Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Persistent Project Car Problems


The Teal Terror, aka, project Suzuki Sidekick, has been a bit of a pain in the ass lately. I think it might be angry. It seems as if there is something that's been going on with it. Bad juju, gemlins, crappy luck—I don't really know what it is—but it seems like there's been one thing after another. None of them has been terribly bad, just annoying. Why do I have a feeling this is going to end up costing a lot to fix at some point? Let's hope not.

It started out a few weeks ago when we went camping with our Dinoot trailer. We ended up going down some extremely washboarded roads that shook the living hell out of the truck. While not optimal, it was mostly just uncomfortable. However, upon reaching our campsite, the dreaded CEL (check-engine light) reared its ugly glowing red head. Being a 1995, the Sidekick is still OBD1 and doesn't require a code reader to check the problem. All you need is a wire to jump two spots in the data port, and you can read the code—if you have the wire and a way to know what several blinking lights on the dashboard mean. Being OBD1, it's also easy to reset the CEL, which is what I did. And yes, it stayed off for a week or so. More on that in a bit.

After we got back and found out Mercedes had walking pneumonia, we also noticed some sort of noisy-ass clacking sound from what appears to be the transmission. is it the throw-out bearing? Is it the pilot bearing? Is it a fork in the clutch? Is it aliens? Who knows. You can hear the sound here (starts at about 0:22).

The other issue that came up yet again, is the vibration we get at over 60 MPH. It starts out slight, but as you go faster and faster, the vibration gets worse and worse. Take it over 70 MPH and it feels like you're driving a four-wheeled paint shaker. It's had the bad vibration ever since I got the trucklet. Whether it was stock of lifted, no matter which sets of wheels and tires I've run the vibration is still there. Frankly, it's never gone away, but I decided I wanted to tackle it once and for all. With the wheels, tires, and lift ruled out, I figured it was time to give this car the shaft. Well, actually remove its shaft. Well, actually remove it's rear driveshaft. OK, that doesn't sound as bad ...

I did all the usual tests on the driveshaft to see if the U-joints were bad. They didn't click; they didn't have significant play. So, perhaps the driveshaft just needed to be balanced, which is something that happens every now and then. Luckily, it only takes four bolts to remove the rear driveshaft, so that was off the truck in about 20 minutes. And with the shaft of the truck, it seemed the U-joints were fine.

I took the shaft over to Six States Distributors in Portland, which has a driveline shop that nearly everyone seems to recommend. When I brought it in, Ken, who runs the driveline shop, said it felt as if the U-joints may need to be replaced (he even showed me how there was actually some side-to-side play), but he'd have it done in a week. And true to his word, it was done when he said it would. The shaft was freshly painted with new U-joints, complete with zerk fittings. Hopefully this would fix the vibration.

The next day I re-installed the driveshaft, took to the Interstate, and got the Sidekick up to 60, then 65, then 70—the vibration was still there! How totally frustrating! That's the bad news. The good news is that the U-joints needed to be replaced anyhow. However, the vibration persists. Now that I'd eliminated these variables, it could be a host of other things to chase: axle flanges, motor/trans mounts, bearings—who knows. Honestly, the next step is to put the rear on jack stands, take off the wheels and drums, and watch the rotation of the axles to see if the flanges are out of whack. I've had more than one person bet me money that this is the case.

At least the truck was drivable again, however. I decided to take it to work. Guess what happens next? The CEL comes back on! GAH!

I get the truck home and check the codes. With my trusty wire in hand, I jump ports two and three on the data plug, and the CEL flashes quickly four times, then slowly four times. This means code 44. Unexpectedly, it then flashes quickly five times and once slowly. Code 51. While I wasn't expecting two codes, I figured one of them would be related to the EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) valve—a common problem with these vehicles. I wasn't expecting code 44—idle switch error. What that hell is an idle switch?

I reset the truck's computer (which can be easily done by removing the fuse for the dome light/taillights/running lights/and ECU—yes, they're all on the same fuse), which cleared the code.

Upon researching, the idle control switch is part of the TPS, or throttle position sensor. This is the little sensor that is part of the engine's throttle body that reports the position of the throttle to the computer and helps with air/fuel mixtures. I'd always had a rough idle, a stumble, and a hesitation. I wonder if this could be it?

Scott, who is much better at electrical stuff than I am, came over to show me how to check the TPS with a multimeter, which is a fairly involved process—I'm glad he could help. It turns out that the TPS was out of spec by quite a bit. We adjusted the TPS (something I didn't even know you could do), and got it within tolerances. After a quick test drive, the hesitation and rough idle seemed to be much better than before, but the throttle is either on or off, which is only accentuated by the fact I have an automatic locking differential that has a lot of driveline slop. Without geeking out too much (is it too late?), the locking diff creates a lot of slop in the rear driveshaft and it feels worse now.

The good news? The CEL is still off and we're going to dial in the TPS to (hopefully) take care of the throttle response. I still need to track down the vibration in the driveline. I also still don't know what the clutch noise is. The truck is still driveable, and I need it to be with the 2015 Northwest Overland Rally coming up in a couple weeks, as well as a hopefully epic trip to Colorado in the Sidekick in August.

So perhaps the takeaway here is that project cars are precicely that: projects. I will say, I have learned a hell of a lot with this vehicle, and with the way things are going, I'll be learning a lot more. 

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