All Dressed Up and No Place to Go

Posted in Motoring by AST on Tuesday, June 6th, 2006

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Picture of the front of a 2000 Chevrolet Camaro SS

Taking advantage of the 3-days of Summer over the Bank Holiday weekend (I’m sure we won’t get many more days like these), I decided that it was time to give the Camaro some automotive TLC. Some of you may have read my post from May 2005 after she failed the NCT. There were three reasons it didn’t pass the test:

  • Parking brake application wasn’t within tolerance/balance
  • Side-mounted red lights
  • Parking lamps on when the headlamps were illuminated

As I indicated in the first post, I went ahead and ordered some replacement lenses in the hope that I would have less work to do (and, of course, it would add a bit to the appearance over the standard amber ones). Since the car has pretty-much been sitting for nearly a year without being driven, it was in a pretty sorry state. The over-abundance of spiders we have around here had comfortably found themselves and their relatives a nice new home, the side which gets less sun had developed an affinity for moss (yes, eventually everything in this country turns green–go figure) and the battery had run down. It was not only embarrassing; it was a disgrace that I had let the car get into such a state. Talk about living Linus’ quote about programmers with jobs having nice cars that they never wash to the extreme.

Getting Started

I’d planned to attack the car several times over the last year, but for various reasons it somehow never happened (it invariably rained on the weekend, getting married, working too many hours during the week so all I wanted to do on the weekend was sleep, etc.). In fact, when the Road Tax expired at the end of October, I didn’t even renew it because I knew we were going to be busy with wedding stuff for a few months. Thankfully, we had a well-timed Bank Holiday and 3 days of beautiful, sunny (yes, I said sunny) weather.

The Battery

I figured since the car was 6 years old, I’d just replace the battery. I have a decent trickle battery charger, but I didn’t know if the battery would hold a charge after being dead for so long. Of course, you can’t just walk into the average motor factors and get a new battery for a 2000 Chevrolet Camaro. The only Chevrolet cars sold in Ireland (and only since about last year) are re-badged Daewoo Korean imports, however I did see an article in the paper last week announcing GM would be selling Corvettes and Cadillacs under the Cadillac brand here as well as in the rest of Europe. Strangely enough, the only dealers currently listed on the website are in Cork, Limerick and Galway.

Sheared bolt in the battery compartment of 2000 Chevrolet CamaroThe first thing to do was to get the battery out of the car so I could charge it over night. I didn’t really want to leave the hood open with the battery charger outside. Anyone who has done any mechanical work will know what comes next: after 6 years of sitting (with the last 3 outside in the weather), the restraining bolt for the battery clip snapped off flush with the battery tray. The good news: I could get the battery out of the car. The bad news: I needed to drill out the rest of the bolt–how hard could that be? I’d done that sort of thing before when working on equipment on the farm.

After ringing around, I did manage to find a guy who said he’d seen one like it for a Hummer (also owned by GM), but he didn’t have any in stock. If I wanted one, he should be able to order one if I rang back on Tuesday. Great. Apparently, they don’t put side-mount-terminal batteries in cars in Europe. He had only ever had the call for the Hummer one. After heading back empty-handed, I decided I’d put it on the charger and see what would happen. I needed a running car to make sure all of the other things I was planning to do were actually working correctly anyway.

Drilling out the bolt turned out to not be so easy. What I didn’t know was the following:

  • The remaining bolt was actually about 3″ long, and
  • the nut for the bolt was held to the frame by a wafer-thin piece of metal.

These two facts were to make all of my drilling and attempts at using varyingly increasing sizes of bolt extractors totally fruitless. What I did discover is that the reservoir for the coolant is actually manufactured as part of the battery tray which fits into a nice hole cut in the aforementioned thin piece of metal (spot-welded to the actual frame of the car). Eventually, my gyrations with the bolt broke the two spots in the metal which held the uninclined assembly–freeing the bolt, but leaving me with an as-yet-unsolved problem of how to replace it. I think I have an idea, but I need to find somewhere that has better steel stock than either of the “DIY” shops close to home. What I have in mind should work, but it certainly won’t be factory original.

The good news was that lo-and-behold, the 6-year old AC-Delco battery seems to have lived up to its 6-year warranty. So far, the battery has held the charge and shown no sign of causing any problems. I still need to get a new one, but now the need isn’t quite so urgent. Maybe I’ll try one of the spiffy new Cadillac dealers to see how many hundred Euro a new one will cost me.

Parking Light Lenses

According to the Official, 3-volume GM service manual, replacing the lenses should be straightforward. You needed to get under the car to access the lenses, undo the 3 screws holding the assembly in place, and out it comes. What isn’t really clear from the exploded part drawings in the manual is that they seem to assume that you have taken off the plastic nose of the car before you try the replacement. Next time, I’ll actually take the nose off the car, but I doubt after this episode that there will be a next time unless one of the damn things breaks.

Showing access area for the parking lights of a 2000 Chevrolet CamaroIf you’re going to try this, you’ll need 7mm, 8mm and 10mm sockets for all of the bolts. Next, you will either need to completely remove the plastic air deflector under the front of the car, or remove each side separately. It really doesn’t matter much. In order to actually work on the assembly, you’ll then need to remove all of the plastic bits under the headlights. There’s supposed to be an “access door”, but this is only useful if you want to crawl under the car to replace any of the parking light assembly bulbs.

The kicker is that between the Styrofoam insert in the bumper and the mounting brackets for the headlights, you can’t easily get the lens assembly in or out. After much struggling, I eventually won the contest, but not without messing up some of the plastic a bit–something which didn’t make me at all happy.

What also didn’t make me very happy is that, I think I have some kind of leak in the power steering system. I’m not 100% sure where it is coming from, because I haven’t had a chance to really crawl around under the car enough yet, but there seems to be reddish oil collecting at the bottom of the A/C compressor. According to the manual, there’s supposed to be 60 ml of poly-alkylene glycol (PAG) oil in it (p. 1-34), but I don’t know what color this stuff is. Maybe its the compressor instead of somewhere in the steering system. I guess I need to check this a bit closer. Also, as you can probably tell from the picture, there’s quite a bit of corrosion under the car and attacking the thinner metal bits. The frame and larger members seem to be fine, but I’ll need to do something more about this before too long.

Parking Brake Adjustment

There are conflicting instructions between the Haynes manual and the official GM one about how to adjust the parking brakes. According to the NCT, one side was grabbing more/earlier than the other one was. I had originally figured it was something to do with the cable, but Camaro’s have a self-adjusting cable which is supposed to automagically balance the applied force between the two brake drums.

The Haynes manual says to essentially do it by feel. You get the rear wheels off the ground, remove the wheels and the brake rotors and then adjust the tension until it just drags. After this, back it off slightly and you’re set. The only problem with the Haynes manual is that the picture for the brake shoe adjustment screw is taken from under the car. This means that I ended up initially adjusting it in the wrong direction; “outward” from under the car is a bit more obvious. I know you’re not going to make the mistake I did, but, for the record, “outward” means to spin the screw towards the lug bolts and up towards the top of the car. The clearance should be 0.026″.

The GM manual says you’re supposed to do it based on the amount of movement in the parking brake cables. The distance of “free lever travel at the cable interface” should be 3-8 mm, however if it’s less than 10 mm, it says the adjustment is complete.

Since I don’t have the same fancy machine that the NCT boys have to measure the pull, I did some controlled experiments on our street. I’m sure the neighbors were wondering what the hell this manky-looking car was doing pulling handbrake stops in the middle of the road. It took a couple of goes (wheels off, calipers off, rotors off, adjust, rotors on, spin, rotors off, adjust) to get it close. I’m not sure what it is, but I do know that from about 5 mph, it seems to grip about evenly now where before I could feel a definite pull to the left. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Cleaning Up

Clearly, now that it was more-or-less there mechanically and nearly there electrically, it was time to give the old girl a much needed bath. The time in Ireland has certainly taken its toll on the paint. There are constellations of rock chips spread all over the hood, with a massive one nearly the size of your little fingernail nearly in the middle so it’s impossible to miss. I didn’t have the right tools to touch it up properly, so I had to go with filling it with wax so it wouldn’t get any worse. I’m also going to soon have a bit of a rust problem from underneath on the front-left corner of the hood. Moisture has gotten inside the hood cavity and is starting to rust from the inside out.

Image of 5-spoke chrome wheel from 2000 Chevrolet Camaro SSSome of you more clever readers may wonder why I didn’t buy a car cover and put over it since it has to sit outside. The problem is the constant moisture in the air. I’ve two ultra-fancy, breathable but waterproof covers for the motorcycles, but I don’t use them anymore because they trap more moisture underneath than they keep off. I had one of them on the SuperHawk for a month or so and the damn thing actually started to mildew! After that experience, I figured the car would actually be worse off with it than without it.

The real solution is to get it inside, but since the houses with garages seem to be sized for Yugos, I don’t think that even if we moved, it would fit in a garage. In town, it was inside and out of the weather, but then people regularly tried to steal it. I think you either put up with it, or you wait until you are really rich to buy a car you care about. That way, you might be able to afford the multi-million Euro home with a garage big enough for something like this. Somehow, I don’t imagine that the people driving the Ferrarri’s around town have this trouble, but I have been pretty surprised to see extremely expensive cars sitting outside over here–either on or near the street. Some of them cost enough that you could’ve bought two cars like mine (in US$).

After the wash and wax, I noticed that the chrome wheels were in pretty dismal shape as well. The problem with chrome is that it can take a lot of work to keep clean. Fortunately, these are fairly easy to clean (as far as wheels go), because they don’t have a lot of hard edges or small spokes. That being said, the four wheels took probably 3 hrs to finish. Still, I have to say that it was worth it. When it’s clean, it is hard to forget why I love this car–when I drive it, it’s impossible.

Still to Do

The car is now nearly ready to take the NCT, but I still need to do some electrical magic on the wiring to make the parking lights not come on all the time. The last thing I’ll do before the test is to put some black electrical tape over the rear side lamps, but there’s no point in doing it now just so it can sit out in the weather. Depending on how long it takes to schedule the NCT, I may also try and have a look for that leak a bit more seriously. I’m not sure if they’ll fail it for something like that or not, but I’d prefer not to have to take it back through the process again.

It’s clean and shiny on the outside, but it needs some work on the inside. It’s pretty stunning how much dust can get in the car when it is just sitting around. I’m sure some of this is a remnant of when they pulled the window out trying to pry open the T-tops and ended up bending the window track inside the door so it doesn’t fit correctly anymore (while parked in the “secure” parking facility where I used to live and under the watchful eye of CCT cameras).

After the NCT, it’s back to the Motor Tax office so I can give the Irish Government some more money to “improve” the roads over here. Maybe they’ll put softer rocks on the roads so it won’t chip the paint quite as badly. Then, and only then, can I take it on the road. I was hoping to be able to take it to Milltown Malbay this year, but at this rate, I’ll be pretty lucky if that happens. We’ll just have to see how it goes. I can’t wait to take it out. Driving it around even the little bit that I did to make sure it was working correctly was enough to sufficiently tease me. As hard as it might be, I’ll be a good boy and leave her at home. I don’t want to give the government any more money than necessary.

Camaro Woes

Posted in Motoring by AST on Saturday, May 28th, 2005