Repair | My Black Brick

My Black Brick

Keeping a '92 Volvo 240 Wagon on the Road & Other Automotive & DIY Musings

Car Maintenance App Documents My Inefficiency

I’ve been using the app “Car Minder Plus” for the past year and a half to document my gas mileage and repairs. It allows me to enter a garage of different cars and keep track of maintenance and service. Since I don’t have a fuel gauge it helps me keep track of how many miles I’ve gone since the last fill up, then shows my overall fuel mileage over 3 months, one year and lifetime.

This charts MPG over the course of 18 months. Note the dip after AMM broke.

Whenever I have a problem with the car I document it in the app so I have dates and mileage of when the problem occurred. I can also enter the expected time and mileage between services so they will come to my attention later and show me how dreadfully behind I am on my maintenance schedule.

My mileage is low enough that it's the date intervals that trigger the red light, not always mileage. Each of these items and their intervals can be set by the user.

These screen shots document the problem I had with my air mass meter. In the first you can see my mileage dive from over 20 mpg to below 15 mpg after I stalled in flood waters last August. I was pumping out unburned fuel for months before the problem was diagnosed and fixed. I was sure to document it all for future reference.

The "Repairs" area allows you to document anything and everything that happens to your ride.

Each repair item records date, mileage and your notes.

A bonus for “Car Minder Plus” is that you can email all your records from you iPod or iPhone. They come in a PDF file that you can print and hand to a mechanic if need be. Overall a useful app, I just have to be careful not to get my iPod Touch covered in motor oil and PB Blaster.


Out of gas in Potomac, Maryland

Out of gas in Potomac, MarylandThursday I drove the brick from Hoboken, NJ to Springfield, VA. My tank ran dry on the Capital Beltway and I had to pull off in Potomac, MD. I’d gone exactly 300 miles since the last fill up and I hadn’t been paying attention to my mileage. Since my fuel gauge doesn’t work I rely on the trip odometer and usually fill the tank at 200 miles.

There weren’t any gas stations off the exit and I sputtered over the hills of River Road looking for precious fuel. I eventually stalled and called AAA for a couple gallons. I drew this picture while waiting, painting it in watercolor later in the studio.


At least my nose is clean

The weather was pleasant this weekend for checking out my oily crank. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to enjoy a leisurely cruise down the boulevard because of the mega oil leak.

I await a call from DB Volvo on my minor catastrophe. I drove the brick cautiously along the inner loop of the beltway from Braddock Rd. to Route 66 and Don Beyer Volvo, belching plumes of smoke whenever I went over 40 MPH or 2000 RPM. After a short wait I was told none of the mechanics who worked Saturday would be able to service and I’d need to wait till Monday. I was fortunate enough to get a ride from my mother back up to NJ w/ the kids.

Here are shots of some of the work I did. I got plenty of “before” shots but was so beat at the end that I didn’t get a good pic of the new seals and timing belt. I did get one of the old and new covers though.

Here’s a view of how the seals looked when I took the pulleys off, then after I’d removed the seals and cleaned the front end. At least I’ve got a new tension roller.


Why Repair When You Can Replace?

Todays NY Times has an article about the “trend” of people holding on to their cars and appliances longer than usual. They report average length of car ownership is at a record 52 months, or just over 4 years.

It’s funny how people in the US have developed a mindset where it’s considered normal to dispose of things out of boredom, rather than lack of function. The Times interviews a Jaguar driver who had the habit of buying a new car every 2 years. Economic adjustments now have him driving a 1999 Jag into the ground. He says “it’s a question of shifting values” and that he reassesed the need to constantly have new things.

I think it’s sad that the norm is to toss things out that are still functional. Keeping and repairing is seen as an aberration. According to the Times, consumers are “yearning to favor brands, fashion and novelty over practicality.” For many companies, obsolescence and disposability is part of the business model, at the expense of continuity and longevity.

Pic via There, I Fixed It


Painting the Virgos

I’m heading down to VA and plan to put the brick on jacks and paint the front wheels. I found a great thread on Turbobricks about repairing Virgos. Looks like I’ve got some reading to do.

Image from Crazychopstick on Turbobricks.


Can you fix your car?


Seeing as I drive a 17 yo POS, I have no idea what the experience of getting a new car repaired is. Apparently many car companies demand that drivers only get their cars fixed through them. They do this by using computer codes that lock the mechanics of the car to anyone other than the dealer. This hinders the ability of smaller mechanics to make a living or provide alternate diagnosis. Ultimately it limits owners from having control over their own cars. What a scam.

From the Right to Repair site:

The need for Right to Repair legislation has become a necessity in order to protect the rights of car owners to decide where and how they have their vehicles serviced, whether at a new car dealer or an independent service facility. Right to Repair ensures that the person who bought the car and not the car company, can decide where that vehicle is repaired and maintained.

You can support the Right to Repair legislation by contacting congress here:


Been Peened?

In the ongoing saga of my transmission shifter, I discovered the retaining ring I installed isn’t the right fix. It snapped off at some point, and I was left back where I started. Actually, it was worse, because I had to shut the car off while it was sticking 1/2 way into the street with no ability to get out of gear. While I biked to the hardware store my wife had to deal with a local cop, who demanded the car be moved off the street. I got back and quickly put on a new clip, only to have that one pop off 5 minutes later.

Obviously the retaining clip doesn’t work so I posted an inquiry on the Brick Board. Art Benstein posted some great pics and it was explained to me that I either needed to weld the end of the rod adjuster to a washer, or flare the end around a tight fitting washer. I chose the later and here’s the result.


I’m hoping that this fix, plus new bushings for the shift levers and a new transmission mount, will solve the shifting problems. Because I don’t need to be stuck in reverse in a parking lot with no way to park.


NY Times doesn’t want you fixing your car

tuber2With the title “Even to Save Cash, Don’t Try This Stuff at Home“, an article in Sunday’s NY Times reports that frugal consumers think they’ll save money doing their own repairs but wind up screwing things up worse. The photo above shows a jerry-rigged part a mechanic pulled from a car he had to correct.

“We open the hood and can tell the guy tried to do it himself with
cheap parts,” Mr. Tommasone said. “We see at least one a day like that.
At least. The No. 1 part replaced: the battery.”

I’m not sure how you can screw up the installation of a battery. Wrong polarization? Wrong size? Spilled acid? Sorry, but battery installation is one of the easiest things to do for car repair.

The articles comments are a great source of opposition against getting charged an arm and a leg for simple repairs, however:

I tend to have quite the opposite problem. Every time I pay to have
something done I wind up redoing it myself. New brakes squealed at
every stop. After three repeat visits to the shop failed to correct the
problem I did it myself – no more squeaks. The shop skimped on parts.

This is asinine. Plenty of people replace toilets or hang molding without doing serious damage to their homes.

The idea that only the professionals should handle simple jobs is what
is wrong with the USA (I am a flaming liberal, so no comments about me
being a right wing nut case). Yes, amateurs make mistakes, especially
the first time they try a job. They will get better at repairs as they
take on more jobs themselves. Even pros make mistakes, and some do
sloppy work.

Is this article proposing that we make money out of nothing “to do the
job right the first time?” We don’t have the money to spend on hair or
a handy-person anymore.


What is so difficult about replacing a car battery?



Removing the Rusted Exhaust

Back in November I had a problem starting the Brick. It had been tough to start for about a half year. I changed the plugs, rotor and distributor cap. When that didn’t help I replaced the spark plug wires but it still wouldn’t start. The car was towed and it turned out to be a broken ignition coil.

When I picked it up again it was noticeably louder than before. I looked underneath and it was leaking masive amounts of exhaust. I brought it back and was told that the whole exhaust system, cat back, would need to be replaced, and got an estimate of about $600. No way.

Last weekend I got a $120 Starla system from FCP and installed it at my parents house. It was a pretty easy job, about 3 hours. I wish I’d replaced the catalytic converter also, because it would have made the job a little easier, but would also have raised the price over $300. We’ll see if it passes inspection.

UPDATE April 2008: Didn’t pass inspection. I felt so stupid having to shell out a bunch of cash for the installation of a new cat after having been under the car a few weeks before. But I had no interest in going under there again, and I figured if i got the work done by the place that would redo the inspection I’d be better off.

I’m learning it’s better not to be too frugal. This is the second time I’ve tried to save money by going cheap, ended up getting burned and had to shell out a bunch MORE money to pull myself out of it.