Four Speeds & Drum Brakes – Feb ’17

By Tom Tate

It may be the result of having more than just a couple of cars but it does seem to me that the cars in my garage gang up on me when mechanical or electrical issues pops up. I know that they talk to each other late at night when the lights are off because I’ve heard noises.

Maybe it has to do with the time of year. I don’t think it’s related to age or mileage on the cars because they range from 1957 to 2004 with mileage spanning 50k miles to over 200k. I’ll give a few examples and the loyal reader can make up their own mind.
Half way through last summer, Big Red decided that it was time for some attention and the starter refused to work. No click, no nothing. It did happen at home in the garage so the car didn’t strand me out on the road somewhere (my cars are good like that) but still it was aggravating.

Some years ago, the ignition switch failed to send the signal to the starter when turned the final notch and rather that replace the entire ignition switch, requiring new keys and a big expense, I just installed a push button switch on the dash that was wired to a relay that triggered the starter. That was back when some of the new cars were being sold with a big red start button so I felt like I was keeping the car up to date too. That has been working great except for the first year that I took it out of the barn in the spring with the modern start button on the dash. My push button doesn’t say start on it (thank you Radio Shack) and after a long winter I had forgotten that it was there. I turned the key the final notch at least three times and even got out to look at the battery connections before I spotted the relay that I had installed and remembered my “improvement”.

This time I went right to the relay, followed the wires and found a loose connection at the starter which was easily corrected.

The very next day my wife called from the local store to say her BMW was dead and wouldn’t start. That was after driving about 3 miles to the store. Her car isn’t trained to die in the garage like my cars are. So it started up in the garage but wouldn’t restart after a short drive. I grabbed a jump box and went over to give it a jump but even that would only turn it over very slowly. Figuring that a set of cables would provide more juice I zipped the 3 miles back home and grabbed a set of quality cables and tried again. Now the slowly turning starter could only produce a click.

It turned out to be that the original starter had given up after 12 years and 90k miles. I wasn’t going to complain but that was two starter problems in two days. Strange.

If you remember a column from last summer, the Porsches in the garage got together the night before the Zone 1 Autocross and decided they needed a little TLC. The Speedster threw a pulley off the generator the next day and the 914 chewed up a plastic shift bushing converting it from a 5 speed to a three speed the day after that. Both were quickly repaired but the timing was bazaar. These are two car that together don’t clock 3k miles per year and seldom, if ever, break. Strange.

Tires are another wear item on my cars that somehow seem connected. In years past I have put the snow tires on the Audi only when it snowed. I could get them switched in about an hour and that would mean a lot fewer miles on soft compound tires that work great on ice but not so good on dry pavement. Two years ago when we had a real winter, read over 100” of white stuff, I only switched them twice. Last year I got lazy and drove on them from Dec to March. I put them on after Christmas this year to discover one tire had a slow leak that was losing 2 lbs pressure per day, not good. I took it off, checked for a puncture or a bad valve but came up empty. It went to the local tire store who found a leak at the inside rim edge that was easily fixed.

I barely got home from the tire shop to find that the 914 up on the lift had a flat tire on the same corner. It had been up there since the Zone 1 Autocross in October without a problem, hadn’t moved an inch and suddenly went flat? Strange.

Gas leaks seem to travel in pairs too. The Speedster always smells a little like gas as the car does not have the sealed system that modern day cars have and fuel evaporates from the carbs as it sits in the garage. The ’72 911 has the same plumbing, or lack thereof, and it also has that ‘old car smell’.

The 911 has an electric fuel pump and while it only operates at 3-4 psi it will test the fuel line connections every time the key is turned. A hose clamp failed that test last year but it only took a few minutes to tighten the clamp. Apparently feeling left out, the Speedster began to drip gas at the fuel pump a week later and required that the pump be rebuilt before it would stop. Not a big job but again the timing seemed strange.

Another matched set of ills showed up when the Speedster was ready to come out of the Barn in 2012. The master brake cylinder began to leak when it was up on the lift which put a drip onto the BMW below it. There was a car cover on the car below so there was no damage and it was easier to throw out the cover than to try to clean it, there is nothing worse than spilled brake fluid. However when I backed the BMW out that Spring it also had a brake problem. It was a seized piston in a front caliper causing the brake to drag on that corner. I can certainly understand why one would seize from lack of use, nothing hurts a car more than not using it, but why would a master cylinder begin to leak when there was no pressure applied? I think these guys had been talking. Strange.

Another ongoing service item on my cars have been lights. It may be due to the length of time that I keep cars or the fact that I tend to upgrade lighting when available. Certainly bulbs burn out over time but I think there has been some discussion in the garage late at night when I’m not there.

One of the tail lights on the wife’s car failed last year and since it is an LED, while only a few of the little points had failed, the entire unit had to be replaced at a cost of $270. No more $2 light bulbs in modern cars. I was impressed with the results and decided to upgrade the Audi RS4 turn signals to LED bulbs. The bulbs were less than $10 but it took a little work because the low current draw made the car throw a light out warning signal. The solution was to wire a small resistor into the circuit to fool the sensor into thinking the standard bulb was still in place. Replacement tail light units for the 356 using LEDs became available about the same time and that made for a much brighter brake light for following drivers, long a weak point for our Tubs. I replaced the 6 volt candle like bulbs with new fixtures.

With three cars sporting bright new lights the 30 year old BMW in the garage had two bulbs go bad a week later. They just burned out due to age I know but it really did seem like it was asking for some lighting attention along with everybody else. Strange.

I know that it’s beginning to sound like the cars in my garage need almost constant attention but that really isn’t true. I give them constant attention but, they don’t really need it. In fact, I have the feeling that if I just ignored them like most car owners, they would be just fine. But then what would I do for entertainment ? Every car guy likes to tinker, right?

One last comment just to see of anyone reads this stuff to the end, besides it pertains to activity in the garage;

For years I have used dCON Bait Bits (pellets) to keep the mouse population away from the garage and out of the snow plow parked in the woods all year. They used to come in a little tray with a cover like the plastic on a cottage cheese container. Peel back the plastic, put it under the seat in the Toyotaplow truck or inside the garage door and they will find it. I use four small trays per year and tend to buy a couple of boxes every other year at the local hardware store. I just leave them out and they last all year. They were priced at about $8 per box of 4 trays. The best part was the fact that the pellets caused the critters to seek out water which made them exit the garage looking for a drink. That meant there was nothing to disturb the “old car smell” in the garage and there was no funeral service required. I did have a couple expire inside the plow truck but I just drove it with the windows down for a bit and it was fine.

I went to the local hardware store, actually four hardware stores, last week to discover that the EPA (not a car guys friend) has decided that such easy access to the pellets are dangerous to children and pets (hasn’t it always been dangerous?) and they have banned their use. Now you can only buy mouse traps in the stores that prevent access to the actual pellets which are protected in what is now called a mouse catcher. They hold just a few pellets and are priced at $16 for 4 little “catchers” that will only catch one mouse each and then must be discarded. Old fashioned spring loaded traps and sticky sheets are still there but they have to be unloaded every day if they’re doing their job and I don’t find them as convenient as the pellets. Replacement pellets are available on the internet, otherwise known as the black market, but the same number of trays I paid $8 for are now $229. A perfect example of big brother protecting people who aren’t smart enough to protect themselves at a huge cost to the rest of us. Thoughts, comments? My editor is waiting to hear from you!