atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,
atomic_fungus
atomic_fungus

#171: Car Stuff

I was thinking, not long ago, about project cars, tools, money, and other issues.

The green Escort is nearly ready for the junkyard. I hope to remove the last few parts--parts which I decided I wanted to take after I took it off the jack stands, of course--and get it out of here sometime in the next week or so. (Though with the proximity of Halloween I have to admit that the idea of making a "haunted car" out of it, first, has a certain limited appeal.)

There are a lot of things for me to do before winter comes. Getting rid of the green car is only the first step; after that I have to get the '86 Fiero put together, get it out of the garage, and into the space now occupied by the green car, so I can put the '85 Fiero into the garage, out of the weather.

The '86 won't get its engine or transmission reinstalled; I'm just going to put the rear end far enough together in order to wheel it out of the garage and put it on the north side of the driveway, under a car cover. Then I can clean the garage a bit; and if I can just get rid of some of the junk which has accumulated it will make more room for things.

And since the '85 can move under its own power, I can move it in and out of the garage when I want to do some work! This means that if I decide to build the engine for the '86 engine this winter (I don't actually expect to) I'll be able to do it inside the garage with the door closed and maybe--just maybe!--an actual source of heat.

Besides, I want to put in some flourescent fixtures. Menard's sells them fairly inexpensively, they're not hard to wire or hang, and they throw a lot of light for not much money.

All these things mean that I--even working nights and such--will be able to work on my car stuff when it pleases me. The lighting system in that garage is composed of a single 100-watt light bulb; it's just not enough to do any serious work in. I have a 500-watt halogen work light which I've propped up on the garage door tracks, but it's too concentrated; step outside of its locus and you're back to the film-noir lighting, and you can't see anything because your eyes are adjusted to, essentially, daylight.

As things stand right now, there is little I can do when I get a single night off. If I try to do any car work at night--even stuff which wouldn't make much noise--there will be a lot of light thrown around and the business will disturb people. But if I'm inside the garage, I can do things like fix brakes, work on '86 restoration stuff, fiddle with the replacement engine for the Escort, etc, etc, without disturbing anyone at all. A lot of the work I want to do doesn't require air tools, either.

Funny thing.... When Ford/Mazda designed the Escort, they did something smart: the only thing under the oil pan is the exhaust pipe. The catalytic convertor bolts right to the exhaust manifold, and the bung for the O2 sensor is plumbed just upstream of the cat. The downpipe from the cat runs down the front side of the engine, under the oil pan (and a single bolt secures it to a bracket there), where the flex coupling on the front of the exhaust system bolts to it.

Looking things over, I realized that if I wanted to try doing a ring job on the red car's engine, I wouldn't actually need to remove the engine. I could drop the catalytic convertor, then drop the oil pan; once the head was off, the pistons would come out without too much trouble. (I might have to use a ridge reamer on the engine block.) I could then run a bottle-brush hone through the cylinders, put new rings on the pistons, install new bearings and gaskets, and button her back up.

How much good would it do? I have to wonder how much life that might breathe into the engine. A good old-fashioned ring job might only prolong the inevitable. But if it gets another 30,000 miles out of the engine, would it be wasted money?

I suppose what I really need to do is go to Harbor Freight, pay the freight (pun intended! ha ha ha ha ha!) and buy a leakdown tester. That would tell me--or at least indicate--what is making the car burn oil. I have a theory that it might be worn valve guides; a valve job for that engine will run about $300 if I pull the head myself--but removing a cylinder head is a lot easier than removing the entire engine. A leakdown tester would let me know fairly quickly if it's the rings or something else.

RTFM for crying out loud!

If I had $50 for every thread I've seen on Pennock's Fiero Forum which had an answer in the commonly-available Haynes Manual for the Fiero, I wouldn't need to work as a retail grunt.

I'm not kidding; today I see three threads on the front page of the "Technical Discussion & Questions" forum which could easily be solved with a quick perusal of a manual. (And a quick glance at page two revealed two more.)

The book costs $15 at most auto supply stores; even though Haynes manuals have become lower in quality over the past decade, they are still chock-full of useful information.

I keep meaning to buy the Chilton's Manual for the Fiero but haven't found one yet, and I'm too lazy to buy one on-line. Anyway, I have the Haynes manual, and I bought a copy of the Factory Service Manual (FSM)from someone on eBay. (It's actually the "preliminary" version, not the final, but it contains most of the information I can't get elsewhere.)

The aftermarket service manuals are written from the FSM. Get a copy of the 1985 Fiero FSM and the Haynes manual for the Fiero; you will see that some of the procedures were copied word-for-word from the FSM.

Of course, this also means that some things are...well...wrong.

For example, the manual states that it is possible to change the front exhaust manifold in the Fiero without touching the cradle bolts--I never managed to do it; I had to unbolt the rear cradle bolts and lower the rear of the cradle to make more room up front. I could not get the exhaust manifold out, otherwise. (To be fair, I did not have the kind of tools that a professional mechanic is likely to have.)

Interestingly enough, the Fiero FSM contains incorrect information. When installing a cylinder head the valve lash must be set; the FSM says to tighten the rocker nut 1.75 turns past zero lash...and the correct value is actually closer to half a turn. 1.75 turns past zero lash will ruin the camshaft in fairly short order!

The complete FSM tells you how to disassemble anything on the car. It explains rebuild procedures for all rebuildable components and gives all appropriate troubleshooting information, and torque values for every nut and bolt on the car.

The Haynes manual eliminates some procedures; for example, it does not tell you how to tear down and rebuild the transmission. (This kind of work requires highly specialized tools; expensive tools that a typical home mechanic is unlikely to own. For example, the set of special tools required to rebuild a GM T-125c automatic transmission cost around $1,000.)

I have only owned one car for which I did not buy a Haynes manual. In 1990 I bought a used 1977 Chevrolet Impala 2-door, and I didn't buy a Haynes manual for it because I was too busy with work and school and girlfriend to do any of my own maintenance. But for every car I have owned otherwise--every one!--I have bought the Haynes manual, and kept it once the car was gone.

Here are the Haynes manuals I have:


  • 1974 Volkswagen Type IV
  • 1991 & 1995 Ford Escort
  • 1993 Ford Thunderbird
  • 1989 Chevrolet Beretta GT
  • 1995 Ford Windstar
  • 1985 & 1986 Pontiac Fiero (two of these)
  • 1977 MGB


The model years are the model years of the cars the manuals were bought for. I didn't own the Windstar (it belonged to my ex-girlfriend) but I did work on it. The 1989 Beretta was Mom's car; the 1977 MGB is Dad's toy.

For the Escort, I was able to locate the Ford FSM on-line--it's a CD-ROM which contains all the service procedures for the whole car, and is about as complete as it gets. The nice thing is, the CD-ROM contains service procedures for all 1995 model year Ford cars--not just the Escort. From the same source I was able to locate a similar resource for Ford trucks, including the Econoline E150 that my Dad drives.

Ladies, this is another thing which makes me desirable: unlike most men, I read the instructions.
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