Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Sometimes bad things happen!

Get Thee behind me stale watery gas!

Sometimes it's a poor choice that we make. Maybe were in a hurry or we try to cut a corner or procrastinate on a repair and a minor problem can lead to a major inconvenience. Sometimes  the results can be much more serious, even life threatening. Luckily for me both my mishaps were mostly a hassle.

I've gotten my garage cleaned out and  started working on my XJS again. I've been moving it in and out out of the garage. I have a trickle charger that I use to keep the battery up but I also let it run to charge the battery and keep the fluids moving around inside. I remember some of the first advice I read on the forum concerning the XJS, never just start them, run them for a minute or two, then shut them down. Always run them a minimum of ten minutes. It made sense to me that you could easily foul a plug or two, I mean just look at the tortuous path the fuel charge has to follow, and think how long it takes to heat up that huge lump of aluminium and allow proper fuel vaporization.  I don't keep much gas in it so I needed to add a few gallons  so that I didn't allow it to run dry, another no no.

I've got several gas cans, mostly one gallon ones, but I've got a two and a half gallon one also. To get the most benefit from the gas run I chose the bigger can. I use this for the lawn mower so I found that there was still about an inch of "fuel" in the bottom of the can. I keep the cans outside in the sideyard and we've had a lot of rain in the last month. Now I figured that there might be some moisture (water) mixed with the gas due to condensation, but I figured that it wouldn't be enough to cause a problem. I poured the contents into my truck then drove off to fill up the can. I had about a quarter tank so I figured any bad gas would be dissipated and diluted and it would be okay. Wrong!

Seafoam has displaced Marvel Mystery Oil as the new "Miracle in a can".

When I returned to my house I noticed that the truck was running pretty rough. I left it running while I filled up the Jag. Thank God I didn't add that bad gas to my Jag! I figured I better add some fuel drier or some additive so I went to the auto store that was across the street from the gas station. They didn't carry "Heet", the  only fuel drier that they had was "Seafoam". Now I've used Seafoam in the gas tank and have added some before an oil change, and like most "miracles in a can" it promises probably more than it can deliver. I read the can and it promised to remove moisture from gas in the tank, so I bought a can. I added about a third to my tank, fired up the truck, (still running rough, but still running) went to the gas station and added five or six gallons added the remainder and returned home. I probably should have driven the truck around until I burned up some of the contaminated fuel but it was getting late. I'll do that tomorrow. I noticed that the Check Engine Light (CEL) had come on, but I parked the truck around the corner and called it a night.

The next afternoon I tried to start my truck. It would crank but not catch. My truck has this "computer controlled" starting feature, where once you turn the key it will continue to engage the starter automatically until the motor starts. You have to turn the key completely off to stop this. I must have tried to start it ten times, being careful not to overheat the starter or run the battery down. Now I was kind of discouraged. I could always call AAA and have them tow my truck to my trusted mechanic, but that would be the last resort!  I went inside to turn to the Web for advice. It was  pretty much as I expected, add gas drier, run the motor, burn up the bad gas add new fuel. Well I would have done that but my truck wouldn't start! One guy said to buy a quart of rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) at the hardware or dollar store and pour it into the tank. Basically all gas driers consist of alcohol in an expensive package.

A simple fact of practical chemistry is that water and gas don't mix. Also water is heavier than gas and will sink down to the bottom of your tank and fuel system, displacing the gas and will be sucked up by the motor. Well of course your motor can't run on just water, so you have a problem. Another fact of practical chemistry is that alcohol and water do mix, and alcohol also mixes with gas, ever heard of gasohol? My Wife uses alcohol in her crafting but didn't realize that it was dispersing the water in the paints she uses, causing certain desired affects. We took a small plate, added a small quantity of water, then dropped in some rubbing alcohol. The water suddenly flattened out over the plate, a dramatic demonstration.

Before I tried this I decided to swap out the spark plugs, maybe they got fouled somehow, I replaced the plugs and they were really clean, especially considering that they were the original plugs in the motor, now with 119,000 miles. The gaps were a little big, but only one was wet, with what appeared to be water. I cranked the engine with the same effect, no start, and an engaged starter motor. Now I was even more depressed. Looks like I was going to have to call that tow truck.

I hadn't used this stuff in years.

What I needed was a way to get the motor to catch and hopefully run long enough to disburse the water after I added the alcohol. Luckily my Wife had a whole pint of rubbing alcohol on hand. I found a can of starter fluid in the garage and luckily it was still half full. I hadn't had to use that stuff for years. I added the pint of alcohol, I figured that should be enough for the six or seven gallons of gas that were in the tank. I pulled the air inlet tube to the throttle body and shot a good stream down it's throat. I loosely replaced the intake tube , just in case there was a backfire. I cranked it. It caught, ran a few seconds then died, but the starter had disengaged. I repeated the drill, this time I stepped on the throttle when it caught. It stumbled but kept on running, it gained rpms and I held it there for a couple of minutes. I kept the revs up until I dared see if it would idle, it did. Success! I drove it down to my house and put it in the driveway, and let it idle for a awhile. After it was fully warmed up I drove several laps around the immediate neighborhood, not going further than I was willing to walk. I put it in the driveway again and let it run for about forty five minutes. It was running pretty smooth now, but the CEL was still on. I could deal with that later.

Surprisingly the exhaust didn't smell too bad. What a cocktail: Old gas, water, Seafoam, new gas, rubbing alcohol, topped with a spritz of starting fluid. Better Living through Chemistry!

I drove the truck to work the next couple of days. The CEL was on. but I figured I could disconnect the battery and see if that would clear it up. On the third day I was coming home from the barber shop after work and I noticed that the dash seemed different, the CEL was off!

Lessons learned: don't put "suspect" gas in any vehicle. If I'm using the gas can for the mower I'll put any unused gas into the truck that same day. Keep a bottle of rubbing alcohol in the garage, if I suspect water in the fuel system I would add some alcohol immediately, and drive enough to burn up the bad gas.

This bad gas experience had tied me up for several days. I had decided to change my focus to fixing what was wrong with my XJ6 first, since this was my Dailey Driver. The Mustang could wait. Sure it could. Cue the dramatic music of impending Doom.

In earlier postings I've mentioned that the steering on my Mustang has stiffened up, and it doesn't return back to the straight ahead position after making a turn, it also pulls a little to one side on braking. Obviously there is something wrong. I originally thought (hoped) that it was just the ball joints, but now I wonder if it's the steering rack. It's funny that the problem didn't seem to develop until after a I spent over 500.00 buying new tires and getting a front end alignment. So you can understand that I really didn't feel like spending any more money fixing it up, at least right now. It's been sitting parked at the curb, getting covered with leaves and bird crap for about a month. I just paid the registration for 2017, since I was unsuccessful in selling it.

Still it's important to drive the car to keep the fluids moving, the battery charged, and use up the gas in the tank. My truck now sits around quite a bit now and that doesn't help it's condition either. So I decided to clean up the Mustang and use it as the parts runner while I work on the Jags. I made a run through the car wash and down to a new hobby store on the south end of town. I picked up a set of brushes that I could modify to fix the auxiliary coolant pump in my XJ6. On the way back I stopped at Harbor Freight to pick up a cheap surge protector power strip that I needed for my Christmas light set up.

It was getting later and I was hungry, and wasn't planning on making dinner until that evening. So I crossed the parking lot to the Burger King to pick up a Whopper Junior and a Coke to tide me over.  For some reason I didn't see the faded directional arrows painted on the pavement and overshot the opening to the Drive thru lane. Hey, there's no one behind me so I could just backup. I did, turned to the right and promptly drove up onto a little dividing island. Still no one behind me, so I wasn't even too embarrassed. As I  backed down I heard a loud "pop!"  I continued through. The steering felt kind of weird but I got my burger and parked in the lot, I figured I would go home cautiously and check this latest development out. After eating I left the parking lot and entered the main street and accelerated. I was greeted by the sweet sound of my Flowmasters,  Then heard a loud thump and my car dropped on it's front suspension and lurched to the left. I braked, straightened it out, and made my way to the curb. Luckily there wasn't any traffic around. I activated my emergency flashers and got out to survey the damage. Luckily (there's that word again!) there was no damage to the fender but there wasn't any air space visible between the top of the tire and the fender opening. I didn't see any brake fluid dripping down so I figured that the wheel/ front suspension hadn't moved enough to rupture a brake line. I called AAA with my cell phone and got ready to spend an hour waiting for the tow truck.

I like 'em slammed, but not this way.

I had plenty of time to ponder what had happened. I had thought that the ball joints were going bad, I mean there's over two hundred thousand miles on the car. I thought back to things that I knew, and had read online about the problem of bad ball joints.

My experience with worn ball joints were that they allowed the wheels to tilt a bit, and cause some free play, but especially to cause accelerated wear to the inside tread of the tires. This was usually the motivation to replace them. My experience had been that the ball couldn't come through the top of the joint and separate.

I had watched a video series on You Tube about restoring old Mustangs and I remembered an episode where they were working on a Fox body car. They had jacked the chassis up and one of the front suspension arms had dropped loose, separating right at the ball joint! The shop owner/ narrator stated that this was uncommon, but these Fox body cars were getting on in age (over twenty years old by this time) and that the chassis and suspension needed attention. The arm was held in position by the vehicle's weight, and probably wouldn't have separated under normal conditions, unless the car was driven over a Hell of a series of Whoop Dee Doos! ( Extremely sharp series of undulating pavement, generally not encountered under normal driving conditions, it's where your car can catch "air" if you go fast enough. The actual term comes from Motocross racing).
Painful to look at. Like a hip bone ripped out of a pelvis.

The other point I remember reading on a Mustang forum was that bad ball joints on a Fox body and SN97 series car were primarily manifested through stiff steering. Well I definitely had that problem. My assessment is this; the divider island is the kind that has a higher curb that surrounds a lower dirt area. When I drove onto the divider island the left front wheel crossed the curb and came to rest in the lower dirt area. Then when I abruptly reversed the car, it was bouncing up as it dropped off the curb and stopped abruptly. I imagine that this abrupt motion caused the ball to be pulled out of the socket, producing that loud "pop" that I heard. The ball was resting directing on the suspension arm. When I accelerated onto the street, the weight transfer lifted the car allowing the ball to slip off the arm and the car to drop on it's suspension on the left front side. The arm dragged on the rim. causing it to lurch to the left, but still allowing me to maintain steering and braking control.

That's the operative word. Me. I've had a lot of experience dealing with extreme driving maneuvers, emergency situations, and even component failures. It's what I do. In cars and on motorcycles. So far I've been successful at maintaining control and resolving the situation safely. Maybe due to skill, but always partially due to Luck. It's always part of the equation.

So as I sat there waiting for the tow truck I was experiencing a deep sense of guilt and had a hard knot in the pit of my gut. ( I still did when I wrote this). I told my Wife to drive this car, I sent her out in this car, even with our granddaughter in the baby seat. "The steering's just a little stiff, don't worry about it." She did worry about it, and wouldn't drive the car on the freeway, just around town on surface streets. (Luckily I had bought the Explorer a couple of months ago). Would this happened under normal circumstances? Maybe not. Should I have put the car on the lift and checked out the freeplay in the steering? Definitely. Why didn't I? Too busy, procrastinate, more important things to do, blah, blah, blah. Could it have prevented a potential tragedy?

We ARE the car guys. Other people dear to us,depend on our "expertise", our assessments, our recommendations.  "With great power comes great responsibility".  Maybe we don't have great power, but we should keep that in mind.

My daughter had a very close call when driving, a couple of years ago, due to inexperience. It definitely could have resulted in a fatal collision. Luckily (there's that word again) it did not. Does she believe that it could have ended that way? I don't know, she's young, the young think that they are immortal. But I know the reality, it easily could have resulted in her death, I have no doubt about it.

When we experience an incident of that type we either end up with a tragedy, or just a story to tell. I hope we can always learn from our experiences. Let's not make this guy work overtime!

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