Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bonding time with The Chief - Part 2: Medium James to the rescue!

     So Tuesday was a disaster. There's really no way around it. I had discovered a few minor issues, but there was really only one critical issue on my mind. The Chief kept overheating, and I didn't know why. Regardless how awesome the zebra print interior is, a Jeep that can only go two miles before breaking down is pretty useless. That night, I did some research on overheating issues. I found a few potential causes. There were a few of the usual suggestions: thermostat getting stuck closed (could be, because there was definitely circulation), auxiliary fan failure (due to fan, relay, or temperature sensor failure), or water pump failure (again, there was definitely circulation, so unlikely). However, I learned that the old (1988-1992) XJ ran a closed cooling system, meaning the overflow bottle had to keep pressure in it. This elevated pressure raises the boiling point of the fluid, allowing the coolant to run hotter. However, the previous owner was oblivious to this and filled the overflow bottle to the top, meaning it built too much pressure and blew the cap off. In general, this system is not highly praised in the Jeep world. I had some leads, now it was time to investigate.

     I went to work on Wednesday and mentioned the failure to my coworkers. They noted that I could probably work on the Jeep in front of The Bunker (the building where our lab is located: nicely recessed into a hill and full of bomb-proof equipment). This was good to know about. I would definitely need a place to work.

     After I got out of work, I called Big/Medium James, who had just arrived in Palo Alto on Monday. I asked if he wanted to meet up and help me rescue The Chief. He and Leonid were both just sitting around and watching TV, so they agreed that they might be up for an adventure. They decided to pick me up from Tesla (since they literally live up the street), and off we went to find my car. I remembered vaguely where I left it (at the intersection of 84 and 101 in Redwood City), so we made our way over by use of road signs and a vague sense of direction. On the way, I found out Leonid (the driver) had only had his license for a week. Just long enough for them to drive cross-country. Upon arriving at the parking lot where I had left it, I was relieved so see that it was still there. After all, none of the doors lock (well, they don't unlock, so I don't lock them). I guess if somebody had decided to steal it, they wouldn't have gotten very far.

     After Big James and Leonid laughed at the sight of The Chief, I got on with investigating the problem. Being more informed than before, I knew what to look for. I discovered two major issues. First off, the pressure bottle was stripped and certainly leaking, causing all the coolant to boil off (I later discovered that there was a black mark on the inside of the hood from when the cap blew off.. More pierogi, please). The second issue was a bit of an unexpected one. It was, as suggested, a problem with the auxiliary fan. However, it wasn't the relay or the sensor. I just didn't have and auxiliary fan. I'm not sure how that even happens.

     Well, that was it. The coolant system couldn't really be fixed on the spot. I had to get the car somewhere more workable. I believe that at some point, the plan was to get it back to Jason's place. However, that was quickly deemed a bad idea, and I decided that Tesla was closer and more conducive to working on cars. So I topped off the coolant and went back to the gas station from the night before to make sure I had enough gas to get me to Tesla (I didn't trust the gas gauge at this point. Turns out it's one of the few things that does work like it's supposed to). Being from Jersey and all, I'm not too experienced with self-serve gas. I've done it before, but still. On this occasion, I wasn't sure if the place took Discover, and seeing as I still didn't have a checking card (this seems to be a motif in these stories), I chose to pay with cash. Which I had never done at a gas station before. After becoming severely confused by why I couldn't get gas, James and Leonid told me that I had to go inside and pay first.


I knew that.

     So I went inside, to find the guy from the night before. "You're still here??" he said. I explained that I had left the car for the night and that I didn't get back to it until after work. At this point, he went off into some story about his brothers car breaking down, so he had to skateboard to work, or something. I don't know. I asked for $20 on pump 4, verified that I could use the hose outside, and went on my 'merry' way. It occurred to me last night that I may have left the filler cap at the gas station.. FML.

     After putting some gas in the tank and verifying that the fuel gauge worked, we filled up the two empty antifreeze containers with water from the hose and agreed on a plan. I would follow behind Leonid and Big James, and every two miles or so, we would stop to let the engine cool down and refill the coolant system. Off we went. I obviously stalled at a few lights, so in hindsight, it may have been better for James and Leonid to stay behind me at a safe distance (in case of stalling on a hill and rolling back). They were serving as navigation though, because I was going to be too busy trying to keep The Chief alive to be bothered with anything more than following the car in front of me. To be safe, I was keeping the revs up at lights to prevent the engine from sputtering and dying like it had the night before. Also, the higher revs with no torque meant that the main fan was pulling more air over the radiator while the engine wasn't producing too much additional heat (or so I like to think).

     About two miles into the trip, I waved for Leonid and James to pull off El Camino Real so we could check the status of the coolant. They responded instantaneously and gave me no time to react, so I drove right past them. I pulled off at the next possible location. Imagine my surprise when I found myself here:
Yes. I had pulled into the empty (but incredibly classy) parking lot of Ferrari/Maserati of Silicon Valley. Thank god they were closed for the day, as I'm positive I would have been shooed away immediately. James and Leonid pulled up a few minutes later, laughing hysterically. I grabbed the water from the trunk as James took this fantastic photo:
Upon opening the hood, I found the coolant bottle had sealed well and not boiled off all the coolant yet. So while I gawked at the Ferraris and Maseratis behind the glass, The Chief cooled off for the next leg of the journey.

     That next leg was not particularly long. I started smelling burning oil and noticed steam from under the hood. I waved James and Leonid off the road and we pulled into a small neighborhood. The overflow bottle and unsealed and sprayed coolant everywhere, and boiled off the rest. Flash boiling is an unpleasant thing when in a car. I let The Chief cool off some more and we sat around for a while. Finally, I refilled the coolant, and decided that refilling the antifreeze container would be a good idea. After spending about five minutes trying to figure out if we could just use a hose on the outside of one of the houses, we decided to just knock and ask someone to fill the bottle for us. We then spent five minutes trying to determine which door was the front door. Finally, we knocked and were greeted by a trophy-wife, who gladly filled the container with water.

     Off we went. And not much later, we were on the side of El Camino Real, right in front of the Stanford campus. I discovered that I do have a hazard light button, hidden on the steering column (where I had looked the previous night with no success). However, only the right rear indicator worked, which suggested I was trying to get back into traffic. No hazards it was. While Leonid walked off to the Trader Joe's across the street for some tasty mozzarella balls, James and I sat around waiting for The Chief to cool down before refilling the coolant, again.

     Eventually, we headed off again. At this point, it was already dark. We finally got off of El Camino and onto Page Mill Road, which we thought was the last leg of the trip. Leonid decided he wanted to turn off well before Deer Creek, though, and wound up at an entrance to one of the many HP buildings. He also decided to liberally use the brakes in front of me. We were in a parking lot, so I just drove around him and over a traffic island in the middle of the lot. This is why I bought a Jeep. O, and then I stalled, right as the steam started pouring out from the overflow bottle de-pressurizing. So it was probably a good thing that Leonid had taken a wrong turn.

     We stood around in the unlit parking lot for a while, forming a small circle around the container of mozzarella balls. We had each pulled out our pocket knives and were using them to stab the balls an eat them.  Eventually, The Chief cooled down again, and driving over another traffic island on the way out, we departed on what was to be our actual last leg. With the exception of stalling on a hill an almost rolling back into the BMW who had gotten to close (hey, he deserved the scare, for being that close), everything went smoothly. We dropped The Chief off in front of the bunker, and after our 3.5 hour, 10 mile long journey, we went to In-N-Out.

     We retreated to James's, Leonid's, and Karen's place to eat our In-N-Out and hang out for a bit. The adorable house cat demanded attention and took our minds off our journey. Finally, when it was time to leave, I realized I had left the keys in the ignition. On one hand, I knew it wasn't going anywhere. On the other, that's just poor practice. So James kindly drove me back to Tesla to grab my keys before dropping me off at home. We had started at 6:30 pm, and by midnight, all we had accomplished was getting The Chief ten miles, and eating some In-N-Out.

Clearly, I had some work to do.

1 comment:

  1. I think I've asked you this before, but you're not familiar with the East Campus nightwatch guy who goes by The Chief, are you?

    He goes to great lengths to assure you that you can call him The Chief. And something something mumble mumble in Nam (??).

    Ask Sean for more details.