The Audi Chronicles, Part I

Sunday, September 2nd 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.

Tornado

Friday, August 31st 2018 at 8:58 pm
by Jonah

The boss let us go home early today.  She likes to do that on Fridays before holiday weekends.

Berck was still busy at work, so I stopped by the grocery on the way home to pick up mushrooms and peppers.  Berck complains that he can’t cook ANYTHING if he doesn’t have mushrooms or peppers handy, so I try to have some in the fridge each weekend.  Then I toss them in the garbage in a week when they’ve gone bad.

Traffic was nuts, even at 2:00 p.m., so I decided to stop at the King Soopers on Uintah.  As I was walking up to the front door through the parking lot, I had to swing around the back of a giant, ancient, mustard yellow Oldsmobile Tornado, pulled all the way up to the handicapped sign.  (I now know it was an Oldsmobile because I eventually found it on Google.  Searching for “tornado” and “cars” on Google leads to a lot of photos of storm devastation, which was not helpful.)   They just don’t make cars like that anymore, with proud rear ends that announce themselves so loudly.

What kind of gas mileage does that get, I wondered.  I’m sure it was designed before the gas embargo.

As I walked by, I noticed the windows were down, and the driver was lounging in the front seat, undoubtedly waiting for his passenger to finish their shopping trip inside.

Then I caught the unmistakable whiff of cigar smoke.

Because if you’re gonna sit in your Tornado in a handicapped spot at the grocery, of course you’re gonna be smoking a stogie.

 

 

 

Aspens

Thursday, August 2nd 2018 at 8:15 pm
by Berck

I spent much of Sunday cutting down dead aspens. I wore shorts and boat shoes while operating a chainsaw which I know to be a bad idea. Fortunately, my chainsaw is small and underpowered, but I have to wonder if I’m actually a rational person. I wear a full suit, gloves and helmet while riding a motorcycle, but shorts while operating a chainsaw. Which is more risky? Is my behavior consistent? I don’t even know!

I was completely sore for two days later. It’s important that when you live a sedentary lifestyle that you commit to it fully, otherwise things hurt. Also, I’m apparently an old man.

Aspens are stupid. They grow for a few years, then die. They’re the only deciduous trees we have, and they can’t even be bothered to turn colors. Instead, they all turn exactly the same color at exactly the same time. People think it’s beautiful. I think they’ve never seen proper trees. Trees are maybe the only thing I miss about the south.

I sawed the wood into reasonable pieces, and Jonah stacked it on the edges of the property. I’ve been wondering how long I can reasonably wait to deal with it. If I leave it up to Jonah, the wood will still be there when she dies. Robert & Sarah might want it, but they have lots of wood, and moving it down there seems like work. I have a barbacoa pit, but using it didn’t go well last time, and I’m pretty sure aspen is exactly the wrong sort of wood for it anyway.

So at first I was glad to see that some old person left a note on our door asking if they could have the wood. Sure! Only, I had no idea who it was, and there was a phone number. I was definitely not calling a phone number. Fortunately, I’m married.

Unfortunately, I think we’re giving the wood to the neighbor who yells at me to slow down even when I’m driving well under the speed limit. Everytime I haven’t seen her in awhile, I hope maybe she’s dead, only to have my hopes crushed next time she yells at me.

Horn OK Please

Sunday, March 11th 2018 at 10:46 am
by Berck

India is a mess.

I tend to be more sensitive to sensory input than most people, and India is constantly in a state of assaulting all my senses.

India is absolutely full of smells, and almost all of them are not pleasant. The streets smell of vehicular exhaust, rotting garbage and urine. The inside of most places seem to be heavily artificially scented with perfumes and incense, none of which I find pleasant. Restaurants are the only places that actually smell good. I find even the inside of my hotel room to be quite unpleasant for a few minutes until I adjust.

It’s hot and sticky. I am poorly adapted to hot climates. I sweat constantly, everything gets sticky and I just want to take a shower. I’ve taken 3 today. I set the thermostat to 19 degrees in hotel room, a temperature that it’s only able to reach when the sun has set. It mostly hovers around 21.5, which is still cooler than whatever passes for room temperature in India.

And then there’s the noise. Here’s a video I shot on my walk this evening. I took it at an average intersection in Bangalore that wasn’t particularly busy and at a time of day with overall light traffic.

At first listen, it seems likely completely arbitrary and capricious use of the horn. Sadly, it’s far worse than that. In India, they actually believe that it’s polite to honk as you’re passing someone in order to let them know you’re there. The back of every single truck has a hand-painted slogan that reads some variation of, “Horn OK Please”, or “Sound OK Horn”. They are actually requesting that people honk at them so they know that they’re there. This is completely insane in a modern city, and is mostly insane anywhere else. It’s the driver’s responsibility to check his mirrors, not the overtaker’s responsibility to notify the driver that he’s passing.

Some parts of India have realized that this is a problem and have tried to address the problem by banning the phrase on trucks but it’s such engrained behavior that I’m not sure it can be changed. Rickshaw drivers tend to suffer hearing loss at disturbing rates. Surely someone must think, “Gee, it would be a lot nicer to be a person in India if I didn’t have to listen to this honking all the time.”

I can only presume that there are traffic laws India, but it doesn’t appear that they’re obeyed. It makes sense that they refuse to pay any attention to the painted lane markers because the roads can’t handle the traffic. It makes sense that they ignore the absurdly slow posted speed limits. It probably doesn’t make sense that they drive the wrong way on a divided highway because they can’t be bothered to find the next break in the median. Overall, though, I would rate your average Indian driver as far more competent than the average American driver. They pay attention, have excellent situational awareness, and don’t take up unnecessary space.

I think the “Horn OK Please,” mentality reflects the general problems I have with India. I’m not sure if there’s any city planning at all, or if anyone stops and thinks before building or modifying a structure. There’s trash all over the place, but there are teams of street sweepers on the highways. That is, women with small brooms, who push the trash into a pile. I’m not sure that the piles ever get picked up, but it seems that given the city is only about 25% covered in debris piles that some of them must get picked up some times.

The infrastructure is generally a mess. Here I am, walking along one of the better sidewalks in a wealthy part of Bangalore:

After I get past that, I encounter:

From what I gather, the local government in power in Karnataka has decided to launch a massive bit of infrastructure overhaul just before the elections. I’m not sure it’s going to engender the good will they’re hoping for. Here was the scene outside our restaurant this afternoon:

But even if things are trash-free, not dug up… what is going on here? This is typical. What is in this building, anyway? Is the place I go for a lampshade the same place I go for a kingfisher? Is the whole place the Brooklyn Tap, or is that upstairs? Maybe the lamp shades are on the roof?

I do like my hotel. There are some strange things, like the security. In addition to the xray/magnetometer dance every time I come and go, the elevators scan my room key, but poorly. The bed is a bit hard. The light switches are confusing, and everything turns off if you don’t have a room key inserted. But what’s best is the shower. It’s definitely the best shower I’ve had in a hotel room. I should post a picture of it. Maybe tomorrow. I’m sure that the water saving laws in the U.S. would prevent such an awesome shower.

In short, I’m glad I’m getting to see (at least this little part of) India, but I have no intention of spending my own money to buy a plane ticket to get back here. And I didn’t even get to the fact that I can’t walk anywhere without being harassed.

Hare Krishna

Sunday, March 11th 2018 at 9:15 am
by Berck

The manager of one of the teams in Bangalore has insisted on showing us around this weekend. Yesterday, we went to the Veerabhadra Temple. I’m not sure what I imagined, but it didn’t really fit any idea of “temple” I had in my head.

I don’t understand any religion from a rational basis, but Judaism, Christianity and Islam have a common, familiar structure that I can understand to be comforting for some. Paganism is far removed but has, for me, a coherent literary structure and while I’ve never encountered contemporaneous practice, historical practice seems logical.

Hinduism, from my very first exposure has seemed nearly impenetrable. I suspect this is at least in part due to the lack of effort I’ve put into it, but even its practitioners come across to me as confused. The brief facts I know about Hinduism seem as though my childhood textbook writers picked arbitrary facts that were easy to convey with single words: polytheism, reincarnation, caste-system. None of which make any effort to get any core belief.

And maybe that’s because Hinduism isn’t actually a religion in the same sense of other religions I’m familiar with. From Wikipedia:

Hinduism includes a diversity of ideas on spirituality and traditions, but has no ecclesiastical order, no unquestionable religious authorities, no governing body, no prophet(s) nor any binding holy book; Hindus can choose to be polytheistic, pantheistic, monotheistic, monistic, agnostic, atheistic or humanist. Because of the wide range of traditions and ideas covered by the term Hinduism, arriving at a comprehensive definition is difficult. The religion “defies our desire to define and categorize it”. Hinduism has been variously defined as a religion, a religious tradition, a set of religious beliefs, and “a way of life”. From a Western lexical standpoint, Hinduism like other faiths is appropriately referred to as a religion. In India the term dharma is preferred, which is broader than the western term religion.

My notion of a temple is thus rooted in my experience with temples I’ve known thus far: Jewish, Christian, Muslim and quite a few pagan ruins.

The Veerabhadra Temple is an odd (to me, but common for India) architectural ruin and functioning temple. The outside is surrounded by engraved, well-worn columns, frescoed ceilings, dirt floors. The frescoes are fading or have disappeared and the figures in the columns are eroding. There is no apparent effort to preserve the 500-year-old structure. Visitors touch the columns. The place is dirty.

On the inside, there are several idols attended to by priests (?). Devotees provide a small donation, and are rewarded with some words, some color smeared in their foreheads, some coconut water, maybe some fruit. I don’t really understand the exchange of fruit, as it seems to go both ways. The atmosphere inside is loud and chaotic and dingy and doesn’t resemble any sort of religious practice as I know it.

The drive to the temple was several hours and it was several hours back. I requested that today we see things in vicinity of Bangalore since we only had one day and it seemed like a city of 12 million probably had some interesting attractions without driving far away.

We started today by visiting ISKCON temple in town, home of the Hare Krishnas. We drove for nearly an hour and got to the temple only to discover that our coworker-guide had blindly followed his GPS to a small subsidiary temple and not at all the large temple we were trying to visit. We removed our shoes and visited anyway. I was permitted to take photographs of the idols.

We then drove for a long while down unpaved “roads” as our guide relied on Google Maps directions to navigate back to the correct temple. Google maps has a very good idea of where there are gaps between the buildings in Bangalore. Unfortunately, it thinks all of them are passable roads, and that’s simply not the case.

We eventually made it back to some main roads, and then after another hour, reached the temple we’d set out to see. Unlike the ancient temple it was built relatively recently. I was not allowed in wearing my shorts and to rent a dhoti to cover my obscene white legs, which greatly amused my coworkers.

The time spent in the temple itself was about 10% of the time spent in the massive complex of gift shops that you must pass through in order to exit. My coworkers were awfully interested in the various tchotchkes, but the perfumes and incense were more than I could take. While waiting for them, various Indians came by and took selfies with me. I’m not sure if they were amused because I was white, wearing a dhoti with a t-shirt, have a large beard, or the maybe the entire package. In any case, I’m probably lighting up Indian instagram.

At first I was glad to be able to walk around barefoot, but India is hot and my poor feet have grown soft since my days of perpetual barefootedness. I’m pretty sure I have blisters on my feet.

After another hour of driving and some back and forth about lunch after I requested spicy goat biryani, we arrived here for lunch. It’s apparently somehow related to this guy. I think.

In any case, the food was served on banana leaves and was quite good. Sadly, the biryani was only available as “medium” spicy, but it was still quite good. Instead of plates, the food is served on banana leaves and no silverware was offered. I’m not good at eating rice with my hands. We had a half-dozen different things, and they were all quite tasty. It was spicy enough to make me sweat, which is a good sign, but then all of India is hot enough that I’m not sure I’ve ever stopped sweating.