Aus Car Update 2 - Fuel tank, radiator, wheel  bearing, body mounts, electronic ignition

24-Sep-2006


Fuel tank    Radiator    Wheel bearing    Body mounts    Electronic ignition

For those of you that have been following our entire trip and have read all the updates, this is more of a detailed collection of various events mentioned to do with the vehicle.


Fuel Tank

Back in update 13 and update 14 we mentioned a problem with the fuel tank (petrol not LPG fortunately). This problem appears to have started on the rather rough road to the Bungle Bungles. The road was, like many of the pieces of dirt loosely named roads around here, rather rough and corrugated. The access road crosses some farmers station, then becomes a national park. The signs at the entry indicate that the distance is about 50km, and to allow 2-3 hours to drive in. Well, apart from the corrugations which only feel worse the slower you go, I didn't find the going that bad. From memory they asked you to keep your speed down to 50km/h. Well everytime Paula felt we were going a little fast, I only seemed to be going 40-50km/h but we reached the park visitor center in about 65 minutes. Given that there were a number of water crossings and a toilet stop, I guess I must have gone a little faster than I thought.

On the way back out I began to hear a clunking noise that I couldn't really identify the source of. I stopped the car a number of times to look underneath for anything obviously loose. The first time I did that I noticed a small damp patch on the front of the petrol tank. The second time I stopped I noticed that the damp patch was now a drip. We were in the middle of nowhere, and I figured that probably the best thing I could do was use up the petrol in the tank before it all drained out. I did that on the highway along to Halls Creek where I looked for a mechanical workshop that might be able to help. The first place, the local Toyota agent didn't actually have a mechanic, they were "waiting for him to come back", where exactly from I do not know, but it sounded like it was going to be weeks not hours. The second place, the local Repco agent told me that there wasn't anyone in town that could weld the tank and my best bet was to patch it as best I could and get it fixed properly in Broome or Kununurra. So I purchased some of their Loctite "goo" (a two part epoxy for patching fuel tanks and radiators) and got under the car...

Turns out one of the bolts holding the rear of the tank had started to come undone (thank you corrugations) which had the 60 litres of fuel bouncing on the front bracket, cracking the weld. The first thing I thought I would do, was tighten the bolt that had caused the trouble. I really thought with all the spanners and sockets that Theo had lent me that wouldn't be a problem. I certainly had all the common sizes covered. Well, because the tank is an aftermarket fabrication to complement the LPG installation, they had decided to choose 16mm nuts & bolts, not the 14mm or 17mm you expect to find on a Japanese car. No problem, except that I had 13, 14, 15, 17 and 19mm spanners. I honestly don't think I've ever seen a 16mm nut before! No problem, I'll use a socket. There was certainly a 16mm one in Theo's set. Now I honestly don't know whether this is fortunate or unfortunate. Because the bolt was really long, the nut hadn't wound itself all the way off, but because the bolt was so long, surprise, you couldn't do it up with a socket. I eventually managed to get the socket on to the top of the bolt and used my trusty adjustable crescent to do up the nut.

Now to patch this leak. I followed all the Loctite instructions, but despite their promise that the surface didn't need to be dry of petrol, I only managed to slow the leak, not stop it. This decided us that we wouldn't do any of the Gibb River Road because we were going to be reliant on petrol for that part of the trip as we needed to travel further than our LPG + petrol range and were going to have to top up from the jerry cans.

Anyway, here I am, under the car, outside the Repco agent in Halls Creek, trying to stop the leak.

When we reached Broome, we found a place that was happy to weld the tank and arranged to take the tank in in the morning. They said that the job would simply be a labour charge, so I figured I'd remove & refit the tank myself to save a bit of money. That always sounds like a good idea doesn't it? Well removing it didn't turn out to be so bad and I got pretty good at using the adjustable crescent to undo those wretched 16mm nuts.


Of course it got dark while I was rolling around under the car, but we had enough light once I was done to clean the Loctite off the crack and remove all the mud and grease from the various bolts and hose clips.

Here's the tank showing the bracket. It cracked where at both the bottom corners.

Under the car where I tied up the hoses and covered the ends so I could drive the car down to drop off the tank.

Refitting is just a simple reversal of the process right? Well, you'd think so. Firstly I thought it would be a good idea to add some rubber mounts so that a) corrugations wouldn't be so likely to shake the bolts loose and b) if they did, the welds wouldn't be under so much pressure and wouldn't crack. 

Well the first problem was just the shape of the tank. It probably only weighed 10-15kg's, but it was over a metre long. When your "facilities" are the sandy ground of your campsite, it's 40 degC and you can only just fit under the car with the tank, it's REALLY hard to; hold the tank up, attach the hoses (too short to reach the ground), line it up with more than 1 bolt and put a nut on. For some reason, I just couldn't get this to happen. I jiggled and sweated for ages, just about giving up before I discovered problem 2...

Problem 2 was the fact that this tank JUST fitted between it's mounts. Where the workshop had re-welded the bracket, the weld was too thick to slide in. I had to take off all the hoses again, undo the end I had managed to bolt on and take the tank back out. Using my tiny little "points" file I ground away at the weld until I figured it should fit back in. I was a bit worried when I found a bubble where I filed, as this was the point that had had the leak. Well, once I had the tank back in position with hoses attached I found it still wouldn't fit. In desperate frustration I simply got my cordless drill, took the largest bit I had (10mm) and wiggled it around in the mounting hole, turning it into a slot. If I had done this while the tank was still out I'm sure I could have made a lovely slot with plenty of clearance. On my back under the car with the back of the drill pushing into the sand I only managed to make a slightly enlarged hole and snap the drill bit. Oh well, I was able to push the tank along and wind the bolt in. I'm a bit worried that I've left pressure here, but it's in (oh, I forgot to mention I made rubber washers that fit in there too).

And the worst bit? The workshop charged me 2.5 hours labour, plus $25 sundries costing about $240 just for fixing the weld. $85/hr sounded so much better before I got the bill.


Radiator

Both the top sides of the radiator mounts had broken their solder. It had been like it since probably the Oodnadatta Track. Didn't really seem to be causing too much trouble because it wasn't falling out. I asked about this in the workshop at Broome, hoping they could solder it in situ, but they said they'd take it out and send it off somewhere. I decided to look for a solution myself...

Maybe I could buy a small gas pencil at the hardware store and resolder it myself. Looking around the hardware store, the best I could come up with was some more 2 part epoxy. This one was Selleys, not Loctite, and after reading all the different varieties they had chose the marine variety. All the specs seemed to be the same as their other sorts, but the selling point for me was that the marine one had green and silver parts that turned white on mixing (I've found in the past the hardest thing with getting epoxy to set properly is making sure it's mixed well), plus the workable time was 20-30 minutes rather than 5. Working temperature ok to 120 degC, ok intermittently to 140 degC. I don't think the mounts will get that hot.

I've glued the radiator back together (Port Hedland, ~20-Sep) and we've done a number of rough tracks already (24-Sep) and it seems to be holding strong. It's a pity the repair looks like it's been blu-tacked together, but if it works, who can argue?


Wheel bearing

One of the frustrations I've had since we got the car has been a front wheel "shimmy", the sort that's usually fixed with a wheel balance. Well, a wheel balance hadn't solved it, and I decided to try swapping wheels around to see if the wheels just hadn't been balanced well.

While swapping the wheels around (3 lifts with a bottle jack per side of the car), I found that there was a distinct slackness apparent when testing the wheel bearing. I looked this up in my Haynes/Gregorys car manual, and it does say that bearings may need to be periodically re-packed and/or "adjusted". It didn't really explain what the adjustment was, but because it did note that you needed a 52mm socket, I decided to ask the guys in the workshop at Broome. They were able to quickly do this (0.75 hrs @ $85/hr) and lo - no more front wheel shimmy.


Body mounts

I also asked the workshop in Broome about the funny clunking noise that had developed on the Bungle Bungle track. I had hoped it was the fuel tank, but even while I didn't have the fuel tank fitted, the noise persisted. Body mounts, they told me, about $1200 we could do it for. Oh dear, that would be a major dent in the funds.

I have looked into it, and it seems a full set of 10 mounts should come to about $480. Prices vary for the different mounts, but the average seems to be about $48/mount. I guess I might do it myself, that should be interesting without two trolley jacks. 

The thing that's perplexing me at the moment is that I can't see anything wrong with the existing mounts. If I could inspect them and just replace the problem ones (there's about 10 of different shapes and prices), it would be a lot less work, and potentially only $48. Now that's a saving from $1200!


Electronic ignition

In my first car update, I noted that I would like to install electronic ignition to improve starting on LPG. I also mentioned in update 7 that I had had to replace the points. I found after replacing the points a HUGE improvement in fuel economy, so, while we were in Alice Springs (update 7 again) I did build and install the electronic ignition kit.

I'm quite pleased that you can assemble a microprocessor based set of electronics with a non-temperature controlled $6.95 soldering iron and an $18.20 cordless drill! Anti-static facilities were bare feet on ground and a damp tea towel as an anti-static mat. I guess I won't find out for a while whether this was sufficient, but it seems to be going at the moment.

Bad news, the electronic ignition did not improve the LPG starting, good news, the points should almost never need replacing again, and I'll get good fuel economy all the time.

After much fussing with the newly updated ignition, I did find how to avoid the hard starting on LPG. Turn the ignition back off, turn it on again, and hey presto next crank. It was a fuel problem, not a spark problem. Seems that as a safety feature, the LPG system only releases a small amount of gas for starting, then supplies gas continuously once it can see the points opening/closing at a decent rate. This means, if it doesn't fire up first go for whatever reason, there's no fuel. If you simply crank the car again, you'll keep cranking forever. If you switch back to accessories, then back to ignition, it releases another puff of gas, and away you go!