Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Engine Issues for the Teal Terror

Yes, that's the Teal Terror and trailer on a trailer. We had some engine problems on the way up to the 2016 NW Overland Rally, and it turns out, it wasn't able to make the return trip back to Portland under its own power. Thank God for good friends who have 30-ft trailers and are willing to drive 12 hours to get your broke-down ass. 

So what happened?

Here's what happened: There's hardly any power below 3,000 RPM. This means starting from a dead stop—especially on an incline—is difficult. We found this out while in rush hour traffic on the way to the event. However, once we were on the open road, it wasn't too bad. Lacking in power? Yes. Terrible? No. 

As you may have read, the Teal Terror's engine has been weak as of late. However, before leaving for the NW Overland Rally, I took it and our trailer for a shake-down run. Yes, it was slow, yes it was low on power, but it wasn't so bad that we weren't going to take it on the 600 mile trek to Plain, Washington and back. I knew we'd be slow goin' to get there, so we left Wednesday afternoon instead of Thursday morning, but we didn't really anticipate the engine would be as bad as it was. 

We said a prayer to the Gods of Internal Combustion and headed out. Interstate 5 was stop-and-go, which sucked. Once we got onto Interstate 84 things opened up. Amazingly, we happened to run into Jen and Jared from The Pioneering Spirit blog in their diesel-powered Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. We'd met them before, and Mercedes messaged them on Facebook to see if they were going to the event. They were. We then asked if they'd go in front of us to act as a windbreak for us in the breezy gorge, and they did. We could now easily do 60 MPH.

We stopped for gas in Biggs, Oregon and the Suzuki was certainly low on power, but again, nothing that was a game changer. From there, we headed north up the hills on HWY 97. These are steep hills; long slogs up the Columbia River Gorge walls. Things were going very slowly. In fact, I looked down at the temperature gauge and noticed it was actually creeping up to the hot level. In five years of owning the Teal Terror, I'd never seen the gauge go past the halfway mark. (Hey, it works after all!) We blasted the heater, which took the temperature down. 

As we ascended the multitude of hills on the way past Goldendale and eventually into Toppenish, Washington, we could feel the power being robbed from our small-displacement Suzuki. We stopped for for grub. After eating, pulling back out onto the freeway was agonizing and nerve wracking.

Nevertheless, our vehicles pushed on as we ascended the passes outside of Yakima, Washington. With the flashers on, I had to keep my foot to the floor in second gear to go 35 MPH. This isn't good. Plus, the heater is on full bore to keep the engine temps down, which thankfully worked.

We left Interstate 82 and pulled into a gas station outside of Ellensburg, Washington and the engine dies. Not good. We fuel up, and the truck's engine will hardly run; I mean, it'll hardly even idle. I put my foot to the floor and it nearly dies. However, there's no check-engine light, only a stumbling engine. Every time I let the clutch out, I have to fight for any power to get the Teal Terror in motion. Jen and Jared let us go first to set the pace.

We slowly climb the on ramp to Interstate 82, only to have to come to a quick stop due to construction. I simultaneously apply the brakes and stab the throttle in order to both come to a stop and keep the engine running. 

Once back on the open road, we're now mostly driving in third gear to go 55 MPH, and we take the exit for Ellensburg. We pull into the next gas station and the engine dies. I restart it, and it's stumbling, barely able to function. The check engine light comes on. Being the engine is OBDI, I grab my paperclip and jump terminals two and four in the diagnostic port under the hood. The CEL flashes code 13: O2 sensor. 

At this point, we're only 70 miles from the Rally spot and it's getting dark. We might as well push on, albeit, slowly. Short-term plan: get there. Long term plan: get home. 

There is no stopping. If we stop and the engine dies, we might not get it started again. If there's a stop sign, we're rolling through it. If there's traffic, we'll figure it out. Oh yeah—and that check engine light? It magically turns itself off since, you know, the truck is working so wonderfully. 

We turn down the narrow, twisty road that runs in to Plain, WA hardly able to run on our own power. We're downshifting into first gear to keep the engine revs up so we can have the power to ascend even the smallest of hills. Thank God, the event field is in sight. We come to an opening, and nearly come to a stop, and find out we actually have to go down to the next gate. We stop. The engine dies. We're only 100 ft.  from where we need to turn. Now the engine won't start. It's so tired. I'm so tired.

We do get it started, and with my foot to the floor, the engine bogs. It stumbles and spits. I let off and gently open up the throttle, and it begins to slowly rev. I shift into low-range and pop the clutch once the revs hit 3,000. We make the corner into the empty event field (we showed up the night before) and find a place to break down for the night. 

The next morning we're able to limp the truck to our vendor location for the show. We make social media updates letting people know we stumbled into town. That day, many of our friends and followers hear we had engine problems. The outpouring of support was tremendous. We had offers to look at the truck, to house the truck for the weekend while we found a way to get it home, and multiple options to have the truck brought back to Portland. Good friends are invaluable. 

During the two-and-a-half-day show (more on that later), everyone gave me their two cents on what was wrong. I wish I'd kept score of all of the ideas: Plugged catalytic converter, throttle position sensor, oxygen sensor, dirty mass airflow meter, air leaks, vacuum leaks, bad cap and rotor, and the list goes on. Honestly, I was happy to hear every opinion and hoped to find that ah-ha silver bullet that'd get us running right again. 

At the suggestion of several gearheads, I advanced the timing significantly and that did return a small portion of the power; enough that it'd stay running, but the truck still bogged down at wide-open throttle. This thing wasn't going to be driving home on its own power.

On Sunday, my friend and co-worker, Kalani, and his wife came up from Portland with their diesel Silverado and 30-ft. trailer and towed our asses back to Portland. Much appreciated. Much needed. We get home, offload the truck, and drive about three blocks to our house in low range.

So now begins the actual hunt for the problem. Scott and I ran a compression test last night, and the numbers are still low; actually a bit lower than two weeks ago. But why? Rings? Valves? Timing? If I had to guess, I'm going to say timing. These engines are known to have issues with the keyway on the crankshaft that allows the timing gear on the crankshaft to skip a tooth, sending your idle, performance, and fuel economy off of a veritable cliff. But to verify this, I'll need to pull off the crank pulley, timing cover, and access the timing gear. 

We'll keep you updated on the Teal Terror's health, so stay tuned for further updates.