Sunday, December 7, 2014

E36 BMW Refresh - Part 1: Spark Plugs

Back in the Summer a friend sold me his E36 325is for a very low price.  Normally you'd expect to pay very little for an 22 year old car in the first place, but this one is a bit different.  It's original owner was a motorsports enthusiast of some kind or other.  He'd added a bunch of fun stuff to the car like a cam kit, catback exhuast and header, strut tower braces, aluminum flywheel, an aftermarket ECU ROM, and all other types of goodies.  Needless to say the car is pretty quick.  With that said, it has a lot of small irritating problems.

When I bough the thing the first thing I noticed was that the brake rotors were warped quite badly.  I wasn't thinking about bloggy things at the time, so I didn't document the process of replacing them.  I'll just simply say that for the most part the hardest part was getting the calipers off.  This was because the person who last worked on the brakes torqued the bolts far tighter than the manual calls for.  My wife's Mini has essentially the same brakes, and changing those was much easier.

I have more free time lately, so I've started paying attention to getting the car back in fighting shape.  Today I squared away the spark plugs.

Here we see the engine compartment.  There isn't exactly a lot of excess room under there.  The ignition goodies are hidden under the black plastic covers seen atop the valve cover.

Now we've removed the strut tower brace and the first of the covers, exposing an attractively blocky fuel rail.

Once the other plastic cover has been removed, the ignition system is exposed.  Each cylinder has its own ignition coil.  There is no spark plug wire, instead the coil connects directly to the plug.  The coils are easily disconnected from the wiring harness without tools, and detached from the valve cover with a 10mm socket.

Once the plugs were pulled, they showed only normal wear.  Given that the car ran pretty well anyway, this wasn't surprising.  It was still pleasant to see.

After the plugs were replaced, I simply reversed the steps I took.  As I continue to repair the car I will continue to make updates.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cheap VHF Communications

The high power rocketry club I am a member of uses two meter amateur radios for communications. We do this on the drive to the launch range and while walking around and doing ground crew duties as well.  My money has a variety of places to go right now, so for the time being I needed to simply find the least expensive setup that works.  I've found that.  Serious amateur radio enthusiasts probably won't care much for my choices, but from a purely utilitarian perspective they work well enough for me, at least for the time being.

Sorry, the radio still has desert all over it.

The transceiver itself is the (in)famous Baofeng UV5R-A.    A lot of the complaints people have about the menus being poorly laid out are frankly true.  With that said, when I talk into the radio people hear me and are able to understand what I said.  I am also able to understand them.  I programmed the repeaters in my area into it with CHIRP, bypassing the obnoxious menu.

One common (and in my experience valid) complaint about the Baofengs is the shit-tacular antenna they come with.  I picked up a knockoff of a Nagoya antenna from eBay for about $5 a while back (they don't seem to be available any longer).  After doing this, I was able to pick up a lot more traffic than I could previously.

For just walking around, this is really all that you need.  However, if you want to use your radio in a vehicle this won't quite do it.

This is a Nagoya magnetic mount antenna.  It has a reasonably strong magnet at the bottom, which sticks to the roof of my truck quite nicely.  I simply ran the wire in through the passenger side wing window.

Picking up the transceiver while driving and it having a big wire coming off of the end of it is no fun, but fortunately a remote microphone/speaker combo is available.  Some users have complained about poor audio quality from the speaker, and of others not being able to hear them well when speaking.  Personally, I've had no problems with bad received audio quality.  I have personally had no problem with the received audio quality.  With that said, I have noticed that I need to speak directly into the microphone to be heard well.

I don't want to risk draining the battery while on a long drive, so I picked up a cigarette lighter adapter.  It is clearly made from a hollowed out battery (it even says "Li-ion Battery" on the thing), but despite its chintzy appearance, it works.  Some users have complained about their radios heating up when they use it, but I haven't experienced this.

This gear allowed me to communicate with other people a few miles away.  It is true that I had some issues while crossing the Cascades (line of sight stuff), I wouldn't be surprised if people with nicer radios had similar problems.  At the end of the day, the Baofeng gives you a lot to work with for very little money.  I would like to get something nicer at some point, but this will do for the time being.