On commutes

Big update! 56k beware!

Now that summer is coming, it’s time to finish the heater install! :v:

Before, the heater intake was just underneath the bed. It took a long, LONG time, but I finally got the right size intake duct tubing in the mail (seriously, it came from Turkey, and took 3 months). This means I could plumb the heater intake into the passenger cabin so it can re-heat the air, and circulate it around. Without that, it was possible it was pulling cold outside air in, greatly reducing efficiency.



Hole cut and filed for the intake grate.


I also “installed” the spare spark plug holder. Couldn’t really find a better spot, and it works.


And now, a change of pace. I’m going to skip over a lot of the interpersonal life stuff, but in a nutshell, my daily commute moved from 18 miles over mostly surface streets, to 30 miles over mostly freeway. The past three weeks or so, I’d been driving the bus to work on the freeway. It was miserable. The way home at night was better, because I get off of work after midnight. However, the way to work in heavy, fast-moving traffic was nerve-wracking with only 60 horsepower and the aerodynamics of a brick.

My state tax refund came in, so I started looking at Craigslist pretty heavily. I had four requirements for whatever vehicle I would eventually purchase:

1: It had to have enough power to be “comfortable” on the freeway.
2: It had to have noticeably better fuel economy than the bus (17/17, city/highway)
3: Parts needed to be cheap in the event of repairs
4: It needed to be known for reliability, at least in general

For a few days I was hung up on a Lexus LS400. They are known to be big, V8, reliable monsters, that can occasionally hit more than a million (!) miles on their original engines/transmissions. In addition, they could be found relatively cheaply.

Unfortunately, even the youngest of the LS400 fleet are over 20 years old. Even the best-engineered vehicles start nickle-and-diming you to death with rubber and plastic components after 20.

But, the LS400 did give me ideas about another mass-produced, highway-eater car. One that would have cheap parts available indefinitely due to its widespread use. And, after only a day of searching, I found what looked to be the perfect one:



That’s right, I bought a Crown Vic. 2008 to be precise. 154k miles, and no back seat, but otherwise in what looked like good nick. Sure, the paint is chipping pretty much everywhere, it had a cataract, and the hour meter says it’s been in park or neutral for over 4100 (!) hours, but it is a fleet vehicle and hopefully had been maintained pretty well. And it has A/C! Oh, A/C, how I’ve missed your sweet, cooling breeze.

I bought it for a hair under $2k, and then promptly spent $200 on registration, $220 on parts, and $50 on gas. But, it was mine. Thankfully, it also came with a Class III (even though the platform is only Class II rated) tow hitch installed. I immediately put it to work rescuing the last thing I had left at my old house, the Enfield.


The Enfield hasn’t run for over two years. Dead battery (even with the CTEK tender), and gnarly blow-by issues (probably needs new rings and a hone, or even a new piston). But I just couldn’t leave it behind.

So, today, I went to a Walmart and bought a trailer wiring kit, installed it, and headed to Uhaul to get their cheapest, smallest trailer.


Loaded up with only the finest $10 for 4 Harbor Freight ratchet straps (it was all I had)


After I got back from returning the trailer, the package with my new headlamps had arrived. I only bought them, from Ebay, 40 hours prior! Things really move fast nowadays, and living in a central shipping warehouse city helps a lot. They may only last a year or two before they oxidize, but at least they’ll hopefully do it at the same rate as each other.



I even bought the stupid (but, turns out, pretty much required) $13 headlight adjustment tool so I could go out that night (tonight) and aim them properly.



And then, of course, I took a few beauty shots. Wouldn’t be a true Panther platform owner without gratuitous, badly-lit photos!


I even “fixed” the wiring for the spotlight. Well, less “fix” and more “jiggle things about a lot and spray Deoxit! in all the crevices until it worked.” But still.

After doing the headlights, and letting the engine cool a bit, it was time to tackle some basic maintenance. There’s a reason the SomethingAwful thread for the Panther platform is called, “Live Axles and Dead Coils.” The Coil-On-Plug (COP, no pun intended) coils tend to go bad after what seems to be 100k or so. The car drove fine for me 90% of the time, but if I had it in Drive, idling with my foot on the brake, the engine would miss and stumble if I turned the A/C on. Turning the A/C on causes additional engine load, and it may have been just enough stress for some intermittently-faulty coils to start misfiring.

I would live with misfiring if it didn’t eventually mean I’d damage the (expensive) catalytic converters, so I spent $50 (marked down from, allegedly, $325) for a box of eight new coils. I also grabbed some new platinum-tip spark plugs.

Four hours and eight bloody knuckles later, and I had the plugs and coils switched out.


The old coils:

And the old plugs:

Three of the plugs, the three closest to the firewall on the passenger side, had oil in the threads :ohdear:. The tips weren’t oil-fouled, as shown in the picture, but maybe that’s something I should keep an eye on. The oil level was half a quart low when I got the car, too.

I also bought an FM Modulator (not a transmitter, strictly speaking) that jacks in-between the radio antenna and the headunit. This lets you add an aux port to pretty much any stereo. I don’t see anything particularly wrong with the stock Ford headunit, so I thought this would be a good, cost-conscious compromise until I get a bug up my ass (and money back in my bank account) and finally decide to replace it with something else. I really just listen to podcasts (shout out to Reply All and The Dollop!), along with occasional NPR. Except for maybe a subwoofer in the future, this is all I really need. Though, it is weird that the 45-year-old Volkswagen bus has a better, bluetooth-enabled stereo and sound system than a 2008 Crown Victoria. :shrug:




Today was a busy, good day.

On doubling down


No furniture yet (see genchat for personal BS updates), but the first thing I got running was the 3D printer:


Time to rip out the old single centermount progressive carburetor. It served me well as a stopgap, but I’m tired of 13MPG and it running like shit when cold.

However, the new dual-mount carb setup (that arrived one day before I had to move) didn’t come with a tee for the brake booster vacuum line. Since I had already started disassembling the bus for the swap, I had to make do with the tools I had on hand.





And installed:



This is the Dual 40mm Kadron (Brosol) carb setup from lowbugget.com . They take the carbs they can find in kits, bush them (most EMPI carbs etc don’t come with bushings on the throttle shafts, etc), mill the mating surfaces flat, drill and tap for vacuum advance, re-jet them for your particular application, and file out and fix the fuel spray holes.

A stock 40mm Kadron kit costs around $300-400 from various sources, and these from LowBugget cost me $750. That’s a lot of money, and it took them FIVE weeks to make, but so far they seem worth it. Even with minimal “tuning” (balancing by ear, not with a gauge just to run up the street), they’re already better than anything else I’ve ever had. I’ll update later with MPG numbers.

When I ordered, he asked me my engine size, whether or not I needed to pass emissions, my load (do I tow / run a camper / daily runabout / street racer / etc), driving style, and a bunch of other questions.

On idioms pt II

Kicked up on the curb, so I have a little more room when underneath.



The driver’s side is/was technically worse. The foam is overspray from when I did the interior sealing and insulating last year.




Ripped some of the foam out (so it won’t get in the way / be on the other side of things I’m welding), and broke out the other KLOKKERHOLM EINSTIEGBLECH, INNERER TEIL.


This is the “easy” version, and was pre-cut for clearances.



Again, the magic of welding




Covered in weld-through primer



And, I went a bit crazy covering the bondoed areas.


Not pictured: I did some more welding on the passenger side, ground down the welds a bunch, and used a veritable metric ton of seam sealer to cover up all of my shame.

On idioms

“A grinder and paint make me the welder I ain’t.”

The bus technically doesn’t have a passenger side sill plate. Way back when I first got the bus, you saw me [badly] weld a driver’s side outer sill on. I still have the inner sill to go on the driver’s side, but welding upside-down sucks so much that I’ve put it off. The bus clearly sat on the wet ground for awhile with no axles in place, because the only rust on the bus is right where it would have contacted the dirt. Rest of the body? Solid. Bottom 2-4 inches (in places)? Holy shit. Time to continue fixing that.

The sliding door seal is a square piece of rubber, that goes in four channels around the door opening. The bottom channel is actually a part of the sill plate, which had been MIA since I bought the thing:



Inside view:




That front jacking point isn’t looking too hot, either:
(I’ll have to fix that later, when money eventually pokes its head again. Maybe next tax season?)

The PO (previous owner) had already started on the passenger side. This is the piece near the rear passenger wheel. It looks riveted on, which scares me a bit, but nothing I can do about it right now.



Now, the outer rocker panel, that holds the door seal and is the part that you see, is one solid piece. I only had to trim the end length a bit. The inner rocker panel, however, has to be trimmed and cut around where the frame rails intersect it. They sell pre-trimmed inner rocker pieces, but they generally cost more, and are difficult to find sometimes. Only the driver’s side was available trimmed when I purchased this metal, so I used it as a kind of “mirrored template” for the passenger side piece, and cut the corresponding holes out of the passenger side with an angle grinder. In this pictures, you can see both the inner (notched) and outer (smaller, straight) rocker pieces.


After a lot of fettling and bending and hammering, I have the outer one mocked up in place with a few sets of vice grips.

Okay, there’s about 2-3 hours missing here. I’ll describe what I did: I tacked the outer rocker panel on, hammered it into place a bit more, cut away some/most of the rotted inner rocker panel, test-fit and trimmed the inner panel some more (this was about a full hour of it), tacked the inner panel in place, and then finally spent about 45 minutes just tacking the pieces together with my shitty buzzbox welder and nonexistent welder skills. Somewhere in the middle, I broke an LED light bulb in my work light, and got UV-burns on my arms.

I think I’m going to need about 2…gallons of seam sealer. Prepare your souls for what you’re about to see.





Welders are magic. They allow me, a random average Joe off of the street, to transform metal, electricity, and time into a complete scrapheap, effortlessly. What a time to be alive!

Oh and then the sun fell and I finally fit the door seal, the whole reason for today’s adventure. But whatever.



The side door seal I fit today is a genuine German-made seal, that cost around $60-70. The seals I fit on the doors last weekend were aftermarket Brazilian door seals, which were $50 for the set of 2.

Buy the genuine German stuff. Sometimes — and I hate to say this — but the German-worshipping greybeards on TheSamba are right. Like a broken clock, but sometimes yes.

On 3D Printer Upgrades (for more bus parts!)

I think this fits here, as I 3D print so many parts on the bus.

After doing the door seals, I checked the mail and noticed that the upgrade parts for my 3D printer have come in. It’s a Rostock Max V2 that I built from a kit (but have upgraded heavily since, with different stepper motors, different hotends, filament rollers, arm tensioners, sealed bearings, custom firmware tweaks, etc etc) in 2013.

SeeMeCNC has updated a lot of parts along the way, including professional versions of community fixes, as well as updates of their own. Since I sold the beetle recently, I had a little spare scratch, and ordered most of the upgrade parts.

The printer as it was this morning (moved to my desk, which has the living room TV on it, for access)


PEI sheet:

E3D V6 hotend, with custom connector for removal and repair

Starting construction on the new hotend. This is the HE280, which has a built-in accelerometer probe that detects when the hotend touches the print bed. This is used with a script for auto-leveling and mesh bed adjustment.


Working with the guide right there.

Thermistor and heater wires soldered in. The reason the thermistor and heater are soldered to the PCB on the hotend itself, instead of run with wires all the way back to the RAMBo control board, is that the hotend communicates via i2c (“eye squared see”, according to James Bruton on YT – I’ve never used it before) with the control board, and just has a big power wire run to it. This reduces the number of wires that would have to run back to the board, and means you don’t have to add any additional ones if you’re upgrading. A huge boon, because removing the vertical aluminum arms is a pain in the dick.


Fan sockets soldered, pcb mount screwed on.

You can use the new hotend with the old U-joint arms, or the new ball-socket arms. I also ordered new ball socket arms, so I assembled the end effector platform with that option.

Add three fans, and screw it all together.



With the hotend assembled, it’s time to remove the old “cheapskate” roller carriages, and the old hotend.

Then, assembly begins on the new cheapskate carraiges. These are injection molded instead of 2 sheets of heavy MDF board. This reduces movement weight of the arms, which does two things: it lets you print faster, and it reduces “ringing” in the prints, where a movement back-and forth (like when the hotend is “turning a corner” on a box-shaped print) resonates through the structure, causing print defects.

First step is to put the bearing covers on. These just press onto both sides of each bearing.


Then, the carriages themselves


These get mounted to the vertical towers with a few screws, and some nifty belt tensioners. No more allen key required to loosen the tensioner, it’s two black plastic pieces (one for the top, and one for the lower, belt ends) that you can pop open with a flathead screwdriver.



Mounting the arms is easy. You just snap them on the ball joints, making sure to put the new white nylon “tensioner springs” in the slots on the arms. The arms themselves are glass fiber-reinforced nylon. I don’t know the percentage (no maker’s marks) but I can feel the glass fibers if I draw a knife tip across the plastic.



Then comes wiring. I won’t get into it here, just mainly picture dump. You need to follow the guide for your particular setup. The only thing I need to say (for those of us with V2s, upgrading) is that the Y-axis stepper motor connector needs to be reversed. The new firmware is set up to invert the Y-axis stepper, I think to reduce crosstalk and interference between movements, and issues it can cause with the auto-calibration script. There are two ways to do this: if you have non-polarized plugs like I do, you simply flip the connector upside-down. If you have polarized connectors, you can either shave off the polarization clip to allow you to plug it in upside-down, or you need to go into configuration.h before you upload the upgraded firmware, and set INVERT_Y to “FALSE.”

Picture showing the stepper motor connections. Note that the “Y” stepper, in the middle, isn’t inverted yet (the wires are in the same order as X and Z)

Wiring in the lid:





RAMBo board before removal:

Board back in:

Calibrating extrusion steps (how many “steps” in motor revolution per mm of extrustion)


On my first calibration run, where the extruder comes down and taps the plate, I noticed it was skipping across a few of the taps, squashing into the bed. I installed a few clip-on ferrite beads, like in this video. However, to reduce hotend weight, I didn’t install them at the hotend itself. I put one in the lid, on the power wires running to the extruder. I also put one right next to the connector on the RAMBo board, on the same wire. Also, since I have a box of like fifty of them, I put one on the i2c communication line. You may notice in earlier pictures you can see one or two of them on some wires in the lid – those are ineffective, and I’m using them simply for weights to help in wire management. For a ferrite bead to work best, you should wrap the wires at least one turn around the bead, and run them through again. That’s why I buy clip-on beads instead of standard ones like in the video, because you can install them without unplugging anything or removing connector wires.

Even after only one print, using the same gcode file (in particular, the one for my Alternator Adjustment Bolt Cover), the quality is through the roof. The arms are much sturdier, the movement is quieter (new firmware adjustments), and everything is smoother. The photo above doesn’t do anything justice, as that was during extrustion calibration. It was over-extruding, and that photo was with some carbon fiber-reinforced filament, which is always blobby on the first layer for me. I’m extremely happy.

All-in-all, you could do all the upgrades in maybe 3 hours. I was watching Netflix and texting a bunch, so it took me maybe 4 or 5 total.

On ease of use

e: ^^^^ It’s probably long enough that it hit the wheel itself and bent over, maybe? I honestly think it’s sabotage – one of my neighbors’ ex-wives comes over randomly between 2 and 6 month increments, and randomly breaks shit. She’s the one that slashed the tires on my beetle, broke the window to the bus out, pulled boards from my fence, etc etc. I refrain to type anything out that indicates my attitude towards her 2 AM drunken hispanic yelling and vandalism.

Had some dental work done this morning (only took 18 months from my deployment to get that through – Thanks, Army!), so I can’t do anything too intense or I get mad pounding in my teeth and jaw. No welding or lifting, etc.

So, I replaced the front door seals. Not much to type. Pull old seals, clean up channels, put some glue in the channels (using black RTV/Window Sealant), install new seals and trim to fit. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.













Bonus! Now, pulling the interior handle causes the door to pop out. Before, the seals were crushed, so you had to pull the handle then elbow the door open.

On superstitions

WELP! In my last post, I typed the words:

spare tire

…which means life saw fit to let me catch a nail on the way home from work this morning.

Nail head


Bulge right alongside (parallel with) the nail head.


I don’t park anywhere near any curbs during ANY of my driving, so I’m wondering if the bulge is from the nail just coincidentally cutting a band? These are poly band tires. Since my spare tire is a 2014 semi-offroad-style tire from a different brand, it has a larger diameter than the Hankooks I’m running. To avoid differential and transmission damage by having mismatched size rear tires, I put the spare on the front driver’s side, and rotated the front tires to the rear. Thankfully they have less than 4k on them, so wear is minimal between the other three, in case something else happens before my new tire comes from Amazon. Also, Amazon delivers tires with free shipping! Holy shit!

Checking the front brake disc while I have the wheel off:

(not a crack, a scratch from my screwdriver)

Pads are still super thick. Almost no wear! Which is surprising, considering they’re the size of milk bottle caps.

Spare on.



Kinda wish I had bought four of these Douglas tires, but they don’t make them anymore :smith:

I didn’t even notice the nail or bulge on the way home (glad I took surface streets :stare:). I had gotten underneath the car to use the last few free hours I have this weekend to track down and hopefully quell some oil leaks.

The push rod tubes that the new engine came with were used, and had been painted. In addition, while they had used the high-temperature Viton seals on the head sides of the tubes, they had used standard buna-n rubber on the engine block side. Both sides have been leaking, since new, from multiple push rod tubes. By far the worst ones were/are the driver’s side, and I was hoping to tackle those today. I found an ebay listing for eight tubes with accompanying (allegedly) Viton seals, for around $65. That seems expensive, but the tubes usually sell for around $12 apiece, and seals $4 each (with two seals per tube). So, a steal for some shiny new galvanized tubes.


While the oil leaks on the new engine are NOTHING in comparison to the old one, it still was seeping down in places, but only when the engine was running. This makes sense, as the push rod tubes are above the level of oil when the engine is off, and only have oil running through them when the engine is on and oiling the valvetrain.


You can see the build-up of burned oil on the driver’s side exhaust manifold


Now, this is something I’m not proud of. One push rod tube in particular has/had been leaking worse than the rest. I had pulled it once before, RTV’d it up, and then slathered a TON of RTV on the outside, at both ends. I regretted this today, as I had to clean all of that shit off. Despite that, after maybe two weeks, the oil seeped right through. I only bought myself some time.



So, off comes the valve covers, and the rocker arms.

Then, the push rods, and the push rod tubes. I used the old push rod tubes to keep the rods themselves organized. They have to go back exactly where they came from, in the correct orientation, as the push rods wear on the rocker arms and hydraulic adjusters together, and you don’t want to start that process over.

Push rod tubes out, two at a time (so I had a lower chance of mixing up the rods, only two on the paper towel at once instead of four).


The seals go on the ends of the tubes, and you slather it all in a high(er) temp grease. All I have is a can of red lithium grease, and I’ve read it’s safe for Viton seals, so that’s what I used.

Tubes in (you can see the excess grease squeezed out)


And all four on the driver’s side done.

The passenger side push rod tubes were/are mostly all good. One or two of the seals is very slowly weeping, but not enough to leave even a stain on the exhaust below. For now, I’m leaving well enough alone and saving the other four new ones for later.

In this photo, the rear of the bus is to the right. You can see the engine mount “mustache bar” (two bolts without nuts sticking straight down out of it) is COVERED in oil. Called that because it looks, well, like a mustache when removed.

For spatial reference, it’s the grey bar to the right, almost touching, the orange oil filter in this photo:

Just rearward of that bar itself is the fan shroud, which also has a lot of oil dripping out of it:

Here’s a picture looking UP. The mustache bar is at the top of the photo, the bulk of the shroud is at the bottom, out of frame. This is the flange on the fan shroud that bolts to the engine and surrounds the fan seal mounting.
(notice the oil)

Seeing the oil in the fan shroud, dripping down all over the mustache bar, I assumed that the fan seal itself had failed. It was pre-installed by the engine builders, and there’s always a chance my fan hub (that the seal mates to) was scratched, or I got some dirt in there, or the seal itself was cheap (as evidenced by a lot of other things on the bus). So, I took the red fan off, and looked at the fan hub, expecting to see oil everywhere, streaming down the face of the engine.


Well…huh. Not really any oil there. A few spatters, sure, but definitely not a failed fan hub seal. I even spent $10 on a new one, and had it ready to go! :argh:

The area behind the fan has a few “oil galley” plugs. This is a photo of a lot of them. You can see that I’ve “peened” a few of them, and the traditionally bad-for-leaking culprits were drilled out and tapped with threaded plugs by the engine builders. Behind the galley plugs is oil at (when cold) 100+ PSI, so if these fail, it’s usually “bye-bye engine” if you don’t catch it immediately. However, nothing really to note.


Even the oil pump, pictured here with the “VW” logo and “3f” markings, usually a big leaker if installed improperly, was bone-dry.

Now, the fan itself definitely did have oil streaks on it, going centrally outwards, so it has an oil leak behind it. It turns out, after doing some reading on TheSamba and similar, that a lot of people put thread sealant compound behind that big washer in the center of the fan hub, and on the underside of that flanged bolt. I guess that some cranks (the fan bolts directly to the crank) can have oil walk up through the center, and come out behind that big washer and get flung outwards. My fan was filthy with oil, so I pulled that big bolt and washer off, and saw this:

No pictures because the light was fading, but I cleaned up both sides of the washer (and hub mating surface) with a razor and brake cleaner, and used some Permatex thread sealant on everything. You’re supposed to wait 24 hours for curing, but I had to move the bus off of the street and park it in the parking lot. We’ll see if this is the fix. I was losing barely enough oil to notice between changes, but it was dripping down all over the exhaust and causing smoking after a freeway run, or after parking. Especially noticeable at night, and made a bad smell.