Monday, March 12, 2007

Well, how about that--even MORE routine maintenance!

I had most of the day to myself (with the able assistance of Tiny Terror) on Saturday past, and decided to take care of some long-neglected work.

On Friday, I had dropped by Advance Auto Parts and picked up a set of Bosch Platinum Plus spark plugs (with the magical flavor of yttrium!), a distributor cap, and a rotor button, but they didn't have a set of plug wires. After dispensing with family things on Saturday morning, as well as another bit of car work on the Focus, I called the other parts place down the hill (Westwood, which more of a parts supply place than a mainline mass market retailer such as Advance) to make sure they had a set of plug wires for the old brick, which they did. Got Cat dressed (more or less) and made her quit whining by promising her that if she would be good and help me, I'd take her to Sonic for lunch and then we'd have a picnic on the old footbridge over the Cahaba. (Not a current picture, but still a good one.)

THIS she understood!

Off down to the foot of the hill, walked in and saw that the genial old fellow (who smelt of stale coffee, Marlboros, and grease) already had my set out there waiting on the counter. THAT'S SERVICE, my friends!



Admittedly, they were top of the line bits called Magstar Gold, and had the nice metal shields on the plug ends and all that, but that's still awfully steep. Then I saw the list price--$132. I figure I must be getting a real deal.

Paid, and went back home ready to get started.

I don't know how long ago the plugs were last done, but I know I haven't done it. (I suppose I could look at the voluminous records kept by the previous squirrelly owner, but I didn't want to.) Anyway, it's been idling rough for a year now, and although the mileage is relatively good at around 21 mpg, I keep thinking it could do better. New ignition parts might be the trick.

First thing was to replace the rotor button and cap, which turned out to be more trouble than I gave it credit for being. Seems the rotor takes a bit of persuasion to fully seat itself down on the shaft, but I didn't know this until I cranked it and looked on in horror as the whole distributor cap was wildly oscillating like a Tilt-a-Whirl. After shutting it down and yanking everything back off, with a few smears of silicone on the underside of the rotor and then a polite tap with a screwdriver handle, it was where it was supposed to be.

BUT, before all that, there were the plugs to install. I was a bit fearful of what I might find on the ends--carbon, or worse, oil. Happily, they were each and every one a nice shade of toasted bread, with only one having a bit of tan-colored scaley stuff on the ground electrode. The center electrodes, though--oh, my. They were all nearly burnt down to the insulator. No WONDER the thing has been running rough and hard to start in the cold!

In with the new set (actually, these are done one at a time to keep junk from blowing into the cylinders) and after a bit of a brain cloud with the screw-on tips (which weren't needed with the type of wires I had) that caused me to have to REMOVE all the little screw-on tips, the wires were all snapped on, and the engine cranked to life. Again, there was that slight mishap with the bobbling distributor cap, but after that was squared away, things worked just like they should.

And I have to say, Catherine was a great help through the whole process. She even got to wear her own pair of blue nitrile gloves to keep her hands clean, which she thought was super keen. She would fetch tools for me and throw boxes away, and was kind enough to go get my shop manual so I could remember the proper firing order, (1-3-4-2, by the way), and asked what this was, and that was, and what those were, and generally hung around far longer than I ever thought she would. Of course, she's still a kid, so as her attention wandered, she went and bothered the cat for a while.

SO, time for a test drive, and LUNCH.

Cleaned up, gathered her up and off we went. Now I might be full of wishful thinking, but ol' Järn felt like a brand new car--well, almost. But a lot more peppy and without the shakiness at idle he'd had before. So, that turned out just fine.

After a nice lunch with my sidekick and a brisk round of rock-skipping and Pooh Sticks, we had one more stop to make. Luckily, Catherine was tired and ready for a stop in all the fun, because we spent the next HOUR waiting at the Express Oil Change for them to do a radiator flush. Another task that's been on hold since I bought the car, even despite the dire warnings of the previous owner that it was time to have it done. And it is important. I'd just not gotten around to it. And despite knowing how to do it myself, I wanted someone else to do it, simply because it's messy and tiresome and I didn't want to fool with it.

I also didn't realize it was going to take an hour, though, but that's okay, because now there's one more thing on my To-Do list over there on the sidebar!

So, that there's what all has been done of late--check back in a few days and we'll see how the mileage does.


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