Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pre Purchase Inspection of Cars

A beautiful dropped Bentley like this would be a fine addition to any collection

Experts agree - If you’re looking for a pre-owned high end car – of any vintage – you are well-advised to get a pre-purchase inspection.  In the real estate trade many banks won’t grant a mortgage to a home that has not been inspected and given a clean bill of health.  It’s a mystery to me why auto lenders don’t impose the same sort of rule with high-value cars. 

Interior of a Rolls-Royce Corniche S (c) J E Robison

Most home inspectors are certified or licensed and they have a set of standards they adhere to in the course of their work. Unfortunately, auto inspectors do not have licensing or standards that apply to this situation.  Most states license collision damage appraisers but that’s a totally different job.  Some states license mechanics as well but that does not say anything about their knowledge of a specific brand.  And fixing the mechanical problems isn’t the same as evaluating the whole vehicle. Dealerships may be of help, but their capabilities are often limited to current-generation cars and they tend to have a focus on quick maintenance and warranty repair, which has little to do with collector car evaluation.

The other issue with dealerships – and this is not too well known – is that looking cars over for problems kind of goes against what the manufacturer tells them.  One of the things carmakers watch closely is the stream of warranty repairs from their dealers.  Most manufacturers discourage dealers from looking for problems; they are supposed to respond to customer complaints but they are not supposed to go looking for little things to fix in warranty, unless they are safety hazards.

That makes sense from the manufacturer perspective, as they want to keep costs down.  But that and the fact that dealer technicians are mostly paid on a piecework basis means the techs have every incentive to whip through a job as fast as possible, and small issues that are unmentioned by the driver go ignored.  That’s not what you want when checking a complex old car.

Ideally you want an inspector who is a recognized expert on cars like the one you want to buy.  Inspecting a 1995 Rolls-Royce is very different from inspecting a 1995 Chevy Silverado.  A good used car appraiser can judge the originality and condition of paint on any car, but someone who is accustomed to “ordinary” cars may dramatically underestimate the costs to repair cosmetic flaws in Rolls-Royce or other high end vehicles.

Mechanical inspection is much more specialized and brand specific.  A successful inspection is predicated on knowledge of what goes wrong with particular makes and models.  This is particularly important when a manufacturer model line undergoes significant technological change.  For example, a technician who was trained on the 2003 and newer VW-based Bentley would have little to guide him when inspecting the servo brakes on a 1965 Bentley, which uses totally different systems.

My suggestion is that you look for an inspector on the forums of the marque club for the car that interests you.  For example, a prospective Rolls-Royce buyer would do well to join the club – www.rroc.org and ask about inspectors in the area on the club forums.  An endorsement from several club members would mean more to me than an ad from the Internet.

If the car club can’t point you to an expert, your best bet will be to find a qualified and impartial service facility and engage them to evaluate the car.  Thanks to the Internet it’s easy to look at reviews and descriptions of shops all over the country, and those shops may also be checked out on car club forums.  You could, for example, search out “independent Porsche service in Des Moines, IA” or “independent Land Rover repair in Springfield, MA.”  Call the shop, talk to them, and see what they say.

Once you find a person to inspect the car, it’s important to cover what will be inspected.  Here are some thoughts.  At a minimum, he(she) should . . .
  • Evaluate paint and body condition, including paint thickness; and the originality and completeness of trim
  •  Evaluate the interior condition, particularly with respect to the need for and cost of leather and wood repairs.
  • Evaluate the structural integrity of the car, including the frame and body.  This requires familiarity with the use of wood in coach-built bodies, and the structural weak points of the car under consideration.
  • Evaluate the mechanical condition of the car with respect to things that don’t work, are worn, or possibly unsafe.  This requires familiarity with all the equipment on the subject car and how it should work.  Knowledge of what fails and why is brand and model specific and valuable.
  • If you're looking at a pre-1990s car, you should expect a compression test and possibly a leak down test.  Compression is seldom checked on newer cars because compression is monitored by the engine ECU and a compression loss in a post-1997 car will result in a check engine code.
  • Expect a physical check of suspension, brakes, hoses, and undercarriage.  This will typically require a lift, and it’s one reason we only do these inspections in our shop (as opposed to wherever the car happens to be.)
  • Check the age of the battery, its condition, and the condition of charging and starting systems.  On a collector car look for a battery tender and possibly a cutoff switch.
  • Review the service records for the car and look for exceptionalities.  Also look to see if the car was cared for properly and what services may be due now.  Compare the written record to the observable evidence of the vehicle.
  • If you are looking at something exotic and fairly new a well-connected inspector may be able to access manufacturer service records.  They may also access the as-built record and compare that to the car’s appearance now.
  • The inspector should drive the car and evaluate its function on the road.  Does it feel right?  Is it free of rattles and annoyances?  Does it perform as it should, without overheating or showing other signs of trouble?
  • Look for the manuals, tools, and other little bits that came with the car when new. The more of that you have, the better in the collector world.  The inspection report should tell you what's there and what's not, and if there are any additional materials (car cover, sales literature, etc) that should be mentioned.  On a car like the Corniche S Rolls in the photos below you would spend several thousand dollars to replace missing manuals, tools, and key fobs. So be sure the inspector pays attention to that.
  • If the car being evaluated is newer than mid-90s, you should expect a scan of electronics and a report on issues that the scan reveals.  This would include fault codes, odometer discrepancies, changed modules and anything else unusual.  Note that a manufacturer specific scan tool is needed for this level of inquiry; the inexpensive generic OBD scanners won’t give this detail.
  • Compare the car to others of its kind – is the vehicle under study better than 90%, or just average? Why?  This requires extensive knowledge of the car line and model under study.

Don't forget the little things - owners manuals and tool kits for example

Here at Robison Service we produce a written inspection report backed up with photos, and I would expect the same in any intensive inspection.  But keep in mind that time is money – a really thorough inspection backed up with a well-documented report may cost you 6-8 hours of labor. Checking everything I list above is not a quick casual thing. That said, you don't always need that extensive a check. In some cases you may be well enough served by paying for 1-2 hours of the inspectors time and a verbal report.

When we inspect complex cars like Rolls Royce I tell potential buyers that I might reject an obviously unsuitable or problem-filled car in an hour's time but a thorough evaluation of where to go next on a promising car might take be 4-5 hours more as we check hydraulics and do other time consuming tests.  

I encourage is to have the seller present when the car is inspected, and I recommend you ask the inspector to present his findings to the seller.  That way you have less chance of a seller disagreeing with what’s being reported – he can disagree right then and there and a good inspector will support his position or recognize his error.

I hope this gives you a sense of what’s involved in a comprehensive pre-purchase inspection, and how to get one done.  The biggest problem – once you get outside the big cities – is finding qualified technicians to do the work.  If you are making a major investment, don’t hesitate to pay the costs to transport the car you are considering to someone really qualified to look it over.  And if the seller refuses when you offer to pay costs there (and back if needed) . . . consider that a big red flag. 

This process is often complicated when the car is in an auction environment.  At a Kruse or R-M style live auction you can usually arrange to inspect the car at the auction facility in the days before the sale, but the inspector will have to go to the vehicle and that may limit what they can check in the absence of a workshop and lifts.  When the car is on eBay there is no telling what the inspection environment may be.  Some cars will be at dealerships while others are at homes.  Sellers may or may not be responsive to your request to bring a car to a shop for inspection in an auction environment.

Depending on the complexity of the inspection and the detail of the report, an inspection like I describe may cost anywhere from $150 to $1,000+. If the inspector has to travel to the car or the car must be brought to the inspector those costs will accrue too.  Expensive as that may sound, it's a lot smarter to spend the money in due diligence than it is to pay top dollar for a piece of eye candy that falls apart as soon as it lands in your driveway.

It’s a buyer beware world out there, folks. Know what you’re getting.

(c) 2015 John Elder Robison
John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, celebrating 30 years of independent Rolls-Royce and Bentley restoration and repair specialists in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the RROC and other car clubs, and he’s owned and restored many fine vehicles.  Find him online at www.robisonservice.com or in the real world at 413-785-1665

Reading this article will make you smarter, especially when it comes to car stuff.  So it's good for you.  But don't take that too far - printing and eating it will probably make you sick.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Fix For Land Rover Discovery II Frame Rot / Rust

Last year I wrote a story about the frame rust that is beginning to cripple Discovery II trucks that run in snow country, particularly the 2003-4 models.  At the time, the only fix was a new frame ($10,000+) or hand fabrication and patching (costly and not always successful.)  Today I am pleased to show a new and more affordable alternative.

Rovers North has begin selling rear frame sections that replace the last two feet of a Discovery II frame.  These premade sections have all the complex fitments that make one-off fabrication difficult, and they are easy to install (at least compared to the alternatives!)

Here is what a rotted frame looks like, pre-repair:

You don't see much damage from a distance but when you look close the rear frame rails are totally destroyed.  This happens because the rails are thinner than older Land Rovers, they are not protected inside, and they are designed in such a way that gravel can get inside. When that happens, salt water from winter roads soaks the gravel and the mix just eats the frame from inside out, but luckily only in the gravel spray areas behind the wheels.

In some cases the shocks towers corrode, weaken and break.  We see other issues like that but the main failure is what you see above - rot in the rear two feet.  Here's how we repair it now:

We remove the gas tank for safety and access. To do that the trailer hitch has to come off.  We usually send the bits of hitch for sand blasting and finishing – preferably powder coat for its durability.

The truck is set up on a body lift and the rear of the frame lopped off. Here is what the rotted segments look like on the floor:

The edges are smoothed and any corrosion extending forward is repaired.  Then the new frame rail ends are installed.  You can see how they slide over the original rails, and the six holes on each side give space for bolting and welding. 

The gold finish on the frame is a weldable corrosion resistant primer, so the repaired frame won’t be so quick to go the way of the original.

The rear crossmember will take some fabrication as you see, but it’s not a big deal.

These frames also rust and break alongside the right catalyst, and we repair that with plate to strengthen the sides and bottom of the frame for about two feet in that area.  Once the frame is repaired we still recommend treatment with Waxoyl.  The Waxoyl may not hold on badly rusted and flaking areas but it will significantly slow the progress of corrosion most everywhere else.  It's not optimal - applying on rusty frame - but it's the best post-repair preservative I know.  The image below shows a repaired area treated in Waxoyl:

We are very pleased to see these new frame rail repair pieces.  I predict they will save quite a few truck from the scrap yard!

(c) 2015 John Elder Robison

John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, independent Land Rover restoration and repair specialists in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the Land Rover, Mercedes, BMW, Porsche and Rolls Royce Owner's Clubs, and he’s owned and restored many of these fine vehicles.  Find him online at www.robisonservice.com or in the real world at 413-785-1665

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Building a Rolls-Royce engine

A few years ago one of our clients bought an exceptionally nice 1972 long wheelbase Shadow.  Like most "clean" Rolls-Royce motorcars of its vintage the car was very clean everywhere but under the hood.  That was a mess.  It's too old and too complex to be anything else.

He tried all sorts of tricks to spruce it up.  Painting, cleaning, and power washing.  The bottom line - the Silver Shadow engine bay is not "perfectible" with ordinary cleaning techniques.  When compared to the engine bay of a 1972 Chevy, it's ten times as complex.  It's no wonder owners left them alone, and showed their cars with hoods closed.

"It's unseemly to have a Rolls-Royce with its hood open."

"And it's not a hood.  It's a bonnet."

Many drivers of lesser cars put their tails between their legs and turned away.  But the owner of this car didn't do that. He said, "Let's fix it.  And let's start from the inside."  So that's what we did.  We removed the car from the engine, and stripped it to its component parts

This is the same engine as in the top photo, but 1,440 pipes, fittings, assemblies and pieces have been removed to get to the point you see here - a short block, heads, and exhaust manifolds.  Looking close you can see how the cosmetic problem under the hood got its start.

We found problems inside too . . . piston rings broken and stuck by sludge.  Gaskets that came apart and allowed oil and gas to mix.  Bearings that wore out, long before their time.  As much as I love Rolls-Royce and the British cars, I see how Daimler Benz did it better, with their 600 Grand Mercedes engine.

Rolls-Royce markets itself as the finest motorcar maker in the world, but the exhaust manifolds are bare rough, rusty cast iron.  The heads are painted, but the block is just rough cast aluminum.  It was a mess fully assembled, and it's a mess broken down into component parts.

We decided to do it differently, going back together. Here's the block, ready to begin assembly.

 As you can see, it's not dirty anymore.  We've cleaned it, and finished the outside in silver.  The inside is fully blueprinted.  Liners pulled and redone, new pistons, line bored crank journals, and everything balanced better than new.  The cylinder heads looked like pieces of art.

We did our best to keep the appearance of the engine original, but we addressed some designed-in limitations as we could. For example, these engines did not have front oil seals, so they leaked a small amount from the crank all the time.  The used similar low-tech seal for the back of the crank, and that leaked too.  We fitted modern rubber seals on both ends which required some crank and block machining but it's invisible in the assembled engine.

We used modern synthetic gaskets in place of leather, paper, and cork.  We hope they will be more durable, and the evidence of the newer Crewe-built 6.75 motors says they will be.

Every piece needed attention. The carburetors, front and center atop the engine, looked like this:

The only way to make this right, in my opinion, was to do what we did: take the assembly apart, dismantle both carbs, polish all the pieces and paint what needs painting with durable powder coat.  Then we assembled them with new jets, bushings, floats and valves.  So they should work like new and look better than new.

Once the block was rebuilt the engine around it began to take shape:

In many cases we had to decide how to finish parts that Rolls-Royce had left as bare metal.  The exhaust manifolds were done in a silver high-temp ceramic.  The valve covers were refinished in black, but we did the Rolls-Royce logo in silver rather than the original bare aluminum.  The step pipes that were not painted were plated.  Meanwhile, all the little subassemblies had to be rebuilt - hydraulic pumps, accumulators, valves, water pump and ignition to name a few.

The engine seemed to grow bigger as successive layers were added. And every piece had to be refurbished in some way.  Some needed mechanical repair, others jest needed cosmetic work.  Every piece needed that, and it was time consuming.  Take a look at the box of outer parts:

That stuff looked ok on an old ratty engine but it won't play where we are taking this project.  Here are a few of the mechanically good parts after cosmetic cleanup.  Quite a difference, wouldn't you say?

And it all came together.  In the end there were so many pipes and fittings you could hardly see the actual engine:

One big milestone was joining the engine to the subframe, which was also rebuilt to a better-than-new level of finish and a fully as-new level of performance.  Brake calipers were rebuilt, hoses, bearings and seals were renewed, and bushings replaced.  The transmission was overhauled and refitted, using a new gear reduction starter.

Subframe and Strut assemblies (C) JE Robison Service
A Rolls-Royce / Bentley subframe - used virtually unchanged from 1965 to 1999
New ball joints, bushes, and hoses, and everything else rebuilt and refinished (c) JE Robison Service
Once the engine was on the subframe the throttle linkages and piping could be connected. This is no small job on a RR V8.  Take a look at some of the detailing in the linkage and piping, and recognize that every single piece must be refinished, sometimes sized or bushed, and fitted and adjusted.

Many of these parts had been left unfinished by the assemblers in Crewe but we did not repeat that.  We finished them in clear or silver in most cases.  It's certainly an esthetic decision, but to clean them up to be just as made, only to let them rust and go bad, seemed foolish. The sorry appearance of parts like these was the whole reason for the job!  And it would not have happened if RR had invested a bit more care at the original assembly.  The exhaust pipes are a good example - we did them in clear ceramic, while the factory left them bare, and they were rusty and shabby looking before the cars were even delivered!

We used a tank filled with pressurized oil to verify the integrity of the lubrication system, and prime the pump.  The engine was filled through the port for the oil sender.  Needless to say, you don't proceed to the next step unless the pressurized oil remains in the engine and not on the floor or the wall.

With all that work to the mechanicals, we had to restore the engine bay in the car, which meant the unibody parts (black, textured, and car-colored, and all the subassemblies (AC evaporator housing, radiator top, all the pipes and hoses, hydraulic reservoir, all the electrics . . . .

In the photos below you see the engine bay being prepped.  The frame rails were (and are now) finished in a black texture semi-gloss.  The sides of the fender wells are smooth semi-gloss.  The shock tops and many other undressed bits are medium gloss black.

This next photo gives a sense of the final engine bay detailing

In that shot you can see that the pipes had to be cad plated. The brake reservoir was redone in silver.  The expansion valve is new.  The heater fan is cleaned.  The wiring is cleaned and re-taped with the original "friction tape" cotton tape.  The vinyl duct is cleaned.  Most all the black metal was repainted.  This is no different from what we'd to restoring the engine bay of a 1930s car but a Shadow era or newer car is vastly more complex and it takes a lot more time as a result.  This is the future for all you concours-bound Shadow, Corniche, and Spur/Spirit/Turbo owners as the cars age.

There is a ton of detail in this one image and that is not 10% of the engine. bay.

Here's the whole assembly on the floor, ready for the test fitment:

6.75L Rolls-Royce drivetrain (C) JE Robison Service
If you look close you will see the transmission casing looks dingy and unfinished. The GM400 transmission was rebuilt, and the case is spotless. We have sprayed it with a clear satin protective coat but left its appearance otherwise unchanged as it still has ink stamps (RR) from GM and hand marking with assembly numbers.

Original marks on a GM 400 transmission supplied to Rolls-Royce
If you have an original car this is what you will find.  If your car has a rebuilt tranny it will likely have been spray painted by the rebuilder and that bit of history will be lost.

All that's needed is the car body, and here it comes:

The result goes well beyond what the folks in Crewe provided back in 1972.  There's no way to get this level of detailing other than to do what we did. I can't tell you how proud I am of Bob Toti and the rest of the crew at Robison Service who pulled this off.  And I mustn't forget Justin Morini in the powder coat booth, and Al Keinath with the Glasurit paints . . . liquid gold, that stuff, and laid down by a master.  I wonder who will be next to do this . . .

As of this writing we are doing the final assembly and hookup.  Stand by for the rest or the story, and the rest of the car . . .

(c) 2015 John Elder Robison

John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, celebrating 30 years of independent Rolls-Royce and Bentley restoration and repair specialists in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the RROC and other car clubs, and he’s owned and restored many fine vehicles.  Find him online at www.robisonservice.com or in the real world at 413-785-1665

Reading this article will make you smarter, especially when it comes to car stuff.  So it's good for you.  But don't take that too far - printing and eating it will probably make you sick.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Rebuilding Silver Shadow / Bentley T RR363 brake hydraulic accumulators

Newer RR/B cars have replaceable accumulators but the Shadow era cars were designed with rebuildable units.  The photo below shows both of them together on a 1972 engine; the accumulators were separated and located in other spots year by year.

Here is a pair of accumulators removed from the associated valve body.  As you can see they unscrew in a counter clockwise direction.  The left accumulator in the photo shows the threads where it installs to the valve body to the left, and the charge port is to the right.

The right accumulator shows the discharge plug screwed into place.  When inserted, this plug safely discharged any residual pressure. This is an essential step in overhaul. The photo below shows a closeup of the plug and the charge port it screws into.

The accumulator is them clamped in a RR/B holding fixture and taken apart.  This will require a big wrench as the torque is 275 ft/lbs.  When it comes apart you have the two halves and the diaphragm in the middle.  One side should be wet, the other dry.

If both sides are wet the diaphragm failed, which means the accumulator was totally failed.  That's fairly uncommon.

Pick up the bottom half and you'll see a hole at the bottom.  Inside find a circle, holding a washer, spring, and sealing ball.  All those parts get replaced.

The next photo shows the diaphragm, which goes in between the two halves. The next step is to assemble and tighten the accumulator to 275 ft/lbs.  In the photo below you see one tech holding the tool in position as another (out of picture) prepares to tighten it up

Once the accumulator is assembled it gets charged to 1,200 PSI with nitrogen.  Here is an illustration of the charge setup.  Note that everything needs to be secured for safety when actually charging.

Once the accumulators are charged the outer seal, o ring, cap, and safety label go into place.

You'll note the accumulator bodies in this story are all nice and clean. That's because we clean them and wire wheel away any corrosion before doing the job.  We spray them in clear enamel to keep that look as long as possible.  Note that the part number, the date of original fill, and sometimes the last five digits of the car's chassis number are usually engraved on the accumulator ring

And with that, they are ready to go back on the car.  This job looks easy but you should expect to spent most of a day, doing it right.  My photos show a spotless engine on a stand. The reality of a 40-year-old car and a ton of grease and filth may slow things considerably for you.

I've shown you how to do this job with the original Rolls-Royce service tools, which may not be available for purchase anymore.  People who lack tools sometimes substitute an air chisel but that is hazardous and it damages the accumulator bodies.  I urge great care in the charging process as the pressures involved make the pieces dangerous if they blow apart.

When you are done be sure to charge the system with the correct RR363 fluid.  Other fluids - like Castrol LMA - don't have the castor oil lubricants needed by the pumps.

John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, celebrating 30 years of independent Rolls-Royce and Bentley restoration and repair specialists in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the RROC and other car clubs, and he’s owned and restored many fine vehicles.  Find him online at www.robisonservice.com or in the real world at 413-785-1665

Reading this article will make you smarter, especially when it comes to car stuff.  So it's good for you.  But don't take that too far - printing and eating it will probably make you sick.