One thing leads to another.

Last summer, that wonderful locked down one, my wife parked her car in the road in front of our house while I was cutting the grass close by. Our neighbour across the street then clipped it while reversing out of her driveway leaving a small crease in the door of our MX5. Damn!

Still, these things happen and the crease was neither very big or very deep. Yet when we got a few quotes some, from the bigger body shops that handle only insurance claims, were astronomical (over £1000 for that little ding!!), and they wanted to replace the whole door rather than to simply fix it. Fortunately, there is a local business that specialises in MX5’s (East Engineering) located further down the Ards Paninsula in a small industrial complex beside the Kirkistown race track, so we went to him. If you want to see his work, check out some of the videos on his Facebook page. East Engineering Mazda MX5 Parts - Home | Facebook If you look hard enough, you should still find one showing chassis repairs to an old Ford Mustang. This is how repairs should be done. 

 Anyway, the day came for us to return to get the car back. That is when things really started to go wrong. My old Astra has been mentioned here before. It is soon to be 20 years old, and for a number of reasons I am reluctant to change it until I really, really have to. It is ratty, but since our dog Tilly occupies the back seat when we go out, so why cover a newer car with dog hairs and mud. Perhaps more importantly though, I actually quite like it, and so long as the challenge of keeping it on the road costs so little, the car will stay. Reading that last sentence back, perhaps I am just a miserable old skinflint after all, but what the hell. 

We took Tilly with us when going to pick up the MX5, planning to stop both cars on the return journey to walk her around Donaghadee. By the Eastings, (Irelands most easterly mainland point, a little harbour just outside Ballyhalbert, with a small Island just offshore, reputed to be a Viking burial site), Tilly needed a comfort break, so we stopped for a short walk, but when we started driving again the Astra was overheating. We made the last couple of miles to East Engineering, and topped off the now boiling water in the Astra, hoping this would suffice for the return journey (about 30 miles). It didn’t, and so the Astra’s return home became something of an ordeal. I found that by turning the cars internal heating up full we could travel a few miles at a time as the temperature gauge steadily rose. Then a break was required while the engine cooled down again. Believe me, on a warm summer evening the inside of the Astra was less than comfortable, even with the windows down, and that 30 miles to home became a long start/stop torture. We both needed a little fresh air at each of the stopping points, and the engine took a lot longer to cool than it did to heat up! Still, Tilly was well exercised many hours later when we eventually made it home.

 A problem of this sort is generally caused by a faulty thermostat. This device blocks the cars cooling system on first start up so that the cars proper working temperature is reached quickly. The mechanism that blocks the cooling system is a spring loaded plate that is held closed when cold by a cylinder filled with solid wax. As the car heats, the wax melts, allowing the valve to open and the coolant to circulate. Why they jam shut when they fail is a mystery to me, but at least this does not happen often, and when it does they are cheap and easy to replace. £15 fixed this, and my careful drive home had saved the car from the much more expensive damage that a blown cylinder head gasket or a warped cylinder head would have caused. 

 All was well for only a few days after that, when the engine warning light came on. Attaching the OBD (OnBoard Diagnostics) reader showed the fault related to the fuel injector on cylinder 2. Here I have to admit that having only worked on older bikes and cars I had never tackled any repair on a fuel injection system. The internet is a wonderful thing for stuff like that though, and after checking out a few sites I was reassured that the problem was likely to be solvable without needing a load of specialist equipment. I bought a simple tool for a whole £11 off Ebay (pictured below), for cleaning the injectors.

A simple device for cleaning fuel injectors.


The fuel rail with the 4 injectors attached.

It works, after the injectors have been removed from the car, by connecting them to a can of carburettor cleaner, and allowing this solvent to be pumped through the injectors when they are attached directly to a battery. When taking the fuel rail that feeds petrol to all four injectors, I believe that I found the real, and very simple cause of the problem. The four electrical connectors for the injectors are encased in a long plastic cover that runs along the back of the cylinder head. It lifted off the injectors very easily, and appears to have warped a little. It is likely that it simply was not making proper contact with the connector pins on the injector on cylinder 2. Whether this was caused over the 20 years the car has been on the road, or by the stop start overheating of my recent journey from East engineering to home I will never know. Perhaps that was just the final straw in the warping process?  Still, with the injectors cleaned, and that long connector block back in position and held firmly in place with a couple of cable ties, the car ran very well again, and the engine management fault light was not showing. Then all was well until…….. 

 A couple of weeks later, the engine warning light came on again and the car began misfiring. This time the OBD reader showed a fault in the ignition system but again on cylinder 2. If you have read this blog for a while you may remember that cylinder 2 caused ignition problems in January 2020, so it may well be that this particular fault had been building for some time. High temperatures and electrical components are not a good match, so it is probable that another breaking point had been brought on by the thermostat failure and its associated overheating. There were two possible sources of this fault. Firstly the spark plug, and next the ignition coil pack. Since the other three cylinders were firing normally, one simple test would show which of these was the source of the problem. I swapped round the spark plugs in cylinders 2 and 3, and erased the error code. If the spark plugs were at fault, when the engine ran again the fault code would follow the swapped plugs and the error would return but reading on cylinder 3. If the coil pack was faulty, the error code would come back on cylinder 2. This proved that the coil pack needed to be replaced, so I bought one from a supplier on Ebay for a whole £24. Problem solved, and the car has run well ever since.

Astra coil pack.


 In total the 3 faults cost less than £50 to fix, I have learned a little in the process, and I now have a tool for cleaning fuel injectors. I hate to think what a garage would have charged for these relatively simple jobs though!!  I keep hearing that we will all be driving electric vehicles in another ten years.  Maybe I can make the Astra last that long?


Comments

  1. I'm as impressed as heck with this post as I thought tinkering with older vehicles, especially fault-finding had just about died out - kudos to you Ian! Funnily enough, I had to do diagnostic work to find a hot start problem on my wife's MX-5 Special Edition and the internet was a wonderful asset to put me on the right track. I have a 15 year old Rav 4 for dogsbody work and launching out boat. Typical Toyota - just keeps on keeping on and all I basically do is change the oil!

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  2. Hi Geoff, A lifetime on old bikes gives a good grounding for keeping any petrol vehicle running. Like your Rav 4, the old Astra just keeps going. It is reasonably economical too so why change it? I agree though that people now seem to do less and less work on their own stuff, and I think that is a real shame. Working on something gives you a real understanding and ownership of it. Handing it over to someone else to fix just makes you a consumer.

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