Archive for the 'Automotive Frustrations' Category

The Audi Chronicles, Part I

2 September 2018 at 5:54 pm
by Berck

For years, I’ve wanted an Audi Quattro, but decent ones are now going for insane amounts of money. And buying one is probably the cheapest part of owning it. Still, I watch Craigslist, just curious what might show up. Because Audi originally called a car “quattro”, then later called their all-wheel-drive system the same thing, it’s pretty much impossible to search for one. Fans refer to it as the “Ur Quattro”, but searching for one by that name isn’t really going to help.

So when you search for Audi Quattro on Craigslist, you get hits for things like “Audi A4 Quattro” which isn’t very interesting, and not what I’m looking for. But a couple months ago an “Audi 5000S Quattro” appeared. I was fascinated.

Given that we had a non-Quattro 5000 Turbo growing up, I knew that this was easily the least reliable car in existence. I very occasionally see one on the road and amazed that it’s still moving. And here was one that someone was actually trying to sell. For $1,200.

I decided to go check it out. Astoundingly it started right up and drove just fine, if slowly. Some minor surface rust, destroyed paint, but quite the survivor. All 4 electric windows and the electric sunroof worked, which was quite the shock. Audis in general are quite unreliable, and the electrical bits are always the first to go. I wonder how many motors, relays and switches had been replaced for this feat. Additionally, both differential locks worked!

The guy selling it had purchased it from an old Audi tech who had kept it running, but decided to thin out his collection of Audis.

While it had brand new tires, the windshield was cracked and it was much slower than it should have been. So slow that pulling out in traffic was a bit of an adventure. The power steering rack was leaking. I asked if they guy would budge on his price, and he said no, since he’d just lowered it to $1,200 from $1,400. I told him I’d pass, but later sent him an email that if he didn’t sell it at $1,200 that I’d buy it for $1,000. He caved immediately with, “Fine. Take it.”

Jonah wanted to know why I thought we needed it. “We don’t. No one needs this car. If you thought you needed it, it would just leave you on the side of the road and broke once you paid someone to fix it. I want it, and it’s only $1,000…” “Why don’t you buy something cool you really want, like an MGB or an RX-7?” “There are no $1,000 MGBs or RX7s in running condition.”

Jonah took me to pick it up on a cool Monday morning and it barely started. It died immediately if I tried to give it any gas at all, so I had to sit in the lot where I’d just handed over $1,000 for a few minutes until it was warm enough to move. But it got me to work just fine.

It came with 8 keys, given that apparently every lock had been replaced at least once, but no one had tried to rekey them. There were a collection of spare parts in the trunk, and a liter or so pentosin for topping off the hydraulic fluid from the leaking steering rack.

When it came time to drive home that evening, Highway 24 was closed because of mud and debris from a particularly fierce rainstorm. Rather than waiting for it to reopen, I decided to head up the 20 miles of dirt and mud that is Mt. Herman road in my Audi. Jonah refused to join me, deciding instead to spend the night with her parents, convinced there was no way the Audi would make it home.

I immediately discovered that I got a terrible beeping and flashing warning light because some system believed the engine was overheating even though it wasn’t. Additionally, I got very low on hydraulic fluid, so by the end of the journey I had two simultaneous warning lights–not at all unexpected from an ’87 Audi. I was a bit perturbed by the speed of the power steering leak, but otherwise had an enjoyable drive home on a road that I wouldn’t have dared drive in the Miata.

I bought a copy of the (english) factory repair manuals for $30 on ebay and set out to figure out the cold start problem. I determined that the previous owner had wired the cold start injector to a button on the dashboard. Pressing it was just as likely to flood the engine as it was to get a successful cold start. The idle didn’t appear to be regulated at all, so I set about trying to diagnose the idle computer. Hours of reading and prodding with my multimeter and I determined that there was no power through the idle switch or the air sensor. I established continuity for the power lines from the fuel injection computer to the ignition computer, so I decided that one of the computers or the other was bad.

Fortunately, both were on ebay for less than $20. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice they were shipping from Lithuania. In the meantime, I charged up the A/C, and was pleasantly surprised that it worked. I removed what seemed like 50 pounds of 1990s carphone wiring. I tracked down a replacement for the faulty coolant sensor, which extinguished that warning light.

When I got both computers in the mail, installed them, and there was no difference at all. Before I could determine that, however, I had to charge the battery because it was completely bad. I couldn’t figure out why, but wondered if the aftermarket radio drained too much power. Before giving up for the day, to determine if that was the battery draw problem, I pulled the fuse for that circuit and stuck the fuse in an empty slot. When I did so, the car started idling perfectly. The slot was, according to the factory manual, unused. But according to the label on the fuse box, it was labeled “Engine Timing” which sure sounded important. Now cold starts worked great!

I excitedly drove it to work the next morning. It started immediately and even let me set off while it was still cold. I drove the whole way without a single warning light. The climate control system did go rogue and decide at some point that I wanted full heat blasting in my face, but I was eventually able to coax it back to air conditioning.

On the drive home, the odometer stopped working at 185,999 miles. I worried that this was a bad omen, but was determined to see if I could drive it to work two days in a row.

The next morning, I hopped in, it started right up. As I started going down the road, I tried to shift into second gear but my foot couldn’t find the clutch pedal. In disbelief, I looked under the dash and found the pedal–stuck to the floor. No amount of pumping or pulling it would disengage the clutch, so I limped back into the driveway and drove the Miata to work.

I ordered clutch master and slave cylinders for less than $100 total. I wanted to install them last Sunday, but discovered that I had a case of the shingles that morning and had to visit an urgent care center instead.

So this weekend, I used the Audi as a distraction from the shingles pain. The slave cylinder was not particularly fun to change, given that it’s behind the engine on top of the transmission and under a pile of goo from the leaking power steering rack. I managed to get it replaced in an hour or so. The master cylinder is stupidly attached to the clutch pedal, and I broke the old fitting trying to remove it, which resulted in quite the spill of brake fluid in the driver’s side foot well. After getting it replaced, I solicited Jonah’s help in bleeding the clutch.

We bled forever, and I couldn’t get any real pressure built up. But on a whim, I started pumping the clutch with the bottom couple inches of travel where there was some resistance. After a few minutes of this, the clutch started operating normally. Worried that there was still air in the system, I bled again, but the pedal immediately got stuck on the floor again. There wasn’t any air this time, so I repeated the pumping process and when the pedal felt good, pronounced it done. I have absolutely no idea how pumping the clutch pedal with the bleed valve closed achieved the desired result.

I pulled apart the instrument cluster, removed the speedometer and determined that it was bound up in a strange way. I managed to fiddle with the gears and make it happy again and reinstalled it. I did not focus on the fact that the previous owner had used purple duct tape to hold the speedometer cable in place. It appears that this guy viewed duct tape as his signature, and he left some in basically every system he touched.

Then I went for a test drive. Everything seemed great, until I tested the differential locks. I try to test them regularly on our dirt road to make sure the mechanisms are free and still work. They completely stopped working. So, back in the garage…

I pulled apart the center console and discovered the differential lock switch is nothing but a giant vacuum mux. One input, and 4 outputs. The input is teed to another line. The lines kept popping out, so I added zip ties to try to keep them in place. Realizing that there was nothing but vacuum needed to activate the locks, I decided to plug the vacuum source up to my vacuum pump. When I did, the system worked great. But it wouldn’t work with the engine source. About then I went to bed.

The vacuum diagram in the factory manual is woefully vague. It shows the source for the differential locks as coming out of the intake manifold, and being teed into the climate control. I was super excited when I found a disconnected vacuum line at the intake manifold. I reconnected it, but the locks still didn’t work. But with some more persistence I found another disconnected line, this one in a position that I was likely to have interfered with while replacing the slave cylinder. Sure enough, this one did the trick.

I replaced the radio head unit with a cheap unit from Amazon. The one in there worked for about 30 seconds at a time, and had no aux input. My $65 Amazon special has bluetooth! That took hours, and then it took another hour to get the differential switch happily routed back to where it goes with all the vacuum lines attached. I changed the oil and air filter. I thought about changing the differential and transmission oil, but I couldn’t find fill plugs for the diffs and the drain plugs appeared to be something like an 17mm allen key, and I didn’t have a tool for that. While tracing vacuum lines, I noticed that the vacuum dump switch on top of the clutch for the cruise control had popped out. It had plastic threads that were stripped, so I put some epoxy on it and threaded back in. I filled up the spare tire. I cleaned out the trunk, and tossed some spare parts that didn’t even appear to be for this Audi.

And then I went for a drive. Everything mostly works! The diff locks work, the radio works, and astoundingly: the cruise control works! We’ll see how some future attempts to drive it to work go.

Focus RS Track Day

4 November 2017 at 8:09 pm
by Berck

At work yesterday, a message from the front range Miata club hit my inbox mentioning that there was a cheap last-minute track day at Pueblo. I get these all the time, but for the last 5 years or so all the tracks in the area have decided to not allow Miatas on the track without a rollbar. I’m not putting a rollbar in my street Miata because I’m not going to wear a helmet on the street, which means a rear-end collision might kill me. Then I remembered we have a new Ford Focus. Jonah said she wanted to do it with me, so I signed up.

Since I’d decided to do the track day with about 24 hours notice, I did exactly zero preparation and the car is completely stock. After all, Ford says it’s good on the track for 30 minutes as-is, right? Showed up with about 2,300 miles miles on it (still the factory fill oil, even), and the OEM Cup 2 tires with 42/39 PSI cold. Figured I’d err on the high side with pressures on these tires hoping that would prevent them from chunking apart. Ambient temps were in the mid-60s, the track is a 2.2 mile road course with a dozen corners. 91 octane fuel, since that’s all we can get out here in Colorado.

I spent most of the first 30 minute session coming to grips with the fact that it had been 8 years since I’ve been on a track and my mediocre skills were quite rusty. 25 minutes into the session, I got the AWD Off message, and drive mode went back to normal. If the oil temp gauge can be believed, the oil temps were up to about 280F. Since I’d never previously seen it climb over halfway, I was surprised how quickly it got up there. Figuring that 25 minutes was nearly Ford’s 30 minutes, and about time for a cooldown lap anyway, I wasn’t too upset with the performance. Checked tire pressures and they’d climbed to about 56PSI. No pyrometer or anything fancy, so I bled them off to about 44PSI all around, figuring that was probably still slightly higher than I’d want for maximum grip, but would keep me from sidewall roll.

Jonah drove the next 30-minute session, and as she’s a complete track novice who took it pretty easy, the oil temps stayed around 3/4 and the AWD didn’t disconnect. The next session, things got a lot more interesting. I was finally getting back in the groove and pushing the car to the limit. I had a blast discovering that it while it completely understeers off the throttle, I can, instead, get on the gas and the AWD system will work its magic and the car goes around the corner like I actually had some skill. I drove in track mode both with ESC in “sport” and completely disabled. I almost never got the tail to hang out, partly because it wants to understeer, partly because even when I’d think I was at the limit, full throttle at the apex wouldn’t upset it at all. There were dozens of situations where my (sometimes-intentional) gorilla-like driving absolutely would have spun my Miata, but didn’t phase the RS and its magical computers at all. Sadly, 19 minutes into that third session, AWD off appeared, and I wasn’t having any fun in FWD.

I pulled into the pits, restarted, and the message went away. Selected track mode and headed back out. Managed another half-dozen laps before I ran out of fuel.

I felt silly, but fortunately I was able to coast to a convenient place to pull off. The fuel gauge read 1/2 when I started the session, so I was sure that I’d be able to get through the session just fine, since I’d managed two in the first half tank. Sadly, that gauge isn’t even close to linear. When the warnings came up that I had 0 miles to empty, I ignored it figuring that like my Miata, the fuel gauge was completely inaccurate on the track. The miata will read empty even with well more than 1/4 tank because the fuel is getting sloshed around so much. The RS, it turns out, reads bang on. I managed another lap after “0 miles to empty” before it quit. Thinking maybe the inlet had simply come unported, I tried to restart after coming to a stop. Nope, nothing. So, the good news is that the fuel gauge works on the track, and that it won’t quit before it actually runs out, but boy does it suck down fuel.

A fellow track rat came to my rescue with a couple gallons of fuel and it started right up. Ran another 2 sessions with stupid-expensive 104 octane race fuel from the track (I’ll come prepared next time). Didn’t notice any extra power compared to the 91. I kept getting faster and the AWD system kept disconnecting.

Also: the stock brakes did a lot better than one might expect stock brakes to do, but were not at all up to the task. I was averaging about 110mph at the end of the straight, but eventually had to quit doing that because I couldn’t count on the brakes. Pretty significant fade after about 15 minutes, and then pedal would start to go squishy. I’m guessing Ford fills it with pretty mediocre fluid that starts to boil pretty easily. When I got to the track, the brake pedal was rock solid, but it’s pretty squishy now, which is typical after fluid boils even a little. I’ll be flushing it out and replacing with ATE Type 200 tomorrow.

I definitely won’t go back to the track with stock brakes. The Cup 2 tires actually did really well. They were thoroughly melted, but no signs of chunking or delamination, and held up really well. They were a lot noisier than I like out of track tires, but it was rather communicative. You definitely know there’s a lot more they have to give if they’re not screaming. I’d definitely be fine using them on another track day. Sadly, the requirement for 18″+ tires makes this way more expensive than it needs to be. I like $100/tire R-compounds.

In a lot of ways it’s a great car for a track novice. Jonah did everything wrong on her first session from completely missing the line, missing braking points, DEEP trail braking, and the car just let her do it. I was initially terrified, but eventually started laughing. It’s nice to have the confidence that it’s not going to kill you, on the other hand it’s a bit harder to explain to a newbie what she’s doing wrong when the car covers for her so well!

Olivia has new suspension!

26 June 2010 at 5:37 pm
by Berck

The 19-year old parts were so bad it probably wasn’t terribly safe. She looks a lot better sitting a little lower now, too:

British Racing Green!

30 April 2010 at 9:07 pm
by Berck

She’s all ours!

I’m in Florida.

31 March 2010 at 11:36 am
by Berck

I’m teaching my Uncle how to fly. He’s always wanted to learn to fly, and now turns out to be a good time for a lot of reasons. The best part is that he’s got an experienced flight instructor he can trust that’s otherwise unemployed.

The big downside for me is being away from Jonah. Additionally, I don’t much like Florida, but it’s nice to be able to visit my Mom as well. I flew down here on March 24, the day after Jonah’s birthday. It snowed about a foot that night, and the roads were pretty well snowed-over, with packed snow turning to pretty deep slush further north. Jonah dropped me off at DEN, and I played my role in the Transportation Security Theater, the first time I’ve done so without a crew badge in years.

How do you people tolerate it? I really could have driven down to Florida, and I was seriously regretting my decision to fly instead. The plane ticket was slightly cheaper than the gasoline, but flying is just awful.

As I got through security, I had a voicemail from Jonah:

You’ve got to love the vaguely up-beat, matter-of-fact tone voice as she relates the demise of the car my Dad bought new in 1991. This turned out to be a case of Google Voice’s transcription being totally worthless, though perhaps vaguely amusing:

Both and I’m okay, but the price not ready re bad rap. Yes I when you have a party there. But give me a call. Thanks.



It’s probably repairable, but from what Jonah said, one of the front wheels is badly bent, and the front subframe is probably bent as well. Additionally, “The engine makes bad noises.” Before the wreck, the car wasn’t worth a whole lot, now, I’m not sure. Fortunately, the Bremers are being kind enough to let the car live in their yard until I can get back and figure out what to do with it.

The flight was delayed about 45 minutes, which gave the obnoxious brats a few seats behind me enough time to practice screaming. I can understand that you can’t do a lot about infants crying, but they never do that long. Once your kid is old enough to talk, it’s also old enough to understand commands such as, “Shut the hell up!” If you can’t teach your kid not to scream for the entire 4 hour flight, then don’t put it on a flight. I wish that airlines would put the parents of screaming kids on a no-fly list for the benefit of the rest of us. These are the same people who only fly when they find a $79.99 round trip special anyway, and some customers are worth alienating.

So now I’m in Florida. The weather is surprisingly nice. It’s currently 71ºF, and I’m sitting out by the pool. I can deal with this. If it gets much hotter (high of 82ish for the rest of the week), I’m not going to be as content.

I’m teaching in an old (1968) Cessna 182. It’s been a long time since I’ve flown a single engine plane at all, and even longer since I’ve flown a Cessna. Instructing in this thing makes me miss the Diamond with it’s modern airplane manners. That said, the 182 is well-behaved beast and I haven’t seen anything that makes me question it. We started pounding it into the runway with practice landings for the first time today, and it seems solid.

I’ve forgotten how much work and and mental exhaustion results from flight instruction. After 1.5 hours at 8am this morning, I was ready to take a nap. All in all, though, it’s been good and I’m thrilled for the opportunity to work a little bit.