Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Hot Detour

So, after reinstalling the carpet, it was time to get back to the original source of trouble - the heater core assembly.

You may recall that I removed the heater core because it was leaking coolant fluid into the pedal area. This is bad - it can lead to my feet getting scalded, but worse, the pedals would get wet and slippery. Not something you want while pressing the brakes to stop and avoid hitting the guy in front...

To repair the leak, I removed the complete heater assembly, and tore it apart. The heater core itself is a small radiator-like heat exchanger, which heats up air with engine coolant. It looked in good shape, but I had it rebuilt and serviced, just in case. I also removed and replaced the valve that controls flow of coolant to the heater core, which is another potential source of leaks.

From Q's House of Speed

As for the rest of the assembly, it is mostly built of plastic, with a pair of metal doors that open and close in order to guide hot air through the heater core, and out to either the car floor (heater mode) or to the front windshield (defrost mode.) A pair of levers control these flaps. Both flaps were rusty, so I cleaned them up and derusted them using Evapo-Rust rust remover. I then applied some primer and a couple of coats of black Rust Oleum spray paint. This should help keep any new rust from developing.

From Q's House of Speed

The top of the box has a rubber gasket that seals and isolates the whole unit. In my case, there was no gasket, so I had to make one of closed-sell foam rubber material. Simple enough.

So, after all this prep work, the box was reassembled, and made ready for installation. The only problem was this: reinstalling the box requires access to bolts that are impossible to reach once the box is in place - unless you remove the dashboard. I also think that, with all the new insulation in place, the carpet is a bit raised, and does not provide enough room for the box to be installed into place - unless you remove the dashboard.


You know where this is going, right?

Carpet and Insulation

So, with the third brake light installed, I was ready for installing the carpet.

Recall that I removed the carpet in order to replace the interior insulation, which was very grungy and smelly. After installing all of the new insulation, it was time to replace the carpet.

From Q's House of Speed

This is pretty straightforward - just spread the carpet inside the car again. The tricky part is getting the side door sills to install correctly. To do this, one needs to reinstall the rubber trim around the doors. For some reason, the rubber trim seems to have shrunk a bit, and it would not fit all around the door sill. Further, it seems to be too thick, and it is very hard to slip into the groove onto which it fits. After a bit of struggle, I was able to get it close, but it still gets in the way of closing the door.


The door sill themselves were easy to install, though.

The carpet does not smell bad anymore. Which is a good thing. Next up - reinstall the heater box, seats, belts, and the car would be ready to go. Little did I know...

A Light Detour - Part 3

So I mentioned earlier that I was thinking of installing a third brake light on the car. The idea is to make it more obvious to other drivers when I am braking. I figured a third light would make things a bit safer for me. This is not necessarilly for the purists, since third brake lights probably had not been invented by 1974, and if they were, well, no one used them.

From Q's House of Speed

I ordered an LED third brake light from Daniel Stern Lighting. Mr. Stern seems to be fairly knowledgeable about car lighting, Plus, he stocks LED-based tail lights, which seem to work well on other cars I see on the road. There are various kits, depending on how steeply angled the car's rear window is. I picked kit XXXX, which seemed to match well with the Alfa's rear window.

The kit itself includes the third brake light, and some accessories to tap into the car's existing brake light wiring. It also comes with some fairly simple instructions. I tapped into the brake light wiring from the wire harness inside the car - the wiring to the stop lights run under the carpet, on the drivers side of the car. Since I had most of the carpetting and interior out of the car, this was simple. I then routed the wire through the trunk, and up to the light itself.

The light itself is taped to the rear window with an included adhesive decal, which you paste into the window, then paste the light assembly onto it. It is very simple stuff. The only thing about the decal is its ugly "Hella" logo. A nicer, flat black, unlogoed decal would have been nicer, but I figured it won't matter so much anyways.

Pressing the brake pedal now produces the typical three-light signal we are all used to by now. It looks bright enough, too, so I am hoping my chances of being rear-ended while driving the Alfa have been decreased a bit.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Light Detour, part 2

Before installing all the interior carpeting I wanted to install a third brake light. I figure this will make things a bit safer by providing better warning to folks when braking. However, while doing all this, I realized I really wanted to get rid of the rear speakers (which were cheapo/ugly units) and all the assorted wiring. After all, I did not have a radio installed anymore, and they were useless.

So, while removing the rear speakers I noticed things might be a bit simpler if I removed the complete rear deck. Removing it was simple - there are three sheet metal screws that hold the piece in place. Undo these, pull the thing out, and it's all done.

The vinyl cover on the tray itself was in OK shape, but it had been cut to make way for the speakers. In all honesty, I think I won't be installing speakers any time soon, which means the holes in the original vinyl just won't work well for me. Which means I have to replace the vinyl fabric.


Vinyl fabric is not uncommon, but for a newbie, it seems hard to find - especially for specialied applications such as automotive stuff. At first sight, I though this would take me a few days (maybe a couple of week) just to find the proper materials to do this.

This is where google comes to the rescue: after a few hours, I had found PerfectFit Wholesalers in in Tukwila, WA (down the street from work.) These folks advertised a variety of vinyl fabrics and the such, and so, I paid them a visit in person.

Sure enough, they stocked some automotive-grade vinyl fabric closely similar to the old vinyl in the car. I ended up with some from this product line They also supplied a sheet of headliner foam which, although not an identical match for the deck padding, serves the purpose very well (and it will be hidden from view anyways.) They even sold paperboard, which I can use to replace the original paperboard tray, which is already in pretty sorry state. Total cost for materials was about $40.

I highly recommend this place for any sort of fabric/upholstery need for your automotive project.

I had to glue two sheets of fiberboard together, as they were too thin by themselves. This took about half a bottle of wood glue, and a couple of days for the glue to dry. I then used the original tray as a template, drew an outline, and trimmed the board down to shape with a circular knife and lots of patience.

Next I cut the headliner foam to shape, and glued it to the fiberboard tray with spray-on glue.

I also drilled three holes for the fastening screws. I used 1/8" diameter aluminum spacers to line the holes and keep the screws from tearing into the cardboard.

Next, I stretched the vinyl sheet around the bard and fastened it using 1/4" tacks and a good-ol' hammer. Nothing better than pounding car parts into shape...

I had to figure out a replacement for the old paper trim piece at the rear of the tray. It looked old and ragged, and would detract from the look of the fresh vinyl.

I fashioned a replacement trim piece out of a long 6" wide strip of vinyl wrapped around a 2" strip of headliner foam, and held together with spray-on glue.

I then tacked the trim piece onto the rear of the tray. I used longer thumb tacks for this.

The end product looked very nice. The vinyl trim piece looked better than the original cardboard trim piece (in my opinion.)

Here is a look at the tray installed (with the brake light - more on that next time.)

Next up - third brake light gets installed.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Light Detour, part 1

A light detour.

One if the advances we've had in the past 30 years is how much better car lighting works. The brightness of halogens, xeon hi-intensity discharge, LED taillamps, all of these work way better than the stupid bulbs and lenses placed on cars 30 years ago.

And the Alfa is even worse than most cars from 30 years ago -- specifically, when it comes to the rear stop lights.

Yep, the rear stop lights are very weak - almost hard to see them turn on during sunny days. As I drive I notice folks seemingly oblivious to the fact that I am on the brakes and slowing down in front of them, and then reacting in half panic as they realize they are about to rear-end me. It's happened a few times, and after being rear-ended in my daily driver recently (another story), I really don't want to go through that again.

So, I figure helping others know when I'm slowing down will, in the end, help me. So I decided to install a third, high-mount brake light. And the best time to do it is while the carpet and the interior is all removed, since it will allow me to run any required wires under the carpet pretty easily.

Finding high-mount brake lights seems harder than it should - I could not find anything useful in any of the usual auto parts stores. However, I did find an online vendor of Hella LED brake lights (Daniel Stern Lighting.) After trading a few e-mails with Mr. Stern, I decided to order the Hella Model 37 LED Brake Light Kit. The parts got delivered in a very timely manner (back in January 2009.)

And there the kit sat, until now.

The brake light kit looks very easy to install - it uses dual-sided, very sticky tape to paste the unit onto the rear glass window. Connection to the wiring is done with these little adapters that are included in the kit.

The hard part is finding the actual brake light wire, carrying the voltage/signal to the rear lights.

It turns out the brake light cable is conveniently colored Red (get it?), coming from the 10-pin harness connector from under the dashboard. Connecting to this wire was very simply accomplished using the aforementioned adapter (again, included with the kit.)

Once I figured out all the wiring, well, I did not install the light. Why? Well, I decided to remove the rear radio speakers. To do this, I had to remove the rear deck/tray. Hmm... should I do that? Well, the deck looks old, and the vinyl looks like it could use a refreshing. So, I went ahead and removed the whole rear tray.

Hence breaking the first rule of car fixing - do not start a new project until you are done with your current project!

So now, I am stuck - I need to get some vinyl, paperboard, cut things, paste things, and replace things. Hmm... Just when I thought I'd be done with stuff soon...