delivery late in March 1996. It has just under 70,000 miles on it. We factory ordered it, equipping it with the optional 4-wheel anti-lock brakes, 4-wheel drive, limited slip low range rear end, and the five speed manual transmission. I usually change the oil annually, but this time I slipped down to 18 months. For years I have added coolant. It quickly was lost, returning to its new normal level in the coolant recovery tank. After I filled it, I caught whiffs of coolant, but could not find a leak. Recently the truck was so low on coolant, it over-heated and knocked, so I decided it was time to find the leak. I added a Schrader valve to a spare radiator cap, and added air until the coolant system reached 16 psi. I scouted all the likely sources of leaks, including the water pump weep hole, using a mirror, flashlight and appropriate bifocals. I found none.

This was cause for alarm because the only place for the water to be going was in the engine. A few minutes of web research illustrated that unexplained coolant loss was, indeed serious, costing many owners their engines. The 4.2 liter engines built in 1997 through 1999 were failing due to the piston coming up on water, bending crank shafts or connecting rods and ruining engines. One adviser mentioned ceasing operation immediately when water loss occurred and having your truck towed in for repairs. Ford, through their Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs), advised changing the lower intake manifold gaskets and the front cover gasket. They even had a recall for the front cover gasket, which fails on every truck, but it ended in 2001! I received a bunch of recall notices, but not that one. Here I was treating the leak as a common annoyance, adding water for three or four years. What a fool!

Then things got interesting. Of course, we stopped driving the truck in preparation for the repair, giving me time to buy the gaskets and other parts I needed. A few weeks later, the engine stopped rotating when I tried to start the truck to move it into the garage for the repair. The stall was temporary; rotation resumed, the engine started and the check engine light came on. Oh oh. A quick scan showed #3 cylinder had misfired. My immediate thought was I started it once too often and had ruined the engine. I cleared the fault and it didn’t return. The engine sounded fine, so I presumed I had caused no harm and decided to proceed with the repair.

I’ll tell you about the repair and the aftermath in my next posts if you’re interested!


March 16, 2010

Cars and Trucks

1 comment

I have been a bit hard on Toyota lately. It is only fair to disclose that I own a 2010 Toyota Tacoma, a 2008 Honda Civic, and an 1997 Ford F-150. The trucks are four-wheel drive and all vehicles are five speed manuals.

The Ford had many recalls when new, but is an excellent vehicle that has required few repairs since we factory ordered it in early 1996.  It has only 70,000 miles on it, but many of these are in snow, or hauling gravel, or idling, or pulling people out of the ditch, or operating on gravel roads. Its service has been severe, but it is in very good condition and you would never know its use had been rough based on its performance and appearance. It represents money well spent.

The Honda has been virtually flawless, with no recalls and no warranty issues. It has 17,000 miles on it. It is a useful and fun car to drive; I commute with it and my wife and I stuff it with groceries and gear on the weekends. It is so cheap to operate that you think you’re making money while driving. It gets about 35 mpg all the time (actually from 32 to 39 mpg – the lowest mileage occurs when idling to de-ice it in the winter).

The Toyota has about 1000 miles on it. There have been no unintended acceleration issues, but there seems to be a warranty issue. The starter makes a ringing sound when the vehicle is first started after it sits for a few days. It is an excellent vehicle and meets our needs very well.

Lastly, there is an unregistered 1976 Corvette Stingray awaiting restoration in the garage. A lot of us rural guys have similar prizes tucked away somewhere.

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