To be Idling or Not to be Idling?

I went out to work on the Airstream in storage the other week. I typically pull the batteries during winter storage, but I didn’t this time because we were gonna take a quick winter trip (that didn’t pan out).  Actually, to be completely honest, I didn’t bother pulling the batts because I don’t get any more longevity out of them whether I go thru the hassle of storing them on a Guest 3-stage charger, or not.  To the Battery Guru’s who may be reading this: flame away.

I digress. So, the batts have been sitting, no maintenance charge, for about 2 months. I decided to back the E-350 up, plug in the 7-way umbilical, and let her idle to charge the batteries while I worked.

It idled for about 2 hours. All gauges were normal.  I’ve seen this van put as much as 15 amps back to the batteries- pretty good for tow vehicle trailer wiring.

Fast forward to my next fill up. The van is our daily driver, typically get between 16-18 MPG. Well, the “idling for 2 hours tank” came back with 13 MPG.  I was really surprised.

I know “idling” and “efficiency” when talking MPG is sort of an oxymoron, but I guess what I mean is I thought it wouldn’t burn as much fuel.  Stoichiometrics of diesel engines, and all…

After a little research that included a discussion with an actual diesel mechanic responsible for a fleet of 200 vehicles ranging from bulldozers to Class 8 trucks; it appears idling is not recommended.  “Wet stacking” being the primary reason.  This is a condition in the cylinders where due to lower combustion temps and incomplete burn, the fuel washes down cylinder walls and adds to fuel in the oil which in turn causes accelerated wear on all oil lubricated components.

So, for charging the batteries, it looks like a dedicated generator is best.  Besides, a Yamaha EF2400IS is much, much quieter than my E-350.

See you Down the Road!

Wrenching on the E-350, Again

Spent the weekend working on the E-350.  At least the Old Girl had the decency to act-up on a Saturday morning at home, and even tho it’s December, it was sunny skies and high 50° all weekend.

Symptoms: substantial loss of power, “Service Engine Soon” dash light, rough idle, throwing P1316 DTC (Injector Driver Module).

Since I don’t have a fancy scanner with the “buzz test”, first thing I did was put an IR temperature gun on the exhaust manifolds.  Driver side was reading 215° down the line, while the passenger was 85°.  So, right away I’m thinking harness problem, since the chances all four injectors failing at the same time is nearly impossible.

Also, some quick google-fu turned up this excellent video on the subject.  This guy is a great resource.

Looks like a textbook valve cover wiring harness failure.

With everything removed, look at all the space I have to work with

Like just about everything on the E-350, getting at the problem is a big problem.  The engine bay is so tightly packed, disassembling stuff that’s in the way is always required.  Getting access to the passenger valve cover, I removed:  interior engine cover, heat shield, resonator box supports, air intake assembly, serpentine belt, top alternator, passenger wheel, and oil dipstick tube.

View of passenger bank from interior, gasket removed

So, with all that stuff out of the way, getting access to the ten valve cover bolts went from impossible to very difficult.  Little did I know, the valve cover bolts were the easy part compared to the under cover wiring harness connections.

Anyway, spent a leisurely four hours disassembling on Saturday.  I checked the glow plug relay since it was also accessible, and discovered it was bad, as well.  Checking is as easy as turning the ignition forward for the “Wait to Start” light, then a voltmeter on the feed lug confirmed the plugs weren’t getting any power.  This would also explain why starting the van under 50° was nearly impossible without having the engine block heater plugged in.

Valve cover gasket and wiring harness

So, once I got the gasket out, it was obvious.  The under valve wiring harness connector had slipped right off the gasket plug.  What happens is the little plastic tab that keeps it positively locked fatigues and the vibration works it off.  I decided not to do the “DieselTechRon” 25¢ fix (as seen in video link, above).  The way the connector clips are designed, I wasn’t confident the quarter itself wouldn’t eventually work its way out, too.  Went with an aftermarket from AutoZone that has the under valve cover wire harness integrated into the gasket- no connector to slip loose.

I’m sure I’ll be doing the driver side bank in the near future, and I’ll be getting a pair of these to get the glow plug clips connected.  It’s nearly impossible to see the tops of the glow plugs since they’re sitting down in the head; and because you’re reaching into such a tight space, there’s no way to actually see what you’re doing.  Had to make connections by feel.

$145 and about seven hours later, the Econosaurus™ is running like a top.

See You Down the Road!

Prepping for Winter

Exterior receptacle

With another Michigan winter looming, I decided to get out in front of potential cold start issues with the diesel. 

Starting an ice cold 7.3 Power Stroke Diesel is a bear, and it’s hard on the engine, too.  The diesel supplemental owners manual says to plug the engine block heater in when temperatures dip below 40°. 

No problem, I’ve got an exterior outlet.  It’s on the back of the house, and the thought of leaving my 10ga 50′ extension cord lying outside, under the snow, getting stepped on and gouged with snow shovels, doesn’t make me very merry.

After a quick run to the hardware store, I’ve got 

  • 25′ Romex 12/2
  • Exterior metal surface mount J-box
  • Exterior weather tight receptacle cover
  • Masonry mounting screws and mollies
  • Plastic single gang J-box
  • Wire nuts
  • Wire staples
  • Hard wired timer

Permanent timer. They should probably include a magnifying glass with this model.

About an hour later, had the outlet installed and wired on a handy timer.  The engine block heater draws about 1000w, so leaving that plugged in for 10-12hrs is no chump change.  I’ve currently got it set to go on about 4am, giving the engine about 3-4hrs of snugly warmth.

See you down the road