Sunday, November 27, 2011

First Motorcycle Overnighter

Truckee
USFS Road 06
R on Fiberboard freeway
L on Burton Creek/Bunker
L on Fairway Dr
L on SR89
R @ the "Y"
R on Lake Tahoe Blvd to North Upper Truckee Road
R on US50
L on Packsaddle Pass Rd (71)-all paved
L on Mormon Emigrant Trail (5)-super highway
R on 88
to Jackson
Meet Kemen
49 south to Mokelumne Hill
L on SR26
R on Ridge Rd
L on Railroad Flat Rd
R on Summit Level Road (144).
Made camp off a northern spur.  Murphys topo index square 11 near Touch Mill
Came out to Dorrington for a Burger and a Beer off either 144 or 6N71Y
Down to Arnold for Supplies
Back Noth on 4 to Calaveras Big Trees state park.  Not much going on in this park, trees not that big, no off road riding. Did not ride to the end.
North on SR 4 to R on 52 or 5N02
Kemen pulled over at Sourgrass rec area
R on 5N72 and 5N02-2 Didn't go were we wanted and turned around
Back on 52
L on 6N17
L at 6N17 fork
Camped on a spur to the north at Topo Index Boards Crossing 13 or 14 nears Ramsey
Back to SR4 Kemen and I split
R on SR 4 Over ebbetts Pass
L on 89 through Markleeville
L at 88/89
R at Picketts Junction SR89 Over Luther Pass
R on 89 to SLT
Around the Lake to Tahoe City
Bunker to Fiber Board to 06



Tuesday, August 23, 2011

300zx Injector Replacement

I love fuel injection.  Though my first car was carbureted, and I still use a few carbureted engines (motorcycle, snow blower), the workings of a carburetor lie in the realm of black magic.  A fuel injection system  uses a couple of sensors, pumps, fuel squirters and a computer.  That is easy for this 21st century digital boy to understand. 

My Z is now close to being 22 years old.  Though often described as "fiendishly complicated" the massive cult following of this car has made trouble shooting rather easy.  99% of the issues that might arise has already been dealt with and well documented within the on-line Z community.  Here is my repair story for diagnosing and repairing a failed fuel injector. 

Problem, symptoms, diagnostics, theory, confirmation, parts/tools, and repair.  These are the basic steps to any repair. 

I jump in my trusty Z after work one afternoon to run a few errands on my way home.  Fire her up and immediately feel that something was wrong.  The engine was running very rough.  After a few stops the check engine light appears (not flashing).  It seems like I got a problem.  I drive home before I dig into this any deeper.

The car ran rough (symptom) and felt like it was only running on five of the six cylinders.  I now needed to find the possible dead cylinder.  Engines need three major things (then there is a fat list of minor things) to run: Fuel, compression, and spark; removing any of the three would stop the combustion process.   In order to find the dead cylinder I would kill off one cylinder at a time, by removing the spark.  This is accomplished by unplugging the spark plug (coil pack to be specific for this car).  When doing so I would listen to the engine.  When you kill off a good running cylinder the engine will stumble and the idle will drop.  The engine would also struggle to run as now it was only running on four cylinders.  However when you pulled the spark to the dead cylinder no change would take place.  Performing this test, I soon discover that my #2 cylinder was not running.  This test is called a balance test. 

For starters I am going to rule out low/no compression as a source of my troubles.  I took a compression reading last year on the engine and all cylinders were good.  I have not have had excessive wear or overheating issues that might change my compression significantly. 

I had mentioned earlier that while driving with my symptom I had a check engine light.  This means that the computer is trying to tell you something is wrong.  Since the car is a 1990 it is before the days of ODBII computer systems.  I use to like ODB1 systems because you can read the trouble code by counting the long and short flashes of light in the diagnostic window on the ECU itself; no need for a reader.  However you need to get to the ECU, which is more difficult than simply plugging in a reader from a port under the dash and reading the display.  Counting the flashing lights on the ECU tells me that I have a code 51.  Checking a reference I see that I have a bad injector circuit.

I now know that I have a dead #2 cylinder.  I also have a bad fuel injector circuit error code reading by my ECU.  Sounds like I have a dead number 2 fuel injector.  This could be the reason why the cylinder is not firing as the fuel component was removed from the holy combustion trinity.  However I still need a run a few test to confirm. 

Z32's use side feed injectors.  Fuel enters the side of the injector through the mess screen.  A signal is send from the ECU to the electrical connector telling it to fire.  Fuel then squirts out the bottom of the injector into the cylinder.  A properly working injector will have a resistance reading between 10-14 ohms.  This a taken across the two pins of the electrical connection.  #2 injector showed an open circuit.  Testing another injector that I know is working, #3, I get 12 ohms.  At this point I am fairly certain that I have a dead #2 fuel injector.  I should have gone further and tested for spark on the #2 cylinder just to rule it out, but I skipped it. 

One of then reasons I am so confident that it is the injectors is because I have read many cases that were similar to mine.  The early year Z32's use a pintle style injector.  These types of injectors are susceptible to failure caused by ethanol in gas. Since most of the gas sold in the US  has ethanol mixed in, pintle injector failure is fairly common.  Though I am not sure the exact details and failure mode, it has something to do with corrosion caused by ethanol absorption of atmospheric moisture. 

This diagnostics went pretty smoothly and has taken about an hour to perform.  This initial time investment is well worth it, and much less time consuming than changing out the wrong part would have taken.  Since I now have a confirmed failure mode, I only have two more steps before having the Z on the road again.  A few quick keystrokes on my favorite Z part vendors website and second to last step is accomplished, as a new injector was being shipped to me.  The cost of a single new injector: about $100. 

The Z32 is built with a tuned length intake runners.  The basic V6 engine block is built: valve covers, fuel rails and injectors, lower intake manifold all installed, then the upper intake plenum sits on top of everything like a six legged aluminum spider.  Though great for performance the upper plenum makes working on the stuff underneath a bear.  Removing the plenum is also quite a chore as almost every fuel line, vacuum line, and half the coolant hoses are intertwined in the spiders web.  If all six injectors are to be replaced the removal of the plenum might be a good idea.  But if only one needs replacing it is better to use the "Dremel method".  The injectors for the most part are exposed between the legs of the plenum.  However not all of the screw are accessible.  The method involves taking a dremel with a carbide bit and cutting access notches in the plenum.  Though this might seem like a hack job, the process is widely accepted by Z mechanics.  The plenum itself is a cast aluminum piece with "extra" material.  I have even heard of people cutting injector screw access notches in plenums that are off the car and being polished.  These polished plenums will often have extra castings ground down as well prior to being installed on a built engine.  The pre-notched plenum  makes future injector changes a snap. 

For this job I used my dremel with a flex line attachment.  This allows me to get into the tight space a little easier.  I used two different carbide cutters.  A new cylindercal one with a flat bottom and later on a pointy one.  When cutting aluminum with a carbide bit, it is best to go slow.  Both in the spinning speed of the cutter and the amount of material you remove.  Spinning the cutter at high speeds will load up the cutter surface.  Though there is extra casting material that can be removed with no harm, it is not unheard of for a zelouse shade tree mechanics cutting holes in their plenum. 

Once enough material has been removed it is time to tackle the screws.  In all of their infinite wisdom, Nissan engineers opted to use #2 Phillips head screws on the injectors.  Stripping the screws is super easy.  Prior to any attempt to remove the screws, it is best to soak the area down with a penetrating oil.  WD-40, PB blaster, what ever your favorite is, hose it down and let it soak.  Over night is best.  The best tool to use on these screws is an impact driver.  An impact driver is different than an impact wrench/gun.  A impact driver is a hand tool that turns an eighth of a turn or so every time the back end is hit with a hammer.  When set to turn counter clockwise, this tool is great for removing Phillips head screws, as it applies both the downward force necessary to resist stripping, and turning force to unscrew the bolt.  Since I have a larger 1/2" drive impact wrench, I had to string together several adaptors in order to get it down to a 1/4" phillips bit.  Also note that a 4" long phillips bit is needed to clear plenum. 

Though a healthy portion of material can be removed in order to access the screw, the screw driver bit does not sit on the phillips screw at a 90 degree angle.  I think that removing the necessary material to do so will surely cut a hole in the plenum.  In the picture one of the phillips screw has been replaced with a socket head screw.  This is a nice upgrade, and will reduce headaches in the future.  However the socket head portion of the screw has a much higher profile, and has trouble fitting under the plenum.  I opted to keep the stock phillips in the left hole, rather than grind down more material. 

Once the screws are removed and all the aluminum shavings cleaned up it is time to finally remove the injector.  Lift off the injector cap, keeping track of all the rubber insulator below.  The injector sits in the fuel rail and is only held in place by a friction fit provided by two o-rings.  Do not under estimate the holding power of these two rings.  I have read of people using pliers, vice grips and even sinking a screw into the injector to pull it out.  Since it was a dead injector I was ready to do anything.  The soaking in oil helps this part too.  A combination of twisting and pulling works the best.  Of all the plier like tools I had, I found the 45 degree long needle nose pilers work the best.  With it you are able to grab the connector portion of the injector right below the locking tabs, providing a solid purchase.  The angle also allows for both twisting and pulling.  A few grunts and injector pops out. 

From here on it is a simple, "installation is the reverse of removal."  Once the new injector is in place and everything is buttoned up, I gave her a crank.  After a few cranks and the fuel system repressurizes she fires up and and runs perfect again. 

Ahh I love it when a plan comes together. 

Here is one of the tutorial that I followed.






Saturday, July 23, 2011

Building a Road Bike-Part 1

So you want a new bike.  As with most vehicles, you can purchase one or you can build one.  There are pluses and minus for one verses the other.  The pluses include saving money, getting exactly what you want, personal touches, and for some, knowledge of the workings of a bike.  The minuses include: a bike that might not work perfectly, screwing up parts and having it cost more than it should have, alot of time, and the possible excrement of three not so fun bodily fluids: blood, sweat, and tears. 
A friend of mine is about to embark on his first bike build.  He sent me a e-mail stating that he purchased a frame and needed help with "the rest".  Since I felt that an in depth responded was warranted, I decided to put my recommendations here so that everyone on the dud dud dud had an opportunity to read them.  Of course, my recommendations are often disagreed upon, and sometimes even by myself, so take it with a grain of sodium.  Assuming that the frame he bought fits, has all the modern fittings, where do you go from here.

Sellers description, parred down to the useful stuff:"
Orbea Vitesse road bike. believe it is a 2002. The bottom bracket has English threads. Fork is an Easton EC90 Superlight  needs a new upper headset bearing ; the lower bearing is there.

The next three steps are component selection, assembly, and fitment.  In this article I will concentrate on component selection.  You will be on your own for assembly, and I will lightly cover fitment since the frame fitment is the most in depth and already predetermined in this case. 

The heart of a bikes components is the drive train.  Everything thing else in one way or the other is related to this.  The first thing I think should be decided upon is the crank.  A few things should be now considered:  triple or double, 9 or 10 speed, Bottom bracket, brand.

Triple or Double. Traditionally road bikes have two chainrings; double.  However in more recent years a granny gear, or a third small chainring has become very popular; triple.  The extra low gears allows steep hills to be climbed more easily.  Sure there are ways to lower the gears on a double, such a lower tooth count on the second chainring, or a mountain bike/larger rear gears.  However none of them do so as smoothly as having a third front gear.  The two main determining factors when deciding between the two is how many/big are the hills you ride, and what kind of riding power do you generate.  Events like the Death Ride and the Tour of the Rockies tend to lend itself to the use of triple.  However to show up to a race event with that third ring will have you laughed out of the peloton.  Deciding on a double or a triple might seem like a small issue and might not be the most important, however it should be considered early in the selection process, as other components such as derailleurs and shifters must be differentiated.  Another factor to consider with the 2 vs 3 ring selection is cost.  Road bike specific triples are a relatively modern thing. Where as I can get a 10 year old high end double, a good used triple might cost me a few more coins.   Finally to throw another wrench in the mix is the compact double.   These crank arms have smaller chainrings and thus also lowers your pedal generated top speed.  Compact chainrings have a smaller bolt pattern, which limits the selection of chainrings as well. 

Length- as a sub topic let's talk about length of the crank arms. The longer the arms to more torque.  The faster the arms the quicker the acceleration. Mountain bikes usually use a longer crank verse a road bike.  Uphiller: longer; flatland sprinter: shorter. 

10 speed or 9.  If you go out and buy a new crank, chances are it will be ten speed compatible.  The 10  or 9 number refers to the number of gears in the rear, such that a triple 10 is a "30 speed". So why is this important when selecting front cranks.  Since the hub spacing on the frames has been standardized, and the narrower the hub flanges the weaker the wheel, the only way you squeeze in that extra gear is to make everything thinner.  Thus a 10 speed chain is more narrow that a 9.  Though a 10 speed chainring will work with a 9 not all 9's will work with a 10.  Most new road bikes come with a 10.  Thus if you apply computer buying logic (buy the most up to date equipment so it does not become obsolete too soon) you will want a 10.  Things to note is that used gear will be harder to come by in 10.  Also due to the fact that everything is thinner means that it will wear out a bit faster.  Is there any advantage to 10 over 9.  You won't really notice the extra gear, but it does make hitting that right gear more likely.  Of course this is not the end of it: 8 and 11.  I would try to stay away from getting 8 speed stuff.  Applying the same computer logic, it is harder to find replacement parts for 8s already.  And know when to say enough.  There are 11 speed drive trains out there.  But who knows if that will last.  10 speed has been around for long enough that it is pretty standard.

Bottom Bracket.  This is the bearing set that the cranks pivot about.  I like the new 2 piece style cranks, or Hollowtech (Shimano). This is the type that has a large diameter hollow spindle which is have survived longer.  The common use of sport drink in water bottles contributes to the demise of the bearings due to the sticky fluids splashing out of the bottle and gumming up the bearing. 


If you have found the perfect crank and it doesn't have this type of BB, what type does it have ? The hollow Octolink cartridge style ones are ok.  The square taper cartridge ones kindda suck though last forever. Crank bolts are better than nuts.  And I will never hesitate to run an old school rebuildable.  English threads are the most common, and you just have the measure the BB shell length of your frame in mm to size to spec.  If you really want to get geeky with the old school stuff, you can spec and learn about other BB threads, various length of spindle, chainring, chain stay clearance, off set. 


Brand.  Though several bike component brands litter the market, almost all bikes use one of these three: Shimano, Campagnolo, Sram; Japanese, Italian, American.   The majority of bikes in America seem to run Shimano.  I personally have grown up using Shimanon parts almost exclusively.  I find that they have good quality, and a wide product line that covers high to low end parts.  I also find that the low end parts are of good quality with their down fall being weight and durability.  By durability, I mean how much beating they can take, and how long they might wear; not breakage due to normal use.  Sram is definitely gaining size in the market. Their product line is competitively priced, and delivers some innovations.  Sram is also the parent company for many brands such as Rock Shox, Avid, Grip shift, just to name a few.  Campy typically appeals to the savy road rider.  Their products are more elegant, light weight, and expensive.  Though they do boost a 11 speed drivetrain, they are not typically known for innovation. 

When selecting a brand, you should usually stay with one company within your component group.  This helps avoid incompatible parts.  Though differences in generation have more to do with mismatches, there are some stuff like Sram 1:1 ratio shifter not working with a Shiamno 2:1 derailleur.   The easiest way to avoid mismatch issues to is buy a entire "Groupo", new.  A groupo is all the component you need to build a bike, sold as a package often with a discount over buying all the pieces separately.  However even if you buy a groupo, this does not insure that you do not have incompatibility issues.  The parts still need to fit the frame and wheels. 

Hope you enjoyed reading  Part 1, in road bike building.  I'll let you digest that, while I cook up another plate 2.

Next time: derailleurs, shifters, gears and brakes.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Floating the Truckee River July 4th 2011

As Independence day draws near, many people are wondering about floating the Truckee River from Tahoe City to River Ranch.  An event that typically draws a huge crowd, this year will most likely not.  Though the region has received record amount of snow fall, the River is at a very low level.  So low in fact that the commercial rafting companies are not running for the 4th. 

How could this be possible, when floods are reported everywhere?  Floating of the Truckee River is made possible by water released from the "Fanny Bridge" Dam.  Due to all the tributaries that feed into the river, the Truckee River is near or at flood stages in Reno and locations east of Truckee.  Because of this they are not releasing any water (or very little) from the dam.  Well Damn!! 

Does this mean you can't float the river?  No it doesn't.  In fact I think I might float it this Independence Day.  It just means that you will not be able to rent a commercial raft, might have to walk section, and there might be sections of flat water that require some paddling.  In fact, looking at the river's water level this morning, I have floated the river with even less water.  So go out there and enjoy.

Happy Fourth.

Monday, June 27, 2011

To Blog or not to Blog

That seems to be a question I have been asking alot lately:  Do I spend my limited free time writing blog post, or do I spend it working on my projects.  From the lack of recent post, the later has become more prevalent, and for this I apologize.  I am sorry to the few regular followers that look to this blog for inspiration, entertainment, or humor, that I have not been able to supply lately.  However from monitoring site actively it seems that the majority of readers discover this blog from searching for answers to specific questions, and not from hitting the site directly to see what 's new.  How do I fix a spa-2-Go , install a helicoil , install a O2 sensor , adjust Silvretta 500 bindings , clear a garage floor drain , float the Truckee , have all been top articles which have lead readers to this blog. 

The goal that I set out for the blog this year has loosely been meet/followed:  a post a week.  My current year tally is 34 post and we are at the 26th week of the year.  Though I have cheated since I had posted several article each week and nothing for the last few months.

However I want to tell you that this blog is NOT DEAD.  In fact I have plenty of fodder for the blog.  In fact, like I suggested, I have been working on many repairs and modifications that will keep you all interested and on your toes. I am in the process of writing up a few, including: winter 2010-2011 wrap up-Peter Grub Hut, Season's BC set up, Komperdell flick lock mod, ski reviews.  Going into the summer season: DR350 mods, Truck mods and trips, 300zx repairs and mods, bike repairs and mods.  And the list keeps going. 
 Till then.  Keep those wrenches turning, and those wheels a spinning. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mounting Silvretta 555s

Spring time.  To many it signals the end of ski season.  Time to break out the mountain bike and bikinis.  However Spring is the best season for backcountry skiing.  Warmer weather, longer days all contribute to making backcountry turns more enjoyable.  Earlier this season a friend came by to have me help him mount up a pair of  Silvretta 555's.  These are the most modern of the 500 series of bindings and yet rarely seen these days.  The 500's niche is their ability to use mountaineering boots.  The resort friendliness of the 555 takes away the climbing boot capability.
When this friend asked for an inexpensive resort friendly backcountry bindings I knew of a pair for sale.   These were actually the same pair that were pictured here in my main Easy Go article.  I then retired a pair of my skies to him.  Here is the real funny part.  The skis and the bindings at one time were mounted on each other.  Thus remounted was super easy.  All that needed to be done was to drill out the hot glue which filled the old holes, fill the most recent set of holes and epoxy the binding screws back in.  The Tahoe Silvretta community is very small indeed. 

One thing I noticed is that the 555s come with a riser plate.  All other easy goes are mounted directly on the ski's deck.  Riser plates are typical on resort bindings.  The increased height increases edge pressure.  One other thing to note is that one of the binding holes were over lapped on another.  This is typically a mounting no-no, and no action was taken, such as inserting a hardwood plug.  The skis were used in this condition for two resort seasons by aggressive skiers, and this last season mixed BC/Resort with no ill effect.   Nick has been rocking the 555's and Atomics all season, and has made the conversion from snowboarder/split boarder to skier .


Friday, April 29, 2011

Tungsten Carbide Mens Wedding Rings

Today was the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton.  Ahhhh I love weddings.  Thus the inspiration for this post about men's wedding rings. 

Recently it is popular for mens to get wedding rings made from industrial metals.  Many hi-tech metals, namely Titanium, has been the awe of many tech weenies.  As a kid, I would save my lunch money so that I could buy Ti bolts for my mountain bike.  It is only natural that when the time came to select a metal for a wedding ring many of my generation chose metals that were more personally precious and meaningful than gold/silver, or platinum. 

Diamonds are forever; or so they say.  That is why engagement rings are traditionally a metal band that houses a diamond.  The hardness of the precious stone represents the everlasting love between couples.  We won't go into the material value of such a stone and the ideas behind that.  This idea of everlasting was one thing that I considered when selecting a material for a wedding rings.  Titanium as some of you might know is known for being light, tough, used extensively in fighter aircraft, and found only on Russian soil.  Not quite a symbol of love.  In fact if you have ever seen a titanium ring which has been worn, you will notice that they do not appear to be everlasting and shiny at all.  Since Ti is relatively soft it is easily scratched and beat up.  Though this might be a more accurate representation of love and marriage, it is not the ideals that one thinks of when embarrassing the institute of everlasting love. 

If you have spent any amount of time in a machine shop you know that hardness is king.  Steel is used to cut aluminum.  High speed steel can cut regular steel.  But the boss of metals is tungsten carbide.  Not only is tungsten hard and heavy, it does not wear out under daily use.  A tungsten carbide ring will look just as shiny 10 year later as it did the day you said, "I do": forever. 

When selecting a ring, I wanted a two tone ring.  Tungsten rings are silver in color.  Dark grey tungsten is achieved by a anodizing process.  This process only colors the metal a few atoms deep.  Though hard, tungsten can still get micro scratches.  These small scratches typically do not show up and do not degrade the overall shininess of the metal.  However, when a layer of anodized tungsten is scratched off, the silver base metal will show through.  This results in a scratched looking surface. 

A solution to this two tone anodized problem is to inlay a darker material.  A common inlay material for tungsten carbide rings is ceramic.  Unlike your office coffee cup, hold on as I take another sip from mine, the ceramic used for rings is a much harder industrial ceramic.  This type of ceramic is commonly used in bullet prof vests as a ballistic plate.  Some claim that since ceramic is so hard, ones need to be careful with it, so as not to shatter the ring or inlay material.  This is false.  I have never been gentle with my ring and have not one blemish on it.   The ring in the picture above is the one that I wear.   It was purchased by my wife at a local jeweler.  A basic Tungsten carbide rings can be purchased for under $50.  Fancy ones can run up to $300.  The low cost of these rings is a welcoming figure in the high dollar world of weddings.  After all isn't love free. 

So now I wonder:  what type of wedding ring did Prince William get?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Subaru Outback O2 Sensor - PO130

Driving along you look down at the dash board and notice that the little check engine light is on.  What a sure way to spoil your day.  Immediately dollars signs flash as you wonder how much this is going to cost you.  If you do the work yourself and are careful with your diagnostics, not very much.  In my case it cost 62 dollars and a 6 pack of beer.  Our Subi is a 2000 Legacy Outback 2.5 Auto with 150k.

A few weeks ago I had such an event occur.  Since the car is newer than 96, it has an OBD II (On Board Diagnostic) system.  I drive home and plug it into my code reader , and out pops a PO130 code.  Cross references an on-line manual which states that I have a Front Oxygen Sensor circuit malfunction.  From some on-line reading on Subaru Fourms, circuit malfunction often means a short in the circuit, usually caused by water in the plug connection. Well that makes sense as right before the code was thrown I was getting the family truckster sideways in an parking lot with 3 inches of  slush on the ground.  So I cleared the message and waited for the car to dry out.  One thing to mention is that when the check engine light came on, it was steady and did not blink.  This means that you have an error message you should get it checked out.  If it was flashing it means that you are doing damage to the car, stop driving. 

A few days later the car develops a stumble.  Press on the gas and it barely runs.  Pull over and take a look at the engine.  Yep it looks like an engine.  Rev it a few times and everything is back to normal.  The check engine light never came back.  Over the next couple of days this stumbling issue happens a few more time.  It feels like the engine isn't getting gas.  I check the basics around the engine.  Gas in the tank, air intake not obstructed, fuel injectors ticking, spark plugs sparking, spark plugs look good, O2 sensor plug dry and secure, all oil levels full, no blown fuses  Over the next few days it also has several more stumbling episodes, and it throws another PO130 code which I clear out.  The last few instances was really rough,  engine even made popping sounds typical of super lean (low fuel) conditions, like the sputtering right before you run out of gas.  Somehow I must not be getting gas. 
I got a fuel pressure gauge and "T" it into the fuel line just down stream of the fuel filter.  Before unhooking any fuel lines you want to bleed off the pressure to minimize the amount of fuel you spray.  Leaving the car over night usually does it.  But pulling the fuel pump fuse or relay and cranking the engine till it dies is much quicker.  Unknown to many is that behind the knee panel compartment is a fuse bank. I removed the whole panel, but all that is required to be removed is the little flip out compartment. Locate and remove the 15 amp fuse at the top left.

The greatest diagnostic tool ever made is the Internet.  So I hit all the usual Subi Forums asking for advice.  Fuel pump, fuel pressure regulator, mass air sensor, coolant temp sensor, transmission temp sensor, and bad gas were allsuggestion.  At this point I had a bad O2 sensor codes appear twice now.  Why didn't I just change out the O2 sensor.  Well I was under the impression that other codes told you you had a bad O2 sensor (sensor reading out of range), and if the circuit was really bad, it would constantly have the check engine light on, not occasionally (every150 miles).

Before I go any further let us talk about O2 sensors and what they do.  Your car needs a mixture of fuel and air to burn.  Back in the carburetor days the carburetor mixed the fuel and air.  Since carbs only mixes the fuel and air to one ratio without consideration for varing conditions, fuel injection was developed.  The amount of fuel the injectors spewed is based on the amount of pressure in the line and the duration the spray nozzles are open.  Input signals from the Mass Air Flow/Pressure sensor determines the duration of the spray.  The O2 sensors read how much fuel is left unburnt in the exhaust and fine tune the mixture.  When one of the sensors is not working it sends the fuel map into a safety mode, erroring on the side of burning more gas than is needed (rich).  Running rich is safer cause the car will still run and you do not run the risk of detonation (blowing up your motor with a too lean of a mixture-this is a whole other topic).  This is why it waste gas when you have a check engine light on.  This is also why I figured a known O2 sensor issue will simply cause the car the run rich and not generate such a shortage of fuel condition, and thus not a result of the PO130 error message. 

Often times cars have two O2 sensors or more.  This can add a bit of confusion, as some are desginated as bank one and two and others as front and back.   In some "V" configured engines an O2 sensor might be present to monitor the left bank of cyclinders and the right.  In newer cars there is often O2 sensors located before and after the catalitic converter, its purpose is to monitor the condition of the cataletic converter.  I assume that it is possible to have a combination of such sensors and have four seperate O2 sensors for your car.  Our Subi has two sensors to monitor the condition of the cats, and does not have sensors to monitor the left and right bank.

The problem with my stumbling problem was that it was intermittent.  This makes diagnosing the issue difficult as it would not do in the comfort of my garage, only on the open road.  If it was my fuel pump or fuel pressure regulator I wanted to confirm it before I replaced it.  Nothing worse than replacing a part only to find that it was fine and not related to the issue.  This I call the "machine gun" way of repair; fire a bunch of bullets and hope to hit the right thing.  A working fuel pump will generate a constant and adequate fuel pressure.  If the pump is dying I would be able to tell with a gauge. 

With the fuel pressure gauge hooked up I drove it around the neighborhood for 30 minutes and no issue.  Dang.  The next day I drove it to work and finally the car started to stumble.  The fuel pressure was higher than spec and steady.  The fuel pressure regulator's job is to lower the fuel pressure to the specified amount. A vacuum actuate diaphragm restricts the amount of fuel which passes.  This is also how the FPR varies its regulated pressure.  As you stomp on the gas, less vacuum is available in the intake manifold, thus reducing the amount of fuel pressure reduction.  To check the FPR, pull the vac line.  The pressure should rise.  There should also be no fuel dripping out of the vacuum port, as that would indicate a ruptured FPR diaphragm membrane. 

I was now at a loss?  Do I start checking other sensors like the forum members suggested.  While driving home from work the car developed a stumble again.  Pull over and the check engine light comes on and the stumble went away.   The code read PO130, and  I did not clear it. I then proceed to drive the car for 50+ miles with out a hiccup.  I think I finally figured it out.  PO130 means that the ECU has received a grossly out of range signal from the O2 sensor for a steady duration of time.  Though often it means something is awry with the circuit, it could also mean that the sensor is completely dead.  An error message is then generated and the ECU no longer looks to the sensor for fuel mixture tuning.  When the error code was deleted the ECU still considered the sensor input (though grossly wrong) to mix the fuel, and did so incorrectly, causing a stumble.  The car sensing that it was not running properly, reverted back to a preset safety fuel mixture. 

Ok now that I concluded the source of my error, I needed to do some actual repair.  First I sourced the part.  Bosch has been known to make quality OEM replacement parts.  Bosch oxygen sensors are often times specified by the auto manufacture and used as original equipment.  I found a direct replacement part at the local Napa Auto parts store for about $60.  There are other cheaper versions of the sensor which require you to cut and splice your original plug connector.  No thanks. 

Now to remove the sensor.  First locate the connector plug on the passenger side of the engine. It has a light grey colored safety clip on it. Remember how the clip is attached cause it is tricky to get back on correctly.  Undo the clip and pull apart the connector.  Undo the wire keeper tab that is located a bit further down.

Most O2 sensor are a standard size, 7/8".  However it is not something that you can remove using a standard socket.  Due to the wire you need to use a tool similar to a flared nut tool.  I guess for removing the old sensor you can simple cut the wire off and use a deep socket.  Using a open end wrench only grabs the hex in two points and easily rounds out the hex.  The idea is to clear the wire but to engage more than two of the hex points. 

Though the subi uses a boxer engine with two separate banks, it uses only one O2 sensor for it fuel mixture reading.  The sensor is located at the "Y" portion of the exhaust as the two header pipes meet.  Because of the location I was not able to get my O2 sensor socket in.  Maybe if I had a crows foot type socket I could wiggle it in place.  But I did not so it was time to drop the exhaust. 

Of course in order to drop the exhaust the first thing that needed to be done was to drop the skid plate.  Next I undid the six exhaust header nuts.  The exhaust comes down but not quite far enough. I needed to go to the next exhaust hanger and undo the bolt.  Once the bolt is removed the hanger has a lip which the exhaust mounting bracket hangs from.  Lift the exhaust up past the lip and to the side to fully release the exhaust.  Be sure to have something support the exhaust.  The flex joint located downstream is not capable of support to forward section of the exhaust.  There is also the wires from
 the rear O2 sensor that will snap if required to hold the weight of the front exhaust portion.  Gently wiggle the exhaust when you lower it onto your support as the O2 sensor and wire stick through a heat shield and gets hung up.  As you can see in the picture I supported the exhaust on the catalytic converter with a block of wood on a floor jack.

Once you get to this point the rest is easy.  Undo the bad front O2 sensor and replace. Once removed it was obvious that the O2 sensor was toast, as it rattled with a broken part inside.  In the picture you can see the small threaded hole, or bung, that the O2 sensor fit in right at the "Y" portion of the exhaust.

Put the car back together again,  clear the error code, and be happy once again.   This is the part where you drink the six pack of beer to celebrate.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Harken Camper Shell Hoist

Those with pickup trucks usually fall into two categories; the ones that run a camper shell and the ones that don't.  Both have their benefits, both have their draw backs.  For many years I had a pickup truck with an open bed.  The ability to simply toss large items in the bed was one of the major draws of owning a truck.  But once you have a shell , it is hard to go back. The secure storage, shelter from the elements, and the ability to over load the bed without worrying about things flying out is nice.  However the shell does get in the way when you really need to transport large items in the bed.  Such a dilemma.

Camper shells however are not permanent installations.  They can be removed when you need to carry something that is too large for the capacity of the cap.  Though typically not to heavy, 100lbs or so, the large dimensions of the shell make it nearly impossible to remove and install by yourself.  Even with two people it can be awkward. 

A friend suggested that I buy a hoist system for my camper shell so that it would be easy to take on and off.  Taking the shell on and off was happening more often, now that transporting motorcycles became a regular thing.  Me, being the "do-it-yourselfer" of course looked into a homemade hoist system.  However once I found the Harken Hoister I knew that this was one of those things best left to the professionals.  From my years of sail boat racing the brand name Harken was synonymous to quality.  At a price of under $150 dollars, I knew that there was no way I could put together a system as good or as cheap as the one Harken made.  So I bought it.  At the heart of the system is the 8 to 1 block and tackle pulley.  This mechanical advantage device not only has all of the pulley nestled within itself, it also has a line lock, similar to that found on your mini blinds.  Of the many hoist systems Harken makes, the 200lb rated version was designated as the "camper shell" hoist. 

Prior to getting the hoist it is key to find a place where the hoist can pull the camper shell out of the way.  Carefully measure out the location as some spots which might look like it will work simply won't  As seen in the first picture my camper shell fits snugly between the back wall of the garage and the garage door opener.  It also sits high enough so that the back door of the garage can be opened without interference. 

The installation was pretty straight forward.  Though upon initial unpacking, the parts and lines are a bit over whelming.  The detailed instructions clearly lays out the steps required.  In addition to the parts included, you need to provide some 2x6s and some lag bolts.  It is recommend that two people do installation.   The most tricky part was to insure that cross member was bolted to the joist.  This isn't one of those things that will hold if bolted to the dry wall alone; you must sink ALL the lags into solid joist. 

Once installed the system perform flawlessly.  If you plan on leaving the shell in its hoisted position for any amount of time, it is a good idea to provide a safety back up.  Two fixed length of rope under the shell in case the buckles let go, and to securely tie off the primary hoist line in case the line lock gives.  Though I write this precaution, I have yet to add such safety back ups and had not had an issue. 

With this hoist I can now go from camper shell to open bed in less than 15 minuets.  A great addition to any truck owner debating a shell.  Now you can have the best of both worlds; thanks Harken.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Solo Traveler Plus Coffee Cup Lid

Not all coffee cup lids are created equal.  In an earlier post I reviewed the three most popular types of "to-go" coffee cup lids.  For some time now I have noticed another coffee cup lid that seems to be very popular.  It is a variation of the "gapping hole, slosh all over yourself" type of lid.  However this lid has a rotating hole closure.  There seems to be a growing trend towards spill proofing lids, following the Starbucks "hole plug".  I guess it makes sense, it is a to-GO cup, and it is easy to spill when you are going.  But this seems like a bit excessive.  I don't really need this feature, don't need to waste that extra bit of natural resource, manufacturing energy, transportation...

    This spill lock does not make it any better of a lid, as drinking from it as a cup is still its primary function.  Thus the Dart slip lid is still the best coffee cup lid.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Climbing Skins for Twin Tip Skis

Twin tip skis are all the rage these days. What started off as a trick ski capable of skiing backwards is now as common in the park as they are all over the mountain. Two properties of twin tip skis also make them popular as back country ski: cost and flexibility. Most people find that a soft ski is better suited for the variable conditions encountered in the back country. Twin tipped park skis are often time priced less for park rats that tend to destroy and constantly replace skis. This fact also jives well with the cheap or broke back country skier. I have also found that the ability to ski backwards to be very helpful when side slipping steep chutes, where it is often necessary to "falling leaf" backwards in deeper or soft snow.


Though going down is not a problem, the up hill part presents a problem for twin tipped skis. Duck walking and uphill kick turns are made more difficult by a turned up tail. However the most common problem with twin tip skis is how to attach climbing skins. Traditionally climbing skins are attached to the ski via a tip loop and a tail hook. An elastic rubber tip loop is paired with a metal tail hook, or a static tip loop is paired with an elastic tail clip. The tail hook sits in a notch on a squared off tail. Cutting a notch in the tail of a TT ski is not desirable, as the tail has metal edges wrapped around. Cutting into the metal edge could expose an corner of the edge and cause it to "unravel". Without a notch to sit in, the tail hook can easily slip off to the side.


Many opt to not use a tip and tail connection. Tip loop and skin glue is all that they use. This works well if you have fresh and sticky glue, or you do not encounter icing and freezing of the glue. Trips that do not require repetitive skin on and offs, can fair well with a tip and glue only approach. I personally like both the tips and tails of my climbing skins to the fixed to the tip and tails of my skis. A good solution is to run two tip attachment devices. Here I use a standard static tip loop for the front. It is sewn into the skin for a permanent non adjustable connection. For the rear tip I used a rubber elastic tip loop. It is attached by simply folding over the skin onto itself. This give some adjustibility in length to the system. The rubber tip loop has a few special bends in it to accommodate larger tips. The skins need to be trimmed down at the fold over spot to fit the relatively small attachment loop.


Prior to coming up with this twin tip skin set up, I was sold a STS Black Diamond tail kit . These, I was told by the gear sales person, would hold on twin tip skis. Since the that since the tension was near the fixing clip, the tension would hold the clip on the curved rear tip. Not so. STS tails DO NOT work on twin tip skis. Sure they might work in the parking lot but once you started skinning and kick the heel of your ski, you would pop off the tail clip. Often times I would look back only to find that the tail clip had unhooked. It was typically not too much of a problem since my glue would continue to hold the skins on. However this was not a good long term or a long tour solution. Instead, I took some heavy wire and bent up a set of loops. These had the extra bends like the rubber elastic loops I used for the other set. The STS tail provided the tension, and I fashioned my own loop/clip. This worked pretty good. But bending the heavy wire was difficult, and it took many iterations to achieve the right tip loop shape.



A couple of seasons later G3 released a twin tip connector This connector was fashioned after the front tip connector it released the year prior. This new connector had pivoting wings, which could conform to the curvature of the rounded ski tip. The rear connector attached to the elastic tail strap of either the STS kit or the similar G3 version . In order to have a skin setup as light as possible I opted not to use the fold over technique to affix my tip loop. Instead I used a sewn in place loop. This will limit the adjustable of the skins. In fact I had to remount the tail strap twice in order to achieve the correct amount of tension. If the distance between the clip and the skins is too short than not enough tension is provided. This is made worse by the fact that when frozen the straps lose even more of its tension. For my current set up I needed a wider tip loop and had to rip the stitching from the sewn connector, swap loops, then sew the the connector back together.

So how do these three twin tip skin connectors work? Good. But I have kicked the loops off of all of them. Both the front and the rear. It all depends on the size of your ski tips and the size of the tip loop. Use the largest possible tip loops that will fit your skis. This is the key point in keeping the loops in place. With your skins fitted it is now time to do some skiing; Uphill skiing



Thursday, March 10, 2011

Garage Floor Drains - Clearing clogged ones

Garages are the best! In the snow country, garages are a must. Not only does it keep your car free of frost and snow, it is a place for your car to thaw out. Snow free also means a few extra minutes of sleep in the morning. A well thought out garage has a floor slab pour with a drain in it. Without a drain, garages tend to flood as your car shed the snow and ice it accumula ted from the roads. I have found that our subi can collect about 15 gallon of water, and my truck can accumulate over 20 gallons of liquid. This is alot of water which needs to be disposed of.

Most garages floor drains are directed to a gravel pit under the house. The ground under the house is warmer than the outside air and typically stays above freezing. Sometimes pits are located to the yard. These can be problematic as they tend to freeze. Garage drains sometimes are directed to the sewage system or septic tanks. This is also a bad idea, as it contributes a large volume of gravely water to the septic or the city sewage system.

Over the years a garage drain will being to clog. The snow which accumulates under your car is not simply snow. It is also chocked full of road grime. In areas that spread sand on the roads the problem is even worse. The first winter at this house after I had finally cleaned out the garage enough to park the cars in it, I discovered that I had a clogged garage drain. A flooded garage is no fun. I would attempt to clear or knock off as much snow as I could before I parked the car inside. Then spend the evening bailing water into a bucket to be hauled out and dumped. A drill pump made the job a little easier, but I was out to seek a solution.

I was not sure what I was up against. Did the drain freeze? Was the drain pit filled with debris. I fished a small plumbers snake into the drain, only to have it stop a foot or so down the pipe. I was up against something solid. Most likely a blockage of gravel. Clearing a clogged drain of gravel and sand is not going to be easy. In fact an Internet search yielded no solutions. I had to come up with something.
My Dad was an oil man. As a child I spent many hours pouring over the details of off shore drilling rigs. One thing that made a lasting impression was the use of "drilling mud'. The drilled hole was deliberately filled with a fluid. This fluid served many purposes, but the one which I was most interested was the use of mud to remove material which had been liberated when a hole was bored. This was how I was going to clear my clogged drain. To get this idea to work, I needed a way to introduce my fluid, and a way to remove the fluid with the drain clogging media suspended within it. My simplified setup would involve a wet and dry shop vac and a garden hose. However getting this worked out would require a trip to the hardware store and what would seem like an eternity in the plumbing isle.
The garage drain has an opening of about 1.5 inches. The Shop Vac had a 2 inch hose, and the garden hose was about 3/4 of an inch. The first thing I needed was to reduce the size of both hoses. I speced the input water line at 1/2 inch and outtake vacuum line to 3/4", after all you needed to remove more volume than was introduced. Combined these two hose would barely fit into the drain. The garden hose was easy: a thread on cap to a 1/2" barbed fitting. The vacuum neck down was a bit tougher. The heart of the system was a 2 inch rubber compression fitting with a 2 inch threaded female collar. It was a blessing that the shop vac had a common size hose end. Next was to find a variety of reducer to finally end up with a 3/4" hose. 2" threaded double male coupler, 2"threaded female to 2" glue in female coupler, 2" male glue in to 3/4" female threaded reducer (this was the piece which really reduced the number of reducers needed), 3/4" threaded to 3/4" barbed fitting, 3/4" I.D. hose. These sizes are what I remember off the top of my head. Be sure to measure and test fit for yourself.
Once at home, I assembled my contraption. No glue was necessary in any of the glue in joints. Next I taped the two line together with the water line protruding a couple of inches ahead of the vac line. I then attempted to stuff the two lines into the clogged drain. I was only able to get the device in about 6" before it would not feed any further. A 90 degree bend in the drain line prevented the tight fitting pair of hoses from advancing any further. I thus untaped the two hoses, pushed the water line in as fas as it would go then the vac line to the bend. Once I had everything in place I turned on the shop vac and then the water. Then adjusted the water flow till a steady state was reached with that of the vacuumes. With the clear vac hose I could see it sucking up clear water, another second or two passed and then output solution was brown. IT WAS WORKING! A five gallon shop vac can only suck about 2.5 gallons before it if full. I was cautious not to suck water into the pump. But even then I found out that there is a flap that blocks the flow before water is allowed in. Idot proof. After several dumpings of the shop vac, the output water in the vac line finally ran clear.
I now have a perfectly working garage floor drain. I kept my vacuum fitting in case I ever need to clear the drain again. On snowy days I now drive straight into the garage without clearing any snow off the car, knowing that the run off will now take care of itself.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Filling Old Binding Holes on Skis

It would be great if every ski I owned was new. Buy skis, get them mounted, ski the piss out of them, then get rid of them. But the truth for us budget minded skiers is that one pair of skis often serves many roles in its life time. These many roles usually involve mounting and remounting various bindings. Because of this, a "new to me" ski usually has a set of holes from a previous set of bindings. Sometimes there are so many holes already in the skis that they look more like a peg board. Three sets of separate binding holes are about max. Beyond that you run into hole over lapping issues.


The first thing to do is to make sure that the new holes for the new bindings do not overlap on an existing hole. It is recommended that the distance of a holes width, reside between the old and the new hole. In practice half a holes width is fine. I have even had holes over lap before and been fine. Just make sure to use plenty of epoxy when setting the screws. In a situation where two holes are overlapping, I have read that a hardwood plug can be inserted into the old hole to provide some structural support. I have never used a hardwood plug, but think that they would be better than nothing.


Before mounting new bindings, the old holes need to be filled and smoothed out. How to do this has always presented many different solutions. Two things need to be accomplished. The old holes need to be filled so that water does not seep into the ski. Water into the ski could fill and water log the wood or foam core. The freezing of this water could then swell, bulge, and ultimately rip apart your ski. The next thing to deal with is the circular ridge of material that has built up around the old binding hole. The holes drilled for the bindings are slightly smaller than the the screw that goes in it. As the screw is inserted into the binding hole it taps it threads into the hole and top sheet. The first few twist of the screw will force a ridge of material up above the top sheet. This is ok for the old binding as the correlating hole in the binding itself is slightly counter sunk to allow space for the ridge of material. But for the new binding, this extra material will not allow it to sit flush on the ski. Many people use a sharp chisel or a razor knife to remove this ridge, but there is a better way.

Most ski shops stock an assortment of ski hole plugs. These are plastic plugs that are hammered into the old holes. These plugs are
slightly larger than the hole which they are fitted in. This interference fit not only seals the hole but locks the plug in place. Plugs can be had in various colors so the holes can be camouflaged. I am not a big fan of these plugs. Sure they are cheap and easy, but I never seem to have any on hand. I also believe that they are not very secure. Sure the fit is tight initially, but a lot of flexing and movement goes on in a ski. Old binding holes are typically underneath the new binding so inspection of these plugs can not be performed.

Now that I have told you how other people solve these two common issues, let me tell you how I do it. After all isn't that the reason you follow this blog?

For filling old holes, I use to use epoxy. You already know that I am a fan of the two part wonder and use it anytime I can. But getting the sticky resin to completely fill the hole is difficult. Making sure that top of the hole is sealed is the best you can hope for. I now use hot glue for my old ski hole filling. The hot glue flows into the deepest corners of the hole, and seals up nicely. I apply a healthy dose of the glue and leave a little dome of glue on top of the hole to insure that it is completely filled. Once the glue has dried, I use a cheese grater type rasp to remove not only the extra hot glue, but the ridge of material around the lip of the old hole. This type of rasp, often called a multi rasp, has a cutting surface that is relatively smooth to the touch. The cutting teeth are flat, and require the material to enter voids before they are sheared off. Running this type of rasp over the top of your skis does not damage the top sheets, as only things that sit above the surface will be cut off. Be careful though. If you really hog down on the rasp, it can still mark up the ski; especially if you hit the edge of the top sheet. Do not use a standard type rasp with sharp protruding cutting teeth, as it will rip up the top sheet of your skis. Using a chisel or a razor knife often results in cutting off more material than desired as these type of cutters tend to dive.
Once I have smoothed out the holes, I will go back with the hot glue gun and touch up some of the holes that might need it. Bubbles sometimes form, and the top of the hole, once leveled to the top of the ski, will not be completely filled. You can use to hot tip of the glue gun to melt some of the old glue before pumping more hot glue on top. This is insure that the two separate application of glues are bonded to each other. Wait till it is dry and rasp again.
Now you have a clean ski which is ready for mounting.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Drill Pump - flood solution

During the wet winter months it is common for flooding to occur. A ruptured pipe, melted snow, leaking water tank. I have spent alot of time bailing water out of flooded areas. That was till I fond this little device. It is a water pump that is powered by a common electric hand drill. These drill pumps can be found at your local hardware store for about $10. Often times they are packed with a bunch of hose attachments and ball valves and sell for close to $50. No Thanks. Just look for the drill pump by it self.

How does it work. Simply attach the quarter inch arbor to the chuck of your hand drill. Attach garden hoses to the two ends and hit the trigger. The pump is self priming, however I found that the self priming is very limited. It is helpful to keep the intake side hose short and close to the water. Make sure that there are no leaks in the hose as the pump will draw air and not water. The discharge side is less sensitive to hose length and condition. The pump is capable of pumping water at the rate of about a gallon a minute. Of course this all depends on the speed of the drill.

I found that the pump required a bit of torque and quickly ran down the batteries of my cordless drill. Even with a large corded drill, be weary of continuously running the drill and burning it out. Be extremely careful when using a corded drill, as the extension cord connection can easily fall into the water which you are pumping. This often times is the same water which you are standing in. Getting zapped with household 120 can kill!

A drill pump is not a long term solution for any large volume of water which needs to be transferred often. However before I was able to clear my garage drain, this was how I cleared out my flooded garage. I now keep this little gem handy, and is another tool in my proverbial box of tricks.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Honda Snowblower- oil change - 2 of 2


It is Saturday morning after a huge snow storm. All the good people of Tahoe are out digging, shoveling, and snow blowing. The symphony of chugging snow blowers goes "budddddda" in my ears. A quick drive down any street will reveal that the majority of the instruments in this orchestra are made by Honda. In a previous post I mentioned that I once owned a Craftsman , but it wouldn't cut it for primary snow removing duties. Thus now I own a Honda.

Honda makes 3 two-stag snow blowers: the HS724, 928, and 1132. 7, 9, and 11 horsepower; and 24, 28, and 32 inch clearing path. Each model has the four variations: track drive or wheel drive; Electric start or pull start only. It is rare to find a wheel driven Honda snowblower. Though wheels are easier to steer, the traction provided by a tracks greatly aide in clearing power of the blower. The electric start, which sounds like a necessary luxury, is not. Typical starting of the blower is accomplished by the pull starter. The electric starter needs to be plugged into a 120 volt wall outlet for power, and is only used when the machine is having trouble starting. From my experience with Honda blowers, one pull is all that is ever needed to get it started. The electric starters are a useless feature, unless the engine is in bad condition.

There are other models of Honda snow blowers. I have seen a 5 and an 8 series, but those are no longer produced anymore. I ended up buying a 5 year old 928 track, with no electric start for $1500. I was looking for a 1132, but those are hard to find and expensive. The MSRP of the 928 is about $2750, but I have heard that dealers often charge more than the MSRP due to the high demand, delivery cost, and certain accessories that might be included. Even at 5 years of age, the 928 sold for more than half its original MSRP. These things hold their value well. I believe that when I eventually sell it I could still get $1500 for it.

The reason that Honda blowers are popular is because they can throw wet snow, guaranteed. Other blowers seem to have a hard time throwing wet snow any distance. This is a necessity with my 20 foot wide driveway. It isn't necessarily power that makes the machine throw the distance it does; since the previous Craftsman had the same HP rated motor (which actually seemed stronger). I think the distance is a result of auger speed. The engine on this machine runs like you would expect a Honda to run: Flawless. It starts every time with one pull of the start cord. No matter how cold or how long I have let it sit, it never fails to start right up.

The second feature that makes Honda work is the Hydrostatic Drive system, which has finite speed adjustments between 0 and max speed. The drive system is hydraulic, and allows the machine to drive forward as slow as you desire. This is important when chewing through a thick heavy berm. Go slow and allow the machine to work. Snow blowers with indexed speed controllers often do not go slow enough. I guess this could be modified by adjusting the amount of slack in the control cable (I just thought of that, and never tried it when I owned the Craftsman blower).

Other features that are unique to the Honda is the on the fly depth control. A foot pedal adjust the scraper to Low, Med and High. Typically I run the blower at Med. If I am trying to scrape up some snow which has been compacted I will use the low setting. High is reserved for driving the machine a long distance, where I do not want to scraper to catch on the pavement, when I want the machine to climb a snow pile, or if I am backing up and the auger housing is dragging a bunch of snow.

Recently I changed the oil on my snowblower. At first it is a little confusing. The case appears to be symmetrical right and left, and it is not exactly clear which is the drain and which the fill. What appears is that there are two drain plugs and two fill plugs. The draining and filling can be done by the holes on the left side of the machine. The picture on the right shows the fill hole (blue arrow), the drain plug (yellow arrow) sits above a small drain chute. Even with the drain chute, I had to fabricate a drain catch so that the used oil did not spill all over the snowblower's track and then onto the ground. On the right side of the machine, matching drain and fill plugs can be found (same blue and yellow arrow). Though both fill holes can be used to fill and check the oil level, the right side drain hole is not a drain hole. First there is not a drain catch, and second the plug/bolt is blocked by the chassis and not allowed to back out all the way. In one of the fill holes is a dip stick, in the other a plug. Checking the oil level from either fill holes yields the same results. The 928 take a tad more than a quart of oil to fill. I filled my machine with mobile1 synthetic, 5-30w.
While changing the oil, I performed some other maintenance. Checked the track tension. Adjusted the skidder height. Tried to clean out the air filter, only to find that there was none to clean. I guess snow environments do not have much dust to contaminate the carburetors.
This miracle of a machine does have its flaws. The handle bars are a little weak. Alot of torquing goes on when snow blowing. On many units I have seen tweaked handle bars. On one I have even seen a bar snapped off. The chute direction controller is known to freeze, and needs some persuasion to free, some grease in the track will hopefully prevent water from seeping in and freezing. All the controllers are cable actuated. Each cable has a bellowed seal at the end. These are critical for proper operation. If the cable/housing seal is compromised, water will enter between the cable and the housing. This will rust the cable and cause it to bind. Before the rust occurs, the water will most likely freeze and cause the control cables to bind. Finally a note on the shear pins. Unlike the craftsman, the shear pins on the Honda break very easily. Instead of an actual pin, the shear pin is a bolt and nut (10mm head). These appear to be special (weak) bolts. I have heard of people replacing the shear pin with a regular bolt in a pinch, and ruin the auger when they hit something solid. I am convinced that a grade 2 bolt (or slightly cut)would work, but have been reluctant to try after hearing such shear pin failure to fail stories.
Well there you go, a tale of two snowblower; and now I only have one!