Winter Storage, and the Start of the Miata’s Next To-Do List

As happens every winter, the collector cars (loosely defined as the cars that don’t get driven in snow) are put away for the winter. The ritual is one that has evolved over the years and is now consistent: fill the tanks with fresh fuel, add Sta-Bil, pump up the tires at least 10 p.s.i. over normal to avoid flat-spotting, put a trickle charger on the batteries, and cover the cars with a dedicated car cover. It’s easy, takes little time, and doesn’t cost very much.

Before going further, let’s take a moment to say a few words about the brands I use, and have continued to use. (I’m a firm believer in finding good products and sticking with them, even if they cost a trifle more. As the cliché goes, ‘you get what you pay for’.)

The Sta-Bil brand of fuel stabilizer, made by Gold Eagle, has been in use in my garage since I’ve owned powered lawn and garden equipment. Many moons ago, I heard stories about lawn mowers and snow throwers, two examples of gas-engine devices which see seasonal use, failing to run because the old gummed-up gas gummed up the works. As soon as I got my first lawn mower, Sta-Bil went into its tank.  The gumming has never happened to me, and I’ve stuck with the brand ever since.

Sta-Bil STORAGE is your basic fuel additive if fuel is going to sit

Yes, I had my doubts about their ethanol treatment after it seemingly made the Alfa run worse (a conclusion which I now doubt since discovering my carbs are running rich and fouling the plugs a bit), but your basic ‘storage’ version of Sta-Bil is the way to go for any fuel tank in which fuel may sit more than 6 weeks or so.

It’s a similar story with battery chargers. I still have my dad’s Sears charger, which looks like it was made in the 1960s. It works great to jump-start a dead battery, but it ain’t no trickle charger. Long-term battery storage requires both a slow charge (the “trickle”) and a volt-sensing cut-out that won’t overcharge the thing and boil it to death.

You know it’s an old charger when there’s a switch for “6V” and “12V”

The Deltran Battery Tender brand came onto the market several decades ago, and they found their niche for the car collectors whose vehicles are stored in the off-season. While many competing brands have since been introduced, I’ve stayed with what I know works. I think I’m up to 3 of these Battery Tenders in the garage.

Green is good! Battery Tender keeps battery charged without overcharging

Car covers are a relatively new accessory to my winter arsenal. Up until a few years ago, frankly, I didn’t believe in them. It was a combination of fear of paint damage from moisture trapped beneath the cover, and frustration with my inability to find a custom-fit cover for the BMW Isetta (my expectations were a bit high with that one).

Since working at CARiD, I’ve learned a lot about the usefulness of good quality car covers, and one thing I learned is that the Covercraft brand is my favorite. The fit is perfect, and the variety of material choices will satisfy any indoor or outdoor cover needs at any price point.

The indoor-rated Dustop from Covercraft fits the Alfa perfectly

The Alfa has a Covercraft Block-It Dustop (yes, they had the ’67 Alfa pattern in stock), and the Miata wears the Covercraft Evolution indoor-outdoor cover. In the garage, both covers do more than keep dust off the paint; they also protect the interiors from sunlight, and provide some protection from wayward nuts and bolts spinning out of control off my workbench. I would never again think of storing a car without a cover. Even in the nice weather, if it’s going to be more than a week or two before one of the cars gets driven again, the cover goes on.

The Covercraft Evolution cover on the Miata is rated for indoor and outdoor use

All this is a prelude to an announcement about my Mazda Miata: after giving some thought to selling it, I’ve now decided to keep the car. What’s more, next year, in 2018, this 1993 automobile will be 25 years old, making it eligible for AACA events. So I’m going to turn it into a show car.

The plan is to spend the winter tending to some mechanical maintenance, but also attending to some detail work in order to display the car at shows next year as a 25-year-old original unrestored car.

The mechanical list includes new rear brake calipers (one of the parking brake adjusters is stuck), new tires (tread is good, but they’re 10 years old), and a continuation of the LED bulb upgrade. The detail work involves a new convertible top (worn and dirty), an engine compartment detail, Paintless Dent Removal work on some small dings, and a complete polish and wax.

Here’s hoping for a mild winter, which will encourage me to get out to the garage! As long as the temperature is above freezing, I can spend a few hours out there. Watch this blog for updates on my progress with the Miata.

 

Is it spring yet?

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

Installing LED lights in my Miata

In the 21 years since I purchased my 1993 Mazda Miata, and during the 70,000 miles of driving enjoyment I’ve had behind the wheel, there is one peculiarity that has come to my attention.

The car has shrunk.

Not really. However, the automotive landscape has gone through tremendous upheavals since 1996. When I bought the Miata, from a young woman in her 30s who had purchased it new, I asked her “what will you be replacing it with?” She replied “a Chevy Blazer”. At that point in time, the concept of voluntarily moving from a two-seat sports car to a Sport Utility Vehicle was a foreign one. But no longer. In 2017, the majority of daily-driven vehicles are classified as “light trucks”: minivans, SUVs, and pickup trucks.

The Miata is small even next to the Alfa

It is in that sense that my Miata has gotten smaller, as without exaggeration, every four-wheel contraption sharing pavement with me towers over my windshield. Pulling up next to a late-model Accord or Camry at a stop light is a lesson in relativity, as I observe that those mid-sized sedans’ beltlines are higher than my roof.

As the title of this blog post is “Installing LED lights in my Miata”, you may wonder what the foregoing has to do with LEDs. Plenty, in fact, and it’s summed up in the word conspicuity.

There are two aspects to vehicular lighting, as I was taught in Automotive Safety 101: being able to see, and being seen. Other than headlights, and perhaps reversing lights, a vehicle’s exterior illumination is designed to help other drivers see you. A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that there was a super simple way for me to make the Miata more conspicuous to other drivers, and that would be by installing some LED lights.

To the automotive purists, aftermarket LED lighting may have a bad rap. Your first thought may be of glare-producing headlights (more likely caused by HID lighting). Perhaps you’ve seen some tricked-out show cars with blue/green/violet LED lighting in front and rear lamp assemblies, even under the car, pulsing along with a 120-decibel sound system.

The upgrade I pursued is much more straightforward than that. The aftermarket has made LED light bulbs available, in standard sizes, as “plug-and-play” direct replacements for incandescent bulbs. With the Miata, I wanted to start small, and at the rear, by replacing the combo tail/brake light bulbs (#1157) and reverse bulbs (#1156).

I obtained several sets of bulbs from CARiD.com (and in full disclosure, this is the company where I’m employed). The LED bulbs are available in different colors. I got the 1157 bulbs in both white and red, and the 1156 bulbs in white.

When replacing incandescents with LEDs, it is extremely important that the LED bulb is the same length, or shorter than, the bulb it is replacing. LEDs are available from different companies, and most companies offer them in different lengths. An LED bulb which is too long may not fit at all, or may press against the plastic lens, causing that lens to melt, or worse.

New Lumen LED bulb (right) is slightly shorter than incandescent (left) it’s replacing

My bulbs are the Lumen brand, available in 3 different lengths. Generally speaking, the larger the bulb, the more light it emits. It therefore becomes tempting to decide on the largest bulb; again, make sure that it’s going to fit inside the assembly!

Today’s LEDs are direct replacements, emit lots more light and less heat

In my case, to be on the safe side, I selected the shortest bulbs. With pieces in hand, I opened the Miata’s trunk and was pleasantly surprised to see the covers behind the tail lamp assemblies were easily accessed.

(Sidenote: in 21 years of ownership, I have never removed one of these covers before this LED bulb swap. The ONLY exterior bulb I’ve replaced on this car since 1996 is one sealed-beam headlight bulb. Darn those Japanese, not giving the bulb makers a chance to sell their wares!)

Tail lamp assembly cover easily accessed from trunk

 

Push in two clips, and flip cover (no tools needed)

Once the cover was removed (no need to disconnect the harness plugs), I flipped it over, and both bulbs were right there. I did note that the tail/brake light glass (“envelope” in bulb-speak) was darkened, probably dimming its output; however, the bulbs still worked. Wanting to make changes one step at a time, I swapped out the 1157s first, using the Lumen white LED bulb (the tail lamp housing has a red lens).

To document the changes, I took photos, figuring that the camera doesn’t lie (but it might try to make the car look thinner). I put my Sony digital camera on a tripod, and set the controls to full manual. In this way, the camera’s light sensor would not automatically adjust the exposure, which could artificially make the light look either brighter or darker.

With new tail light bulbs in place, I subjectively thought that the light output was brighter. The big improvement, however, was in the amount of illumination: now, the entire lens assembly was lit, compared to prior, when the upper corners remained dark. So far, so good.

Next to be installed were the reverse lights. This was a great improvement, as the light is not only markedly brighter, the color is a pure white, compared to the hazy yellow of the incandescents.

Lastly, I went back and replaced the 1157 LED white bulbs with the same size in red. My expectations were low, as I had run this same experiment at work several years ago with an older Honda Civic, and the red tail lamp bulbs behind a red lens were not as bright as white bulbs.

The Miata yielded a much better result: the light was slightly brighter, and it was redder too. If conspicuity was my goal, the red 1157s and white 1156s allowed me to achieve it.

(For those who want to make the same upgrades, I would suggest trying both red AND white LED bulbs in the tail lamp assembly – provided that the tail lamp lens is red. Vehicles with WHITE lenses for tail/brake lamps MUST use a red bulb.)

Tail AND brakes lamps both on

What’s next for the Miata’s lighting? I had considered upgrading the front and rear turn signals, but LED bulbs introduce a small hiccup: their low resistance causes the flasher relay in many cars to “hyperflash”, or, flash too rapidly. There is a fix in the way of a resistor, but that costs extra, and must be permanently mounted to the car, a modification that I’m not willing to make.

The front and rear side marker lights would be a likely next step for LEDs. On the interior, the footwell courtesy lighting could really stand to get LEDs (the poor passenger compartment illumination is partly caused by lack of any overhead lights).

Was I surprised by the improvement in the Miata’s rear lighting? Not at all. The biggest surprise may only be that I waited this long to make the upgrades. Oh, and the Alfa will definitely be getting similar LED bulbs. Just don’t tell the AACA judges.

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.


FUN FACT OF THE WEEK

“Reverse” lights, also known as “back-up” lamps, are wired to illuminate whenever (and only when) the vehicle’s transmission is in reverse. They are designed to both help light the way for the driver, AND, serve as a signal to others of the driver’s intention to move in that direction.
In the U.S., reverse lights became required by law with the passage of the initial Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) in 1968. Before that, back-up lamps were optional equipment for many vehicles, if they were even available. As a boy, I can recall seeing lower-line American cars with steel “blanking plates” in place of reverse lights.

New Jersey Drops Emissions Testing for 1995 and Older Vehicles

Sometime last year, a story made the news in New Jersey, which seemed to garner little attention in the press. The State Government announced that during calendar year 2017, “older vehicles” would no longer be subject to mandatory emissions inspection.

A quick refresher for those who do not reside in the Garden State: for years, NJ subjected passenger cars to an annual inspection, consisting of both safety-related items such as tires, lights, horn, etc., and emissions testing, covering both a tailpipe sniff and a fuel filler cap integrity check. A few years ago, the law changed from an annual inspection to a biannual one. A few years after that, the safety portion of the inspection was dropped.

The announcement from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission allowed that 1995 and older cars would no longer require any type of inspection. Model year 1996 and newer cars would continue as before, needing an emissions test every two years.

Was the 1995-1996 cutoff arbitrary? Not at all. The Federal Government requires that 1996 and newer passenger cars possess “On Board Diagnostic” (OBD) testing capability with a standardized access plug, and standardized Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs). The 1996 nationwide requirement was actually a Phase Two level. So-called OBD I was a California requirement, but never a Federal requirement. Even if not mandatory, most 1991-1995 cars have some sort of rudimentary ability to read DTCs through an OBD system.

What does this technical discussion have to do with the State of NJ? Simple: cost. For a NJ inspection station to test emissions, two sets of equipment were needed: one to read OBD I (1995 and older), and one to read OBD II (1996 and newer). There is no compatibility between the two. The State Government saw this as nothing more than a money-saving decision. By eliminating testing for the older cars, only one set of test equipment must be purchased.

The newest vehicles which no longer need to pass an inspection are 22 years old. Since the average age of light-duty vehicles on the road today is 11 years, one can rationalize that as a percentage of the highway population, there are relatively few cars which may become “gross polluters”. (For what it’s worth, the NJ law as written still requires vehicle owners to maintain their cars, and further states that drivers can be cited for “malfunctioning or missing equipment”.)

Speaking from personal experience: my 1993 Mazda Miata, which I’ve owned since 1996, had always passed NJ emissions, until it failed in 2015. There were no warning lights, nor did the car behave any differently. It turned out that the car needed an oxygen sensor (for which there is no regular replacement interval). Had I not had the vehicle inspected, how would I have known?

Without getting too political, this comes down to a difference of opinion between those who believe in greater individual responsibility, versus those who believe that our government does occasionally need to act in order to protect the greater good. In this case, I see both sides. I actually have a bigger issue with the removal of all safety inspections. Cars alongside me on the road may have bald tires, worn-out brakes, and inoperative headlights, but are still operating legally (and yes, as stated above, they can be cited for obvious defects. When is the last time that happened in New Jersey?).

The new law regarding the emissions testing for 1995 and older vehicles went into effect on May 1, 2017. Owners of affected vehicles were told that the state would be mailing notices. As the owner of such an affected vehicle, I got my notice last week:

 

It’s in the glove box, but I didn’t check to be certain that the VINs match!

 

Yesterday, I took a razor blade to the inspection sticker, scraped it off for the last time, and spent quite a few minutes cleaning 24 years’ worth of adhesive residue. The new notice went into the glove box (thank goodness the state didn’t require that it be displayed on the dashboard), and I stood back to admire the newly-bare windshield glass.

My 1993 Miata looks just like all Miatas built from 1990 through 1997. How long might it be before I’m stopped for driving with a missing inspection sticker?

My ’93 next to one of Mazda’s newest, the CX-5; note the relative heights!

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

Heater Core Replacement in the ’93 Mazda Miata: Third and final part

My Mazda Miata workshop manual is an aftermarket publication, not the official factory book, but it’s been very helpful. It’s well researched and written, and the photography is adequate. It’s written in the style of “we’re in a shop with an example of this car, and we are documenting our actual repair procedures”. This approach certainly lends an air of credibility to the book.

In reading the section on heater core replacement, this service manual states (and I’m paraphrasing): “the entire dashboard must be removed from the car. We know of no work-around”. The manual was published in the mid-1990’s, at the dawn of the public’s access to the Internet, and it is obvious that were it to be updated today, information gleaned from various online forums would be incorporated, including a heater core work-around.

I was able to remove and reinstall my Miata’s heater core WITHOUT removing the entire dashboard. In fact, an underdash panel held in place with two screws, a heater box cover held in place with two screws, and several hose clamps were the totality of what was removed for successful heater core retraction. (The driver’s seat was also unbolted and taken out, only to provide greater comfort when working under the dash.)

Old (foreground) and new (background) heater cores. Old one has been cut; new one, not yet.
Old (foreground) and new (background) heater cores. Old one has been cut; new one, not yet.

The secret to this success came from an online forum, www.miata.net. For those who dismiss the Internet (especially automotive forums) as a waste of time, populated by flamers and trollers, one must wade through the waste to find the gems. And this was a gem: a poster at the Miata forum had discovered that cutting one heater core pipe would reduce total work time by hours (in my case, days). I used a Dremel tool to cut the pipe, and I had the old core out and in my hands, dashboard intact.

The concept is this: Mazda built this heater core with one short pipe and one long pipe, soldered to the core itself. The short pipe uses a piece of hose and a clamp to connect to a pipe running through the firewall. The long pipe goes directly through the firewall, and it’s this long pipe which necessitates dashboard removal, so that you have room to swing the core around and maneuver the long pipe out.  However, if you cut this long pipe, then join the two pieces together with a hose and clamps, there’s no need for the major disassembly and reassembly.

Hoses and clamps on pipes will be connected once core is in place
Hoses and clamps on pipes will be connected once core is in place

(Interesting sidenote: for the NB (2nd generation) Miata which started in 1998, the factory switched to TWO short pipes, for easier removal of the core.)

The tricky part during reinstallation was determining the EXACT best place to cut the new pipe. First, it is not in my nature to take a hacksaw to a new $150 part. Should that part be defective, its warranty would be, as they say, over. The goal was to cut the pipe as short as possible while still leaving room for two hose clamps. I temporarily installed one hose clamp to ensure that I’d have room for it, then drew a line along it, which became the cut line. It worked.

Permatex 300: non-hardening sealant designed to work with antifreeze
Permatex 300: non-hardening sealant designed to work with antifreeze

In the interest of doing this job so that it would not ever leak, I spent an additional $4 on another factory heater hose so that I would have the perfect ID hose for the job. I also bought a $3 jar of Permatex sealant designed to work with cooling systems (and waited 12 days for its arrival) to be absolutely sure that I’d get no drips. I hate drips. It was overkill, but I’m glad I used it.

Auxiliary drive belt, in spite of looking pristine, was replaced
Auxiliary drive belt, in spite of looking pristine, was replaced

The new heater core slipped into place easier than I anticipated. Working in the tight quarters under the dash was a pain, but a #2 Philips screwdriver bit in a ¼” ratchet wrench (instead of a screwdriver) was the trick to get to all the Philips screws. While this was going on, all the underhood work was wrapped up, including all new coolant hoses, new thermostat, and two new auxiliary drive belts. As recommended in the forum post, the car was started and run before buttoning everything up, to make sure it was all dry. It was.

Friday of last week, the job was completed, and I drove the Miata for the first time this season. It welcomed me like an old friend. It’s nice to know that I can look forward to a summer’s driving season without worrying  about cleaning the windshield after every drive.

All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Heater Core Replacement in the ’93 Mazda Miata: Part 2

Last we left off, your intrepid garage hack was somewhere in the process of replacing the engine compartment coolant hoses, as part of a heater core replacement on his 1993 Mazda Miata. In this installment, we will provide an update on the progress of said hoses.

You may be saying to yourself, “the blog post is entitled ‘heater core replacement’, but there are nary few words so far about the actual core”. This would be an accurate observation, as in fact, the heater core has been removed from the vehicle, but I am not quite ready to begin the installation of the new part. Instead, I’m documenting the work that’s been done most recently (the hoses), and will soon be writing more about the core. At least I certainly hope I will be, as it’s almost June and I haven’t driven this car since last fall.

Intermediate pipe, painted with high-temp paint, was cured with heat gun
Intermediate pipe, painted with high-temp paint, was cured with heat gun

Back to the hoses. In Part 1, I gave mention to a “heater hose kit” from Moss Motors. The kit comprises of 7 hoses: 3 larger-diameter pieces, and 4 smaller-diameter ones. The larger hoses are your typical radiator-to-engine coolant hoses, excepting the fact that Mazda has a 3-part lower setup, with a rubber hose running to a metal intermediate pipe, followed by another rubber hose. But it was the 4 small ones which threw me the curve ball, as I had no idea that the car had these additional coolant hoses. As Moss did not provide a diagram, I also had no idea where in the engine compartment they were.

The two hoses, running parallel between intake and valve cover, are coolant hoses
The two hoses, running parallel between intake and valve cover, are coolant hoses

Poking around the area of the thermostat housing, I found two; the other two were over at the intake manifold. The function of these hoses seems to be to provide a “warm engine temperature” signal to the idle control and the radiator fan control. I didn’t research it further as I wanted to devote the time to getting the spring-loaded hose clamps off.

Note clamps under and to the right of thermostat housing
Note clamps under and to the right of thermostat housing

These clamps were not only difficult to reach; the clamps ears in some cases were rotated away from what might be the most accessible positions. It is possible that these were built up as subassemblies before the engine was dropped into the car. In any event, they had not been touched since the car was built, and I needed to get them off. Using various shaped pliers, including needle-nose, curved nose, and slip-joint, most of them eventually came loose. One clamp in particular, under the thermostat housing, was twisted back and forth until it broke off (I was very mad at it). Like many other underhood jobs, components which were in the way were removed for better access.

Old and new hoses side-by-side. Old ones were hard but not leaking (yet)
Old and new hoses side-by-side. Old ones were hard but not leaking (yet)

Besides the clamp which was twisted to death, there were two other casualties: the A/C-power steering belt was removed with a hacksaw, because I intend to replace it anyway; and the fan temperature sensor switch in the top of the thermostat housing fell victim to an errant wrench. New parts have been ordered and are on their way.

Switch is NOT designed to be removed in this fashion
Switch is NOT designed to be removed in several pieces

As of today, the upper radiator hose, lower rear hose, and all four smaller hoses have been replaced. On the smaller hoses, several spring clamps were replaced with screw clamps for easier installation. With this part of the job basically done, we’re soon moving back to the heater core.

 

All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

Heater Core Replacement in the ’93 Mazda Miata: Part 1

The '93 Miata as it looked in August of 2014
The ’93 Miata at the 2014 Lime Rock Vintage Fall Festival

August of 2016, three months from the time of this writing, will mark 20 years that I’ve owned my black Mazda Miata. Aside from its incredible driving characteristics, it has been a typical Japanese-car ownership experience, which is to say, the vehicle has needed almost no repairs during the 65,000 miles I’ve put on it.

Of course any car needs maintenance and consumables, so tires, brakes and batteries have been changed out. The engine oil is replaced once or twice a year regardless of mileage. The typical tune-up items such as plugs, wires, and filters are changed regularly. Light bulbs? One headlight bulb went out a few years ago. The convertible top was replaced around 2002.

The upholstery, stereo, exhaust, clutch, shocks, springs, and U-joints are all the pieces which the factory installed in 1993. The R-12 A/C still blows cold, but did need one top-up (I still have 12 oz. cans of Freon).  The one repair which almost put the car off the road was a leaky clutch slave cylinder. It’s a common Miata failure, and the new one took about 30 minutes to install.

However: last summer, I began to notice a slight film at the base of the inside of the windshield. At first, I chalked it up to a typical dirty window. Then I noticed that using the heater made the film cover a greater area of the glass. I swiped a finger through it, and it had an oily feel. Uh-oh, said I; could this be the dreaded heater core? Each time I thoroughly cleaned the inside of the windshield, the film came back. Even with the heat completely off, it appeared. At 98,000 miles and 23 years, I knew it was time.

Heater core replacement on ANY car is not easy. My 1968 Mustang (with factory air) got its core replaced by me, and it involved disassembling most of the dash and center console. During my brief time professionally wrenching on Volvos, I did my share of heater cores on 240s. (The Volvo 240 heater core is infamous: Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, had a running joke on their show, in which they said that Volvo would assemble a 240 by taking a heater core, putting it on the assembly line, and building up the rest of the car around it.)

The entire air filter box must be removed to gain access to the lower rear hose (at right)
The entire air filter box must be removed to gain access to the lower rear hose (at right)

Besides a new core, it seemed to be a good idea to also replace all the original coolant hoses. The hoses are available as a kit from Moss Motors, so with said kit in hand, I drained the system and began with the engine compartment hoses. They were all hard as rocks, and most needed to be cut off their metal pipes.

From L to R: lower radiator hose, intermediate pipe, lower rear hose
From L to R: lower radiator hose, intermediate pipe, lower rear hose

The Miata lower radiator hose does not connect to the front of the engine. Rather, it passes through a metal intermediate pipe, then another rubber hose, connecting to the engine at the rear. This pipe looked terrible, so I removed it to give it a closer look. The corrosion on it was superficial, but in the interest of longevity, it is getting cleaned and painted.

Happened to have this in the garage cabinet; my experience with Hirsch products has been excellent
Had this from a previous project; my experience with Hirsch products has been excellent

The main hoses are off; there are 5 smaller hoses which also need replacing, and these clamps look like some knuckles will bleed. More to follow.

All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.