Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
2005-04-11
  Hidden in the folds of combinations
Troubleshooting is hard to begin with, but there's lots of ways to make it harder. Looking in the wrong place is always good, especially when you know the problem isn't where it is (or is where it isn't). But sometimes the trouble is more troublesome, like with my car.

1990 laser Maybe its because the car is 15 years old, or maybe its just from the abuse I give it, but my car needs repairs on a pretty regular basis. This time I managed to accumulate a number of problem, which gave the mechanic quite a hard time.

My previous regular mechanic had retired a while back, and the last garage that worked on it hadn't done that good a job, so I was still hunting around for a good one. Based on a friend's recommendation, I ended up over at Larry Hobbs' place. Poor him, he was in for some trouble.

Working on a strange system is always a challenge, but in this case, that was the least of his troubles. Instead of chasing one fault, he was chasing three (and all three faults were intermittent faults as well-the worst kind). It got so bad that at one point he called me up and told me that my car was cursed. He didn't want to look at the thing any more, so I better come get it, or he was going to shoot it. My car can affect people like that.

I didn't drive it much for a while, the weather wasn't that good and a laser isn't really a snow car; so it mostly sat around for a few months. I took it to the airport for travelling (which works fine, since it sits around for several days before I try to start it again), and I got back home just fine, but of course I left the door ajar and then ran down the batteries. So, eventually I hooked up the charger, fixed things up, and took it for a spin.

At first it worked pretty well. Maybe the charge helped, or maybe I was imagining things, but it was going ok until I stopped over at my parent's house, and parked in the driveway. Then it wouldn't start, at all. Some how, after rolling backwards down the driveway, turning around, and stuttering down the hill under the power of the starter & gravity, I somehow annoyed the electronics enough that it started for me and I made it home. Not willing to let a sleeping dog lie, I again took it out the following week and at every stop, it wouldn't restart right away, and only got me to my next stop after much cajoling & abuse.

This turned out to be real progress, because as any software engineer knows, an intermittent problem is much harder to find than a consistent one. So I waited a little while longer, then called up the mechanic to let him know the good news. After some convincing, he finally agreed to take another look.

After some more poking and prodding, he had finally discovered three separate problems which he believed were responsible for the trouble. Unfortunately, the solutions are turning out to be even a bigger problem.

So I now have a new mass flow sensor, fuel pump, and ignition security relay; the sensor malfunction was leading to serious confusion on the part of the injector routines and was causing hesitation, while the low pressure from the old fuel pump was starving the engine at higher RPMs. Larry was hoping the relay replacement would fix the starting problem, but no such luck.

Unfortunately its pretty hard to get parts for old cars, which is a shame. First it was trouble getting parts for my 77 chevy, now its a 1990 thats entering the twilight zone between mainstream and vintage. Once I find the electrical manuals, we're going to see if we can hotwire this thing, or else it may be time to start working on that electric conversion.

Here's hoping.

 
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Life in the middle of nowhere, remote programming to try and support it, startups, children, and some tinkering when I get a chance.

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Feb '04
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Mar '04
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Apr '04
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May '04
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How to play with your kids

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