Sunday, November 12, 2017

Testing a cars charging system with only simple tools

There are many things that can cause a car to not start.  First, lets clarify the difference between not cranking and not starting.

Cranking is when the starter spins the engine.  This is done by the starter motor engaging the engine and turning the crankshaft.  Back in the very old days this was actually done by a person with a crank handle directly cranking the engine over by hand, hence the term "cranking".  For the last 100 years, this is done by a starter motor.

Starting is a more general term to mean the engine has not reached a running state.  Starting includes first cranking and then the engine generating combustion to run on its own without the starter.  This requires fuel, spark, cranking, and a bunch of mechanical bits working in harmony.

The rest of this discussion is just about cranking.  The 2 most common components at the root cause of failing to crank are the battery and the starter.
Figure 5-1: Electrical System
Figure 5-2: Starting System

Here is a good article introducing some of these basic components: http://www.military.com/off-duty/autos/auto-repair-electrical-system-tips.html

There are interlocks and security systems that may prevent the vehicle from attempting to crank.  If this happens your car won't even try, meaning that to turn the key to the crank (start) position and year hear nothing happen.  A completely dead battery can also cause this but of course you would have already noticed that no electrical systems are working at all.  You have to use the key to unlock the car as the remote won't work.  There will be no dome light or dash warning lights.  Nothing.  If this is the case, start by charging the battery with a charger, or jump starting.

If the car does have battery power, then next question is does it have enough.  If you are able to unlock with the remote, and you see the done light and other lights in the car, then your battery is not completely dead.  However, it still may not be bale to crank.  Often this will cause the engine to crank slowly or you may just hear clicking near the engine.  If turning the key to crank results in nothing, and the dome light and other lights don't even dim, then something is preventing the car from attempting to crank.  This may be the security system or interlocks such as neutral trans gear or clutch pedal not depressed.

Another common cause of cranking problems is corroded battery terminals.  The battery has acid in it but this acid can seep out or come out as vapor and corrode the terminals.  Here is a photo of badly corroded terminals.
Image result for corroded battery terminals
This will break the connection so the battery power cannot be used by the car.  This can be cleaned using baking soda and water.  Remove the terminals and clean the connection between the battery post and terminal with a wire brush.  You can by a terminal cleaner at any parts store. Here is a typical example of a battery terminal cleaner.
Image result for corroded battery terminals cleaner
Be careful as the terminals may look OK on the outside bey be corroded between the battery post and terminal where it matters.  Sometimes you can hear crackling or bits of smoke while trying to crank if the corrosion is there.  Sometimes you can loosen and twist the terminal on the battery a bit and get it to work for a while.  

If all that passes and the engine does indeed attempt to crank it needs to crank the engine fast enough to start.  A weak battery will generally show up with the symptom of slow cranking or not being able to completely crank.  This is somewhat hard to describe.  The sound of the engine cranking is different, slower.  It may sometimes appear to stop cranking for short periods and then resume slowly.  Eventually is will stop cranking and often make clicking noises.  The battery has a finite life.  It will die eventually.  Eventually can be in as little as 3 years, or sooner if it experiences a premature failure, which does happen.  It is the most likely cause of not cranking, if the electrical system is allowing the attempt to crank.  Generally this problem will start out small and get worse over time.  You may notice a bit slower crank that continues to get a bit worse over the course of a week or two.  Some battery failures are much more instant where it goes from working OK to not even being able to crank on the next crank attempt.

If the alternator is not charging this will also deplete the battery and give similar symptoms to a weak battery.  There are some quick checks you can make to see if your alternator is working.  First of all there is a charging indicator in the car.  Almost all cars have a light or a message on the display if the alternator is not working. This light will be ON normally with the key ON and the engine not running.  However, if it stays ON while the engine is running there is a charging system problem.
 

There are other failure modes that may cause no charging yet this light does not come ON.  Here are some quick checks you can do to confirm the charging system is working.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/uwHjBGnB4NI1j76r1

The alternator is belt driven from the engine crankshaft.  If it is not charging, make sure the belt is turing the alternator.  Some cars also have a large fuse between the alternator and the battery.  Make sure that fuse is in place and not blown.

If your battery is OK and your alternator is working but you still have slow cranking or it fails to crank, you may have something in the electrical system that is drawing too much power when  the car is not running.  Check for things like dome light or glove box lights being left ON.  Modern cars have many complex electrical system that do draw some power even when the engine is not running.  This makes finding an inappropriate draw more difficult and vehicle specific.  Some things to look for is relays sticking ON.  This issue can often cause an intermittent draw which is even harder to find.  One of the more likely relays to stick is the fuel pump relay.  If you shut the car OFF and exit the vehicle but hear a humming noise from under the car, your fuel pump relay may be stuck ON.  These relays are often about ice cube sized blocks in one of the fuse boxes.







Sunday, October 1, 2017

Porsche Cayman S Brakes

I do track days in my 2006 Porsche Cayman S.  The car is basically stock.  This article is a collection of my thoughts around the topic of brakes.

Pads

When I got the car it had a little over 60k miles on it.  I replaced the brake pads with Hawk HPS.  They seemed OK but not really an improvement over stock.  At Putnam Park and Autobahn I did notice these pads would start to fade when hot so I switched to Hawk Street/Race pads which made a huge difference.  These Street/Race pads are basically race pads that work down to cold temperatures.  They are noisy and create copious amounts of dust like any other race pad so its not something you actually want to drive around with daily but they do work for the street, unlike race only pads.  The nice thing about these is you can swap them in at home and drive to/from the track with them and be safe.  The noise when stopping at times is only somewhat embarrassing but not enough to be worth the hassle of swapping pads at the track.  The stopping power is more than double the stock or HPS pads.  They create far more friction for the same pedal pressure.  So much that it takes some getting used to as the first few times you hit the brakes after swapping them in you are surprised by how hard it stops with such little effort.  Once you get used to driving with them, swapping back to the street pads feels a bit alarming at first.

Tire Rack produced this chart showing the various Hawk brake pads:
Hawk Brake Pad Comparison - Tire Rack

MU is the coefficient of friction, higher means more friction.  More friction means more braking force for a given pedal pressure.  Notice that most race pads do not work well at low temperatures which makes them a problem for street use.  In this case low temperature is often well above ambient.  As you can see some of the pads perform very poorly below 300F.  In addition to the problems at low temperatures, they are generally very noisy and can produce copious amounts of dust too.

Rotors

Most Porsches come from the factory with drilled rotors.  The reason drilled rotors became popular is performance applications decades ago was because of a gas layer that would form at high temperatures cause interference between the pad and rotor.  Modern performance brake pads have significantly reduced this problem, and better solutions have evolved.  One of the problems with drilled rotors is they can crack under the temperatures and stress of track use.  Mine started cracking at Road America which is particularly hard on brakes.  Here is a photo showing the small cracks starting to form.
This rotor is not too bad but those cracks can grow.  In extreme cases, the rotor can break off in chunks which is dangerous.  The best solution for track duty is slotted rotors.  I switched my rotors to Sebro slotted.  This photo shows the slotted version next to the factory rotors.

The slots in the rotors help clear the gas layer but don't tend to crack like the drilled rotors.  The slotted rotors also have more metal mass to absorb more heat.  This will help slow down the heating some under hard braking.  The heat can then be released between corners when the brakes are released.

Cooling

Brakes slow the car down by converting mechanical energy (momentum) into heat.  Changing the momentum of the car requires power (HP).  The engine provides the power to accelerate and the brakes provide the power to decelerate (in conventional powertrains).  Normally the braking power capability is much higher than the engine power.  This is a large amount of energy that the brakes much dump as heat.  The rotors require airflow to facilitate this cooling.  The Cayman/Boxster and 911 sports cars have brake cooling ducts to guide more air to the rotors.  The Porsche GT (GT2, GT3, and GT4) cars have more effective cooling ducts that can be fitted to the other 911 and Cayman/Boxster models.  I installed GT3 cooling ducts on my Cayman S.

Here is a photo of the factory cooling duct.
Here is a comparison of factory versus GT3 cooling ducts.
 Here is the GT3 cooling duct installed.

Brake Hoses

The brake hydraulic system has very high pressures.  Most of the system uses steel allow lines to route the fluid between the brake components.  However, the brake calipers must move relative to the chassis so hoses are required for this part.  Those hoses are generally main of reinforced rubber.  The problem is that even though these hoses are reinforced to reduce expansion, they still do exhibit some expansion under high pressures.  The fix for this is stainless steel hoses.  There are several available in the aftermarket but make sure you use DOT and TUV approved hoses.  

Brake Fluid

Brake fluid is NOT created equal!  Also, good quality fluid with high wet and dry boiling points is very important, especially in a car that will be used on the track.  When driving at speed on the road course, the car will see repeated heavy braking for 25 minutes or more at a time.  This will cause the calipers to heat up.  If the temperature gets high enough, the fluid can boil.  When this happens the boiling displaces fluid in the caliper with gas.  The displaced fluid is pushed back into the master cylinder.  The gas is compressible.  The next time you hit the brakes the pedal goes to the floor with little to no braking at all.  This is a very dangerous situation and must be avoided.  Any decent track inspection checklist will include replacing the brake fluid just before the event, generally within 30 days.  This is a simple procedure and even expensive brake fluid is far cheaper than loosing brakes at the track.  A good DOT 4 brake fluid is Motul 600 or 660 which is available from many parts stores that sell performance products.  There are other high performance brake fluids.  Pay attention to the wet and dry boiling points.  The reason it needs to be changed so often is water will mix with brake fluid, unlike oils.  Humidity and condensation will get into the brake fluid over time.  Vehicles that do not see high brake temperatures are far less likely to have a problem.     

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

What good is a Smartwatch?

I waited a long time to even try out a smartwatch.  I don't like wearing watches in the first place, and the phone in my pocket has all the info I need.  I didn't see the use for a smartwatch.  I do however, like tracking my fitness especially with bicycling.  I had a Polar Bluetooth heart rate sensor that I used but it quit working.  I also did not like wearing it.  I wanted a better heart rate sensor so I decided to look into smartwatches.

I chose the Motorola Moto 360 Sport.  These have been around for a while and you can often find them on sale for a great price.  I think I paid $169 for mine but I have seen them under $100 sometimes.  It has the optical heart rate sensor.  It came with Android Wear 1.5 but it should be upgraded to Wear 2.0 any day.

Uses

While I was certainly a naysayer on smartwatches, I have found more uses for mine than I thought.  I wear it every day now.  I don't think I would spend over $200 to get one but for the price I paid, I feel I am getting the value from it.

Fitness Tracking

May first use for the watch was for heart-rate monitoring during bike rides and walks.  I wanted a device that would integrate with the apps I use for tracking these activities.  I use Google Fit for my daily activity tracking.  I was using Cardio Trainer for bicycling.  I had also used My Tracks for this in the past.  It turns out that Cardio Trainer and My Tracks do not support the heart rate from this device.  Lame!  So, I switch to a more popular biking app called Strava.  This is a better app than Cardio Trainer anyway and it gives nice graphs for heart rate, as well as the rest of the data.  It also integrates with Google Fit.  Very nice.

Notifications

Sometimes it would be handy to see notifications without pulling the phone from my pocket.  I know this is a first world problem but what the heck.  Some of the more useful things are:
  • Rejecting callers.  Spam calling is totally out of control and it is very handy when one of these calls comes in to just glance at the caller info on the watch, and swipe it away.  
  • Navigation.  I didn't expect this one.  I am all about stopping distracted drivers.  People need to hang up and drive.  You should not take your eyes off the road.  I was using Google Maps to navigate on a trip.  The phone was on the seat, not visible while driving.  I was on a long straight stretch of interstate and wondered how far it was to my next turn.  I glanced at my watch and there it was.  Just a small message with the distance to, and direction of the next turn.  Nice.  
  • Seeing the time and date.  It is a watch after all.  There are many useful watch faces that are informative.  It shows the time and basic info even when the screen is off.
  • Seeing general notifications.

Development

As an amateur Android developer I wanted a device that I could write apps for if I wanted to.  Learning Android Wear development should be easier since I am familiar with Android. The first app I started for Android Wear is a remote control for my Gamin Virb Ultra 30 action camera.  I just wanted to be able to start/stop recording and maybe snap a photo using the watch as the remote.  I did get the remote working on the phone first so I could learn how to interact with the Garmin.  Once I did that, I created a wear app for the watch.  Getting the basics going was not hard.  I don't have this app done yet though.  There is a feature I depended on that Wear 1.5 does not support.  The alternative was to use the watch app in conjunction with its phone counterpart to control the camera.  That is a work in progress.

Smartphone Shopping Summer 2017 Edition

Overview

I have not posted about smartphone shopping for a while so I thought I would capture my thoughts here as some friends have been in the market.  As you know, I prefer Android devices for many reasons:
  • Open source software
  • Large Play Store full of great apps
  • Compared to other operating systems, Android allows more flexibility.
  • Google is not evil.  There are many free features and services that are best in class
  • App to app integration.  Sharing for instance.  You can share from any app to any app you want.  Nobody is forcing you down what they want.
  • Many excellent devices to choose from.  This competition is great for both price and features.
  • Micro-USB or USB-C standards.  You can buy cables, chargers, etc from whoever you want as competitive prices.
  • SD card support.  You are not stuck with the space the device is made with.  Some support Micro-SD cards up to 2TB.  
  • Access to see files, folders, data, photos, etc.  You can also simply connect to a PC and browse it like a USB memory stick.  

Brands, Skins, Preinstalled Apps

I lean heavily towards Motorola devices.  I think they offer the best value.  Other devices have higher end specs but they come with a bunch of unwanted skins and bloatware.  For instance, Samsung, LG, and HTC all have very heavy skinned versions of Android.  It is so heavy I have a hard time finding things.  Samsung also makes their own versions of basic apps that replace the Google versions.  This is just a mess in my opinion.  These are also installed in the system meaning you can't really remove them without rooting.  All of this just hogs up more device resources so that faster process and more RAM are needed because of all this bloatware.  I don't understand why these device makers continue to do this when article after article complain about it, it costs them to make and maintain it, and many users don't even want it.  Motorola has the closest to stock Android as you can get short of a Nexus or Pixel.  

It is very interesting that devices are marketed to the public showing pre-installed apps as a feature worth paying for.  To me that is like marketing a sedan with pre-installed junk welded into the trunk that you don't want and can't remove.  Now you have a less usable car.  You can't choose what is in the trunk.  Definitely get the device with the least pre-installed stuff as you can get.  Installing apps is very simple and there are many great free apps on the Play Store.  

While I have had Motorola devices almost exclusively, I have had a Lenovo tablet.  I like the hardware but the OS is terrible.  Lenovo has a bunch of bloatware in this device.  The Lenovo launcher was the worst I have ever used.  It had apps permanently in the home screen.   They wanted to force you to use their awful apps, and those they were paid to pre-install.  I was able to fix the home screen with Google Now launcher and disable all the bloatware.  I was able to even uninstall some of it.  

My Choices

So, which device would I buy if I were shopping right now?  Here are some features that I prioritize:
  • Qualcomm Quick Charge.  This is a game changer.  Many devices has other fast charging technologies but they don't really compete.  Quick Charge uses a proprietary technique to boost the voltage so that standard cables work.  You can only boost the current so far before the loss in the cable becomes a real problem.  Most chargers only support 5V charging.  Quick Charge goes up to 12V.  You can put almost 3 times the power through the same cable.  I have Quick Charge 2.0 on my 2015 Moto-X and this is a must have feature for me.
  • A big battery.  A smartphone with a dead battery is useless.  This obsession with thin is ridiculous.  Honestly, today's phones are often too thin.  I would like to have a 6,000mAh or bigger battery if I could and I would gladly put up with the extra 6mm.  
  • At least 4GB of ram.  This is important so the device does not lag when running large apps or switching between them.  Today we also have many background processes and the device needs this ram to manage it efficiently.
  • A fast 64bit multi-core CPU running at over 2GHz.  I would say a quad minimum but 6 or 8 even better.  .  
  • It must be unlocked and free of carrier software.  
  • A good camera.  These are getting better all the time so there are many good choices here.  I don't need to record at 4k but HD is needed.  I want tomething that is fast.  I want to be able to capture moments as they happen so it must open, focus, and snap very fast.
  • A decent sized screen.  I like something in the 5.5" range as my vision is not so great anymore.  I don't need over HD though.  Even 720HD would be fine for me.  The higher resolution you get, the more processing power it eats up, which also eats more battery.  
  • Must work on Verizon.  I have a love/hate relationship with Verizon.  They have clearly become evil but they simply have the best network.  I still have the old unlimited plan.  Around town I often get over 50Mb speeds.  It is rare that I don't have service even on trips.  
  • Regardless of an SD slot, the device needs at least 32GB of memory.  This is so you can install all apps and app data on the device.
  • An SD card slot.  While you want all your apps on the device, the SD card opens up tons of space for media.  This is especially important if you shoot much video.  Strore your media, photos, and video on the SD card and save the on-board memory for apps.  Ideally the device would support the full SDXC standard which means you can use cards up to 2TB (even though that size is not yet available).  Several phones do support this.  
  • NFC.  I have starting using mobile pay.  I tried Android Pay but my cards stopped supporting it.  Now I use Capital One Wallet and it generally works well.  Honestly it is still faster and easier to just use the card in most cases but I am really hoping someday we won't need a physical wallet and this is the start of that.  I just want this option.  
  • Fingerprint sensor.  While this is low on my list, and is not a must have, it is handy at times.  
  • A good old fashioned headphone jack.  This is low on my priority list but it is something to consider these days.  I tend to prefer Bluetooth anyway so I don't need this very often.  
Here are the ones at the top of my list.

Moto G5 Plus 4GB/64GB

I would get the one with 4GB Ram which is only available with 64GB memory.  This device retails for $299 which makes it a bargain.  It has 4GB ram which gives apps plenty of space without having to swap in and out.  That makes the device more responsive, especially when switching between apps.  The 64GB memory is also nice as you want all your apps and their data on the device memory versus and SD card for speed.  SD cards are great for media and data, and this device has the slot.  It is unlocked so there is no carrier bloatware and this should also make updates faster.  It has Quick Charge 3.0 for fast battery charging.  It does lack NFC for mobile pay and certain other features, if you use that.  It has a Snapdragon 625 chip set clocked at 2.0GHz so it should keep up with most apps, except maybe some of the games that need top end performance.  For the vast majority of users, this device should be a great fit.

Moto G5S Plus

Coming soon.  This is an upgrade to the Moto G5 Plus.

Moto Z2 Play

The Moto Z line is Motorola's flagship devices.  The real unique thing about them is the Moto Mods. Moto Mods are magnetically attached devices that cover the back of the phone.  Some of the most appealing for me are the batteries.   While the Moto Z devices are silly thin in my opinion, once you attach a Moto Mods battery, it is about right.  This is even better than the removable batteries of yesteryear since you can swap the Moto Mod when the device is ON.  Just pop one off and attach the other.  Some of the Moto Mod batteries also have quick charge.  Other have wireless charge.  Several options and more coming.  The Moto Z2 Play is out now, although only the Verizon locked version right now.  The website says the unlocked version is coming soon though.  This device is priced starting at $408 retail (not sure about the unlocked price) which is well below the premium phones with often cost over $700.  It has a Snapdragon 626 clocked at 2.2 GHz.  It has Quick Charge 3.0.  There is a version with 4GB of ram which is the one I would recommend but they don't have it available yet and I have not seen the price for that version.  The other Moto Z phones also look great but for most users, probably not worth the price point.  I would avoid the carrier locked versions myself.  The Moto Z Force Droid looks great except it is locked on Verizon and full of their bloatware.  It does have the shatterproof screen, a larger battery, and higher end specs which is great.

We bought one of these.  We got the Verizon only device with 32GB so it only has 3GB ram too.  We also got a battery mod with wireless charging.  Battery life even without the battery mod is excellent.  Adding the battery mod makes this a 2-day device with moderate to heavy use.  With the battery mod fitted, the device is a bit heavy.  I don't mind the weight but some may.

It has USB-C and Quick Charge 3.0 but it will not quick charge on Quick Charge 2.0 devices for some reason.  It quick charges fine on all my Quick Charge 3.0 devices including car chargers and battery backs.  On Quick Charge 2.0 devices it just charges regular.  There are good Quick Charge 3.0 accessories out there relatively cheap.  

Moto X4

This device is not actually announced yet but the leaks are getting better all the time.  We expect this to be released this fall.  If the leaks are correct, this looks like a great upper-mid tier device.  

Google Pixel 2  

This is sure to have the cleanest Android experience you can get.  You will pay for it though.  This will be the second iteration of the new Pixel phone line and hopefully they fix some of the issues they had with the first.  

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Porsche Cayman Camera Mount

I bought a Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 action camera for recording in-car video in my 2006 Cayman S (987.1).  This camera uses the same mounts as GoPro cameras and many other action cameras. I found a good windshield suction mount that works great but sometimes its nice to get an in-car perspective.  I searched everywhere for a good mounting system.  I bought a clamp that I could use on the bar behind the seats, on the engine compartment.  However, the clamp was not rigid enough. It was also lower than I would like.
Camera clamp 

I kept searching for better options. I found one for over $400 and it still did not look great.  At this point I decided In would build one.  I went to the hardware store and bought about $35 worth of 3/4" aluminum square tubing, some 8mm all-thread, wingnuts, and washers.  I cut the tube into a 22" and 2, 5" lengths.  I removed the factory bar and installed the all-thread  into the bolt holes the original bar bolts were in.  Here is what I ended up with.




No special tools were needed.  Just a drill and saw.  It seems very rigid.  Road test coming soon.

I plan to just use this for track days and other events.  Its very simple and quick to swap the original bar back in as this camera bar is built for utility, not looks.

Here is a photo taken from the VIRB in the mount.