An Afternoon with the Fleet

There aren't really pics to go with this.  Sorry about that.

It began simply enough:  A dog days Saturday that promised mild temps and good weather.  Car parts in two separate boxes in my garage.  "I'll probably have this done before you guys get back from the hair place, " I said.

I set myself two tasks:  Kill the Check Engine light in the Camry that'd been on for two years and 5 days, and give my 1995 truck a tuneup--plugs, wires, rotor, distributor cap.  I had all the parts, and plenty of hand tools.

Simple enough....

In Which Your Author Hugs a Camry

I knew the problem with my Camry was the Vacuum Switching Valve.  It was throwing trouble code P0401, which meant a problem with the EGR system.  Cars are so polite these days, telling you these things.  Back in the day, one had to diagnose from symptoms, now the sensors throughout the system tell you your car that's otherwise running fine needs help.  Okay, so it didn't need help, but I was tired of staring at a CEL, and I'd already paid about $400 to have the EGR valve and Modulator replaced. The internets told me it was the Vacuum Switching Valve.  What's a vacuum switching valve?  I've no idea, but given its powered and has an input and output vacuum line, I assume it's something the ECM uses to turn the EGR system on and off.

Here we run into trouble, because like most modern day DIY mechanics the first thing I did to prep for the task was to search Youtube for a suitable video.  No suitable video exists.  The closest I could get was a guy doing the swap on his 5SFE (2.2L Toyota 4 Cylinder) RAV 4, and that had blurry shots of some dark recess of the engine and lots of grunting.

...which, turns-out is exactly what's involved.

To wit:


(The little bugger in question is #8, above.)

So I chocked the wheels, jacked-up the car as far as I could, put the front on jackstands, then slid underneath.  Then I began the search for the VSV.  Uhh...as near as I could tell, the thing lived somewhere behind the intake manifold, above the motor mount, which is as close to the Bermuda Triangle you get in the otherwise-roomy 4th XV20 Camry nose.  Seriously--I've never found anything on this car hard to work-on.  Well, at 200,014 miles, today was the day.

I couldn't visualize it, and I couldn't get my hands on it.  I was stuck, so I slid out and tried to look from above.  That didn't help.   I finally figured I needed to take the passenger-side front wheel off.  

(This was when my wife and daughters showed-up and my "before your haircut's through" estimate evaporated like Jeff George's QB credibility in the middle 1990's.)

With the wheel off I could finally visualize the VSV.  Well, okay, I could visualize the bolt that held on the VSV and a sure pathway to get at it:  Lie directly beneath the passenger subframe, and fish my left hand between the exhaust and the subframe, then send my right arm in behind the wheel hub and between the engine mount and the engine accessory pulleys.

Once I did that, I could use a 12mm 6-point 3/8" drive socket, a 6" extension, and a U-joint attached to a ratchet to get it off.  

It struck me how similar this must be to laparoscopic surgery, but without the benefit of a laparoscope.

Basically, from there, I got the VSV off, put the new one on, and got things buttoned up after only 2.5 hours.  The car ran, and after I disconnected and reconnected the battery terminal, the CEL cleared.  VICTORY!

In which Our Author Renders American Iron Immobile

Alright.  A tuneup.  This should be easy--I've done plugs and wires on the Camry (twice), the bmw (once).  All didn't require a trip on a rollback to be fixed.  I was even handy with a feeler gauge.

Problem the first:  My feeler gauge had gone missing.  Trip to Advance Auto Parts #1 for the day.

Problem the second:  All the aforementioned cars had had at least one tuneup after leaving the factory.  That's right, as near as I could tell, my 1995 Chevy TBI 5.7L was running roughly 20 model years later on the original ignition system.  Bravo, AC Delco.  Bra-frickin-vo.

Some things I found out doing a tuneup on a small block chevy:
  • Sitting in the engine bay is a requirement.  This was a novelty for me, having come up long after the death of big American cars.  Thanks to Chevy sticking the distributor behind the intake beside the firewall, you'll either be laying on the engine or sitting beside it.  By the end of the day, I'd done both.
  • You've got to remove the Air cleaner and it's metal housing, exposing the Throttle body injectors (awww, cute...this is how to do fuel injection on an old carbureted motor!  Make a fuel injector that fits on a carb manifold!)
  • Disconnect the battery.  No, nothing happened, but an energized ignition coil has like 22k volts. 
  • Tools you'll need:
    • SAE wrenches and sockets.  This thing is American as they come, right down to the bizarro sockets in the 32nds of an inch.  Aside from my GTO, I'd always worked metric, but I had plenty of SAE.  Specifically:
      • A 5/8" deep socket or spark plug socket of the same diameter, 3/8" drive
      • A little screwdriver-pick thingy.  Something like the third tool from the left here: 
    • WD40.  You're dealing with steel and cast iron.  Things will be rusty.
    • A 7/32nds 1/4"-drive socket and a 6" 1/4 inch drive extension.  You'll be sorry if you don't have this when it comes time to take the distributor off.  I had to make another trip to Advance Auto to get a (very overpriced) 1/4" extension to make this work.
    • A 3/8ths drive micro-torque wrench that reads up to 250 inch-lbs  (correct, inch-pounds.  This isn't the 2' long jobber you use to torque your lugnuts.  This is a delicate instrument.
  • Do one sparkplug and wire at a time.  Don't touch the distributor until you've done all the wires.  I must've spent a total of 1.5 hours just taking the darn retaining clips off the wire hangers on both sides of the engine.  These will be old, brittle plastic, and that pick is invaluable to get them loose.  Once I got going, I usually replaced the wire, then replaced the plug.
  • Gap the plugs to .035" ("Thirty-five Thousandths") That's the spec for a SBC of this vintage.  
    • The plugs you get from AC Delco will be pre-gapped at .045", so you'll need to re-gap each one.
  • Start the plugs by putting them in the socket, grab the socket with your hands, and rotate the plug counter-clockwise until you feel it drop into place, then begin to tighten (clockwise).  That helps you avoid cross-threading the plug.
    • Seems like most manufacturers (NGK, etc.) tell you to avoid anti-seize, so I didn't use any
  • Torque to 20 ft-lbs or 240 in-lbs.  It's tight in there, so use the u-joint.
  • Squirt the distributor screw/bolts with WD40.
  • Use the 7/32" socket and the extension to remove the distributor cap.  Sure, you can try to use the phillips-head screws, but once you strip those hopelessly like I did, use the socket.
  • Transfer the wires one-at-a-time from the old to the new distributor cap.  This way you avoid screwing-up the firing order of your engine.
  • While the caps's off, yank the rotor off the top of the distributor.  It requires quite a bit of even upward force to come off.
  • Put the new rotor on.  Again, it requires quite a bit of force to seat it.
  • Put the new cap on, wires attached.  
  • Spend an hour trying to get the screws to go in.
  • Give up and go eat dinner.  Obsess about what went wrong.
So yeah, after all that, I didn't get it done yesterday.  I couldn't get the distributor cap to seat properly so the two screws that hold it on would start.  In desperation, I tried putting the old cap back on just so I wouldn't have an immobile 5000lb truck in my back drive, but I couldn't get that cap on either.

My going theory is the rotor's not seated fully, so the cap won't go down all the way.  Or something else obvious I'm missing.  In any case, an afternoon wrenching on my old cars, outside, with at least one success.

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