My Girl: Gettin' After It!!

My Girl: Gettin' After It!!
My truck on her maiden voyage in Moab 2012

Monday, March 28, 2016

Catch up, clean up.

Just keep breathing. Just keep breathing.

I feel like I've had to keep saying that. I think where we last left off with the blog, I had crushed the radiator and had to be dragged off the mountain and towed home. I was internet famous.

There were then the struggles to pass emissions and most recently a charging control issue that I sincerely hope will be resolved this week when my Mean Green alternator arrives. I downloaded the photos from my phone over the past month or so. I'll just narrate the pictures. It has been a story of pain and some mild triumphs. I'm hoping it all comes together for us in the next few months and that the investments I've recently made have not been for naught.

 Can't remember if I posted about this previously, but I devised a means of attaching my rotopax to the outside of the cap. I wanted to keep the rooftop clear for garage access and to allow me to carry longer items and cargo baskets up top. I've just about given up on the idea of a rear swing out carrier. Added weight, added cost, and one more thing to move out of the way each time I need to access the bed basically are serving to rule it out for me. When I occasionally will have the refrigerator operating beneath the cap, it just seemed like a good idea to have any leaking fuel vapors further away from a potential source of ignition (the compressor cycling on and off).

 This picture reminds me that I had this done before Christmas; so, the setup was in place on the ill-fated January run.

 I got this code maybe a day or two before I wanted to try to go in for inspection. This was on top of the Mass Air Flow code that I periodically get. Something said to run my tester to be sure it was the only code. It wasn't. So I ordered a replacement part that several forum posts seemed to suggest would help alleviate the code. And I went ahead and replaced the MAF as it is pretty straightforward. Instead of waiting for the code to possibly clear out, I forced it clear and then tried to drive to the emissions center. I got a "System not Ready" status and was invited to return again after 7 days. On the 7th day, both codes came back up. I was crushed. At least the MAF should have stayed off. A few days later, I had prepped to do the replacement of the new charcoal canister component. That morning both codes were clear without any intervention from me. I high-tailed it to the inspection center and passed. The part is still in a box on my dresser.

 That was one less barrier to me having a certified vehicle ready for Moab. So I guess I decided to celebrate by jocking Jeepers' style and doing some fender stenciling.

 In February, it was also time to tackle my rear suspension.

 Posted some side-by-side comparisons of the parts coming out and the parts going in.

The one bummer I experienced was that I had cut the U-bolts from the flip-kit to have a few threads exposed above the nut. But now with the new leaf packs, there was only enough thread to go about 1/2 to 3/4 of the way up through the nut. These are some taller nuts, but still, it was a bit disconcerting. So I used them for the time being and promptly ordered another kit. (I have since swapped those in and will carry the short u-bolts as trail spares should the need ever arise).

With the suspension buttoned up in the rear.

 Visiting granny (my mom).
 We got a late season snowfall. It was good to have the truck still in fighting shape. I continued to be a bit tentative following this most recent overheating episode. One of the things I started feeling (or at least becoming hyper sensitive to) was a deep vibration at low idle. So I ordered engine mounts (which I've yet to have a chance to install) and also a fun project to add sand ladders and shovels to the naked side of the cap. Guess which I chose to do.

 Around this time, I also started toying with the idea of outfitting a mobile workshop. I have a generator and a welder, but my welder needs 240V power. The generator can kick out that much, but I was unsure of how much of an in-rush or startup current might be needed and didn't want to risk damaging both units. So instead, I talked with the Mrs about buying a cheaper, portable 120V welder. Not only could it come with me on long trips, it could also be beneficial for taking to friends and relatives who do not have an available 240V circuit if there happen to be light welding needs there. The logic was strong and the purchase was approved. (At least I thought it was. This was a couple of months ago. This past weekend, the recollection of this exchange was a bit hazy on her part.)

 On the way out of the garage, I left the hatch up as shown in the picture...and ended up shearing off the handle as the truck exited. That was a $65 dollar mistake that couldn't be corrected until the next day as the local truck shop I go to for cap accessories is in Waldorf and closes at 5 on Saturday. D'oh!
 Because I'm in and around the city, I don't trust people. So there are some basic cable security latches. A determined thief would defeat them, but at least they'd have to earn their bounty as opposed to casually making off with my gear.
 The Mrs. is trying to get in the spirit. Here's a shirt she picked up, without outside influence, for our little guy to wear.
 As much as I tried to downplay the decal addiction with this latest iteration with the truck, the compulsion has started to reemerge.
 This guy gave me a Jeep wave, which I promptly discussed on our group page once I arrived at work.
 Although I've been very apprehensive to put any more money into the truck following this most recent calamity, I also noticed that my Duratracs had some questionable areas where the sidewall condition was now suspect. They were fine to get me through this most recent bout of winter weather, but I didn't feel I could any longer trust them under the rigors of an aired-down, off road situation.

This then forced the issue of what tire...and size... I should get to replace them. I could stay at 285, knowing that there might be a time where I'd wish I had the extra ground clearance afforded by (nominal) 35" tires. Did I truly want to go full gusto and regear both axles to 4.10 and the whole sh'bang given what I'd been through? Do I know what type of condition the engine is in? Does any of this make any sense anymore?

 Well, I guess I at least satisfactorily answered those questions because I have pictures of new tires. I have been watching tire prices daily for months now. In many of my posts, either here or on the group page, I've discussed my desire to move into 3-ply sidewall tires to ready myself for an eventual trip to the Rubicon. It was my motivation to get the M205 front differential following the debacle in NH. If I really have any aspirations of running that trail, the time for half measures and what-ifs needed to pass. I was also afraid that the relative bargain I was seeing for the new BFG TA K02s might be shortlived. At $205/tire, it was probably the cheapest I could ever hope to obtain a 35" tire purchased new boasting such stellar characteristics. The one thing I was bummed to discover was that the recommended rim size for 315 width tires is an 8" rim. All of my hoarded wheels are 7". I was going to need to buy FIVE new rims with an 8" width. I was not pleased with this realization. But I did it. Because Rubicon. 
The cheapest wheels I could find new on Discount Tire Direct were the Level 8 MK6 in bronze color.  There was limited stock available. I ordered 4, thinking maybe I would find a cheap 5th castoff from somewhere locally. Although, as it turned out, DTD didn't have 4 in stock, they stepped up to the table and sourced them all and had them sent to my door promptly. But then they pulled the option for Bronze down off of their site after I purchased. In hindsight, I wished I had ordered 5. I got to thinking about the scenario where, whilst travelling cross country, if I truly needed a spare to get home, I didn't want to be reliant on some wheel/tire of questionable origin. So I bought a 5th tire and went to get a 5th of the bronze MK6. No issue on getting the tire (I was worried that the promotional price might expire by the end of February- it didn't). However, the next cheapest MK6 was a full $20 more expensive simply for a black wheel instead of a bronze one. That's what you get for trying to be cheap. You always pay more in the end. 

 I missed being able to represent the club. I kinda liked the idea of perhaps looking like an official, quasi-governmental vehicle, but the reality is, I didn't want to be regarded as being in the same vein as those posers that try to get away with stolen valor. I've always liked camo from when I played with GI Joes. And the amount of time I spend in woodlands seemed to justify the patterning. So my truck is clearly for offroad enthusiast purposes and not because I want to pretend to be something I'm not.

Supporting the offroad community
 I had a chance to do a good deed one evening. I'm sitting at my computer as I frequently do, reviewing pricing on things, doing research, and answering questions. I saw a post about someone from the VAXC breaking a CV on a trail. Although I thought it was a long shot that anyone would come way up here, I did remark that I had gotten two from a visit out to Indiana with GLX a year ago that I was no longer going to need. As it turned out, there were no other more local respondents to this guy's inquiry. I was home alone with my son; my wife was working. Although I had never met him before, I said, "If you promise not to try to murder my son and I, you can meet me at our home and I'll cut you the same deal at which I purchased these." He borrowed his brother's 4runner and drove the 90 minutes to my house.

 Now, there were a lot of parts and packages showing up to the house. And that means I had to do some dealing and negotiating with the Mrs. to allow for these things to continue.

Some years ago, before we were married in fact, I had 'earned' this fencing material by providing free labor to a guy to remove the installation from his yard. My 'payment' for ripping out all this stuff was that I could keep it. I had intentions of building a dog run which never manifested. The wife said I couldn't park another thing in the yard until a bunch of the junk started making its way out of the yard.

 And I was looking for permission to snag one of these and park it in our yard. I was able to track down a trailer that was sitting on a Home Depot lot up in New Jersey which allowed me to finance the purchase at no interest if I pay it off in 2 years. So after getting the green light from the Mrs., this went right on the HD card.
 It turned out to be a miserable day to pick up a trailer 3 hours away. It was rainy. I had to bring my son in tow. Then I had to drive to Philly to pick up my wife from a conference and then make it home. I barely made it out of the Home Depot lot initially. There is a difference between how my truck comes pre-wired and how many trailers are pre-wired. Since the Frontier has separate tail and turn signal lights in the rear, it can throw off how a trailer interprets those line signals. Well, on top of that, only one turn signal was responding on the trailer initially. I was getting no brake lights whatsoever and the marker indicators were not illuminating either. There was no way I was going to lawfully or safely travel 5 hours through rain if I couldn't get something figured out...and fast.
 I had purchased a few harness kits and such from Tractor Supply prior to making the drive. I had also gotten a pretty nifty, adjustable tow ball apparatus so that I could properly level the trailer. My fussy baby settled down in his car seat with a few snacks while I worked frantically in the rain to troubleshoot whatever was preventing me from getting the brakes and turn signals to work at a minimum. Once I solved that, I was good to make it to Philly in daylight hours without the marker lights. When darkness descended on me fully, I ran the hazards and would cancel them in order to clearly indicate lane changes with the turn signals before reinstating the hazards. With that approach, I was able to get the family home.
 I have the wiring converter that I need to splice in; I was just running out of time that day trying to beat nightfall to spend additional time figuring out the best place to pull a signal from.
 And because I can never leave well enough alone...
 It got a paint job to match the truck.

 I did the painting the night before I had planned on tackling replacing the spark plugs. A couple of guys indicated I could get a good sense of the engine health by checking the spark plugs.
 It is a job and a half to do in order to access the three plugs on the passenger side.

 Basically all the guts have to come out, including my dual battery setup.

In the midst of putting that all together, perhaps something went wrong. Or perhaps, it was just coincidence that I did the spark plug work and started having a new, pervasive set of trouble the same day. That evening when I buttoned everything up, the truck was legit running like brand new. It wasn't 'bad' before, but there was a new pep in her step as I accelerated. It felt great. And then on the way to HD, the battery and brake malfunction indicator lights simultaneously flickered on and off. I almost missed them the first time. Then they flickered on one more time and stayed illuminate for maybe two beats before going out. "Weird," I thought.

The next morning, they came on and stayed on as I was driving my son to my Mom's. I had researched potential causes the night before. Those signs usually point to alternator issues. I had just replaced my alternator (as this group knows) maybe 4 months back. It had literally been on one weekend of wheeling (the bad weekend) and had no signs of issues since. Well, I wasn't going to mess around. There was no snow in the forecast and I felt like I knew what needed to be done and could do the job on my own terms. I came back home, called out of work, phoned the old man, and started tearing down the truck to do the swap. I even managed to get the belt off without Dad's help. (I needed his help to get it back on though). Shaved a full hour off of my prior time too. And guess what. The light still came on. This was a Monday.

Over the course of the next week, I literally did everything I knew to do to troubleshoot potential failure points in the system. I had seemed to have a weak second battery in my setup. I bought a new one. No improvement. I looked for faulty connections or worn cables. Anything even looking slightly worn got replaced. Maybe my dual battery switches were faulty. Replaced both. No improvement. I was dropping serious coin basically re-buying my whole setup and nothing was improving.
 Bakes FJ had a special delivery which cheered me up some. I do like decals. So I took a break from electrical gremlin hunting to put these on.
 Everything that's clean in this picture is new. And none of it was what was causing the issue as far as anyone can tell.

 I finally took it to a Nissan dealership believing that perhaps the issue was that I failed to do the 3 idle-related relearn procedures. Although I should still get that done (for $250 or free if I can manage to nail the tap dancing sequence one must do with the gas pedal), they diagnosed the issue as being a defective alternator. To me that's crazy. To be sure, I left the Nissan dealership initially when they said they couldn't fit me in that day. One of the service managers suggested I go to a nearby shop and have them check the alternator that I had pulled earlier in the week. At that shop, it checked out fine. I returned to Nissan and got an appointment for the next day. At that appointment, they said the current one was junk. If that's true, it means that both alternators, although supposedly tested and functioning remanufactured alternators, were essentially both junk out of the box.
 My only hope for feeling good about these pretty cool paint jobs is that the new alternator that I'm getting this week takes care of the problem for good.
Me and this truck have been through a lot and I'd like to have more adventures ahead of us. But for that, I need to be on the right side of reliability. The whole purpose for the trailer is to be able to have commonly needed parts within a shorter distance to make ready repairs to the truck in order to keep moving. Although I've mostly been able to drive the truck whenever I've wanted this week despite the charging issue, it doesn't give me the same sense of security and confidence I've enjoyed in the first worry-free 120K miles of ownership. These back nine, to borrow from the golf analogy, have been pretty stressful at times. I'm hoping we're able to get it together here soon. Cross your fingers for us. It  has certainly been keeping me busy from doing much else (including blogging).