Boston Driver’s Notebook 2/15/11

16 02 2011

While in Vermont I had noticed the exhaust leaking from a galaxy of pinholes and bad seals.  It was easier to see the leaks when it was 20 below zero, and the condensation from the long drive upcountry was just burning off .  Now that I was back in Somerville, MA, we were in the process of being hit with a foot of snow every Wednesday in January.

Buried Again

On a Tuesday, I unbolted the catalytic converter bolts that I had dealt with earlier, aft of the cat.  The old muffler came out from under the truck once I had unhung the hangers.  The cat-forward bolts were frozen into hummocky lumps of rust, like bulkhead rivets on the Titanic.

Get the WD-40

I used a battery powered angle grinder with a cut-off wheel to cut the bolt burial mounds off at the front of the headpipe/cat flange.  A roostertail of sparks showered down on me, and a spark went into my eye.  It began to seem more like a piece of metal jabbed into my cornea than a roostertail spark.  At such times I like to think of my safety glasses in the glove compartment.  I should put some safety gloves in there with them.
That turned out to be inconsequential.  A friend once had some rapid-set plaster fall into his eye, and burned his cornea.  The opthamologist just put a patch over it and it healed overnight.  Fast healing organs, eyes.  My hand was bleeding.

Watch Your Eyes.

It takes time out of your day if you need to go have them tweeze out metal shards from your eye.  If you ever go to the emergency room and have a shaky medical student approach your eyeball with 8” forceps, simply do the following.  Ask for a drink of water, and while drinking the water, ask the student easy medical questions in a quiet, soothing tone of voice.  Express your confidence in their reassuring, competent manner.

So I cut the bolts off the flange, washed out my eye, and then tried to prize off the catalytic converter along with the remaining part of the cut-off bolts.  One side separated, but then the other side didn’t, and levered the flange off the headpipe.  This was not going to help things along.

I rooted around in the basement and cut the flange off the old intermediate pipe from the Death Tuna.  It was too small for the headpipe, and I didn’t want to cut up the Death Tuna headpipe, since it was in reusable condition.  Flangeless, I cut the expired muffler from the rather new intermediate pipe, which bolts to the cat at the forward end, and clamps or is welded to the muffler, aft.

Intermediate Pipe

The cheapie muffler I got from Autozone was longer than stock, and had one inlet that was too big and on the other side was too small for either the intermediate pipe or the tailpipe.  The muffler was reversible and could be adapted to most imports, and fit none. The cheapie also lacked the factory muffler’s welded insect antennae-style hangers.
You used to be able to go and order your car or truck’s “cat-back” exhaust, and get a one-piece, factory welded unit.  The last time I tried that, they sold it to me, but it came in the same sorry assemblage of mismatched parts that to my wondering eyes were again appearing.  Last time I was so annoyed that I borrowed their pipe expander, and expanded the pipe by like an eighth of an inch in diameter.  Unfortunately the tool gave way, as I stood on a pipe wrench holding the pipe from turning, while I turned the expander with a 4’ cheater bar.
“This thing broke,” I explained to the stone-faced local woman personing the parts counter.

Taking it Personally

“What were ya doin’ to it?”
“Expanding the exhaust pipe.  Can I have my $5 deposit back now?”
She walked away in disgust.  She seemed to take her job very personally.  This is my karma.  Any other clerk there would have thrown the tool in the garbage can and shrugged it off.  It was wrong of me to destroy their tool.  Maybe that’s why I faced the non-fitting tailpipe with equanimity.  It was my karma coming back again.    Karma goes out like a feather and comes in like a bullet.
I decided to  butt-joint weld the tailpipe with the muffler outlet; the two were roughly the same diameter.  In an exhaust system, the idea is to step down the diameter as you go further away from the engine.  The gasses are cooling, and  would slow down and create turbulence if the diameter stayed the same.  I welded the tailpipe and muffler, using the old system as a pattern to match the relative axis of rotation of the two components.  Then I welded on the horns.  It was getting late in the day, and the mismatched components, and flange failure, meant that I wouldn’t be able to finish the job before the next blizzard, scheduled for early the next morning.

Wire Deer

I moved the truck across the street into a snow emergency- proof parking spot, on the odd-numbered side of the street.  The truck now had no exhaust at all, and was good and loud when I started it.  We already had snow piled five feet high everywhere, and wondered where we were going to put the two feet of snow predicted.  I smelled like exhaust just from driving across the street.  It was fun roaring around in the street with open pipes.
I was parked and was hostage to the legal parking space, so I decided to go walkabout, and visit many of the fine automobile parts stores in Somerville. Everywhere cars were parked between, and sometimes inside, giant piles of ice.  Some cars were completely buried, with a corner of a side mirror sticking out of a snowpile.  East Somerville has some of the ugliest siding ever known to humanity.  Fred Flintstone New England Brickmaster sliced rock on wire lath siding, asbestos shingles in pastel colors, the old standby aluminum, and everything else, free-range organic vinyl.

Faux Brick

Autozone had some clamp-on flange that didn’t look as if it would seal, but no weldable flanges.  Napa had a different clamp-on flange that looked as if it would seal even worse.  They could order me one, but I didn’t have the bolt-hole spacing I needed.  I walked back over the pedestrian overpass, over the McGrath- O’Brien Highway, which I always call the McRoadrage Highway.  It looked different from the overpass.  I could see people driving slowly under the overpass, and a lot of ugly houses.  There was chain-link fencing arching over the walkway to keep me from ending it all.  Down the highway I could see Route 93 and the Mystic River.  On my right was Prospect Hill.
The next day it snowed 18 inches, so I ended up in the basement, scavenging the Death Tuna exhaust for the correct headpipe flange.  It was a bit corroded, and 25 years old, but there was enough metal left to weld to, and it looked like it would seal.  The next day was sunny and not cold, and everyone in the neighborhood was out shoveling.  I met a next door neighbor, who pointed out that we’d been neighbors for ten years, and it was about time.  He lived upstairs from Joe Grinder, 96.  I asked if he had heard any of Grinder’s WWII stories.  He nodded and said, “I love Joe.”
The neighbor on the other side gave me a Guiness, because Alex shoveled his walk, but didn’t want a Guiness.  Snow days bring out the best in people.
After shoveling, I walked up the hill to return a library book, and ran around in the deep snow in front of Somerville City hall.

Snow Day

Finally, the next day I got a chance to put everything together and mock up the exhaust in place.  Welded on the new flange, and used a pipe clamp to attach the intermediate pipe to the muffler.  I tightened the bolts at each end of the new “Mario Andretti” Magnaflow cat that was barely a year old when it was on the Death Tuna.  The use of the pipe clamp was a long shot, since there wasn’t enough overlap,after I cut it to be welded.

Better Weather

Sure enough the pipe clamp gave out the next time I drove to Jamaica Plain and back, once on the way there, once on the way back.  I also got pulled over by a cop for passing two cars that were stopped at a fire scene, to make a left turn.  He asked why I did it, and I said, “I have no excuse, sir.”  He gave me a raw look, but let me off with a written warning.
“If you do it again, it’s an arrestable offence,” he said.  I nodded, and didn’t say anything.
This morning, I welded the intermediate pipe to the muffler where the ineffectual pipe clamp was.




One response

17 02 2011

Thanks for this….

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