Monday, June 10, 2013

The Ongoing Saga of My Car: idle air control valve

A red Neon by a Norwegian fiord. (Matti Paaviola. Wiki.)

The ongoing saga of my car has been an interesting one. Within two weeks of buying it, I had some trouble getting it into reverse.
I only paid $1,900 for it, and there was a kind of characteristic whine to the transmission, which I never noticed until the weather warmed up and I was driving with the window open. A rebuilt transmission would cost a hell of a lot of money.
She has a heck of a ka-chunk from somewhere underneath when I let the clutch out, too. It’s part of the mystique or something.
Within a month I had no reverse at all. I’d just bought the thing. I was pulling up in front of my parking spot and leaving it in neutral. With the engine running I had power steering. So I would push the car back into the spot, turning the wheel with my left hand. In the morning, and it was winter at the time, I would fire it up and just drive away. Around town, I chose my parking spots carefully. I went two month without reverse.
On the internet, I searched the problem. It might not be the transmission. I could get shift cables for $311.00 plus tax. Or I could try simple bushings. On the engine end of the shift cables,  I saw there was definitely a pin sticking up through a big empty hole. The other bushing was crushed but still in place. So I tried the bushings for about $12.00 plus shipping and handling. Voila!
All of a sudden I had reverse again. I felt pretty good about that. Just the cables, plus tax, plus shop rate for labour would have been anything up to six or seven hundred bucks. 
One day I was in Petrolia walking around in the park by the Discovery site. When I got back in the car, I started it up. There was a squealing, squawking noise and I shut her down. Looking under the hood, I saw a belt had come off the front of the engine.
Oh, great. I pulled it out and sure enough the inner part was cracked all over the place. It’s all dried out and ready to break. I got in the car expecting to drive thirty kilometres on a dying battery. I assumed it would start.
Turns out it was the belt for the power steering and the air conditioner—no lights on in the dash or anything. Driving the car without power steering for the first time was a revelation, but my arms are stronger now. When I took it to the garage, they said it would cost $989.00 to put a new plate on the front of the engine. The plate holds a ‘belt tensioner.’ They said it was jammed. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I said no. I drive without power steering or air conditioning now, and hope that other belt holds on for a while.
One day I was driving down the road, enjoying the sunshine. All of a sudden the engine goes. It was spitting and sputtering and running on something less than four cylinders. I pulled into a parking lot and checked under the hood.
Lo and behold, the number one spark plug was missing…just gone. The wire was hanging loose. I took a walk up the street and I couldn’t find that damned plug anywhere. It’s probably jammed in the undercarriage or the exhaust system somewhere. My fault, I probably didn’t torque it up enough when I did a tune-up last September. It took six months to work itself out. I drove across town with three cylinders, bought a single plug for about four bucks and put it in. She runs just fine.
The other day, I noticed that when coming up to an intersection, the revs didn’t drop like they should. It should drop to about 950 rpm, just under a thousand, and it hung up at about 1,500 revs.
The problem persisted, and one time it even stayed at 2,000. One day it dropped all the way to about 600, idling a bit rough, and that was unusual too.
So looking on the internet, I found the most likely cause of the problem. It might be the ‘idle air control valve.’ Looking for parts, I could pay anywhere between $86.00 and $137.00 from U.S. websites. The Canadian price might vary widely as to source, but of course I would call around.
I was on the internet, just trying to find out what the part looked like and where it was located. I stumbled across some guy on Youtube—just another link on a page, right? And he was showing people how to clean an ‘idle air control valve,’ and there was some other guy cleaning a ‘mass air sensor,’ and that caught my eye.
I watched the video. If I can clean it, why buy a new one? The cleaner cost $11.00 and I put it on my credit card. The job took twenty minutes. When I went for a drive, the revs were dropping to about 1,050 rpm. We’ll keep an eye on it.
Also on Youtube, there was a video where they showed how to clean the throttle body on a fuel-injection engine. It’s a big round flapper valve in a tube, a venturi. A rubber hose connects it to the air-box. At idle, the flapper is closed, and a ring of guck can build up around the rim of the valve. This interferes with proper idling. The same type of cleaner is used for this job. When I take the air-box apart to get at it, I’ll take off that other sensor and clean it again.
The internet has saved me hundreds if not thousands of dollars in car repairs. The key is patience, and then looking further, even when you might already have an answer.
One thing I want to do before winter is to put the rear tires, which have plenty of tread, on the font of the car, where the tires have scrubbed down to near-slicks from under-steer and hard driving.
With baldies on the front, secondary roads, when driving in the rain, with their washboard effect and intermittent puddling can lead to an unpleasant snatch-and-grab steering even when you should be going straight. This is due to wheel-spin, and floating around in general, even when you’re just cruising at eighty kilometres an hour.
Without anti-lock brakes, the back end will tend to come out on ice under braking, but going through snow requires grip on the front tires, especially true with front-wheel drive.
There’s still a bit of tread on there and they tend to last longer on the rear of the car.
How to clean mass air sensor. There are a bunch of tutorials on Youtube.


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