Thursday, July 14, 2016

What makes up the high annual costs for a vintage Rolls Royce?

What makes up the annual  upkeep costs for a vintage Rolls Royce?







When people ask me what it will cost to keep a 1980s-1990s Rolls Royce on the road (with moderate use) I usually say it’s a middle four figure sum, if you pay someone to do all the work.

Every year the car should have its oil changed.  The other fluids should be checked. The chassis should be lubricated.   The hydraulics should be bled.  All the car’s equipment should be checked and serviced as needed.  This job will take 4-6 hours, and consume several hundred dollars of fluids and supplies.

If you are paying $100-150 per hour for labor this service is probably close to or above $1,000.

On an older car you will always be coming due on something.  Perhaps it’s transmission fluid due every 30,000 miles, or coolant due every 3-4 years.  And there are tires every 5-10 years.  Those periodic items add up.

Next are mechanical repairs.  The car may emerge from storage with inoperative air conditioning, or a fresh oil leak.  It might develop a running problem, or the radio antenna might fail.  On a labor-intensive British car those repairs can easily exceed $2,000 per year.  Or you may get lucky and have none.  More likely, the problems occur and the driver fails to spot them, or chooses to ignore them.

Over my years as a service manager I have seen some really egregious faults - rock hard suspensions, 8 cylinder cars running on 4 cylinders, and Rolls-Royce cars with blown exhausts being driving down the boulevard by oblivious owners.  "I thought that was the way it was," they've told me and I just shake my head in wonder.

Then there are those who notice the faults and say, "Let it go; I'm selling it soon." Those people annoy me because I know they plan to pass the problems on to the next sucker, though they would never admit that truth.  

Finally, there are cosmetic costs.  The car may get dented.  Wood veneers crack, and leather splits.  Those repairs don’t happen every year, but when they do, they are costly.  Small dent repairs can run $1,000, while overall paint jobs can exceed $30,000. 

When someone says “I’ve owned the car ten years and never spent anywhere near those sums,” that usually tells us they have overlooked most of the items above.  Mechanics may be working, but run down. The paint may be more faded, and the leather harder. The wood may show some additional cracks.  Some owners dismiss that as “patina” while others want it fixed. 

A car with a lot of patina eventually becomes a candidate for restoration or scrappage.  Restoration of a 1990s-vintage Rolls is a six-figure proposition and few of those jobs are done today.  Most people look for a “good enough” example and drive it a few years.  That’s ok as long as acceptable cars can be found, but eventually they will all be gone, and people will see very steep costs to bring rougher cars back.

Can you buy a decent running car, drive it lightly, and get away with doing nothing for a couple years?  Probably so.  But at some point there will be a reckoning, and it will probably cost more than keeping the car in good shape right along.  I can’t tell you have many times I’ve brought one of those “never needed anything” cars into our shop, only to write up a $15,000 list of needed repairs.

And what about those $15,000 lists? How can an owner know what is real and what’s “mechanic exaggeration?”  My advice is that you ask the mechanic to show you.  We document everything we report with measurements and photos.  If a car should hold brake pressure for 40 pumps of the pedal, and it fails at 9 pumps, it’s worn out.  The fact that the brakes still work does not matter.  That measurement may be your only warning they are headed to failure.  Fluids should not leak.  You may look at a leak, and decide you’d live with the spots rather than pay a huge repair bill, but in either case the leak is a valid problem to report. 

We can test fluids like antifreeze, but if Rolls-Royce says “change this every five years” we ignore that at our peril.  Some will do that, others won’t.

Cosmetic damage is all in the eye of the beholder. One person will look at cracked wood trim on the doors and have to have it fixed, even though it costs $4,000.  Another person would not care.
Taken together, I think you can see how the work adds up on these cars.  You can get a free ride for a few years, but know that you are just passing the buck to the next buyer.  And when you buy a used car – know that most sellers are passing their buck onto you.  That’s a really good reason to check a car like this out thoroughly before you buy.

John Elder Robison

(c) 2016 John Elder Robison
John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, celebrating 30 years of independent Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Bentley restoration and repair in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Bentley clubs, and he’s owned and restored many fine British motorcars.  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, July 5, 2016

Balance shaft failure on Mercedes V6 engines

Your check engine light comes on, but the engine in your car seems to run fine.  What’s the worst it can be, you ask?  That’s never a good question, because the worst it can be, is usually pretty bad.  Perhaps a new engine, or even a new car.

In this blog I'd like to look at the dread P1200 and P1208 codes, and what they mean.  

Mercedes has a long history of building reliable and long-lived engines.  That’s why it came as such a surprise, when we found engine lights coming on from internal wear.  This is what Mercedes technicians refer to as “the balance shaft problem.”



 The balance shaft is a weighted shaft Mercedes installed in V6 engines to improve smoothness.  The shaft is driven by the timing chain, which also turns the camshafts in precise relation to the crankshaft rotation.  Therein lies the problem. 

The timing chain and sprockets are like a bicycle chain and gears.  As long as the chain stays in place, the gears all rotate in unison and timing integrity should be maintained.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened.  The Mercedes timing chains stretch with age, so a chain that started out 36 inches long in 2005 might be 36.5 inches long today.  The chain sprockets wear too, and when the chain sits deeper on the sprocket the sprocket effectively shrinks in size, which has the same effect as stretching the chain.

In both cases, the cam timing becomes retarded, and that ultimately sets the 1200 and 1208 codes.  That sort of thing always happened with timing chains but it wasn’t a problem on old time motors because the timing relationship between crank and cam didn’t need to be so precise.  Older engines didn't generate cam retard faults because they didn't monitor cam timing. That’s all changed as auto engineers push to get every bit of power from ever-lighter and smaller engines.  One of the ways they do that is by varying the cam timing with adjuster mechanisms on the camshafts.  The adjusters can compensate for some wear, but when the wear moves beyond the compensation limit, a check engine light appears.

In extreme cases, the engine will actually begin to skip, or lose power.  If you live in a state with emission test (most of the USA) the car will no longer pass the annual smog test. 

We often see these cars after their owners have visited the dealer and been stunned by a $6-9,000 repair estimate.  They can’t believe a car that runs so well (all that’s wrong is that light!) needs such an expensive repair.  And they don’t understand how that could happen, on a high-end car like theirs.

Two explanations have emerged for how it happens.  The first is that the alloys used in the gears were too soft, and they wore out prematurely.  The second explanation says there had to be a lubrication failure, for any metal parts to wear out.  That puts some or most of the blame on engine oil – either the wrong oil was used in the motor, or it wasn’t changed often enough.

Mercedes says they’ve addressed the “soft gears” with new improved parts.  They sell all the internal parts you need for the job in a single kit. They feel that is a permanent repair, and I hope they are right. Even so, we encourage owners to minimize the lubrication risk by changing oil at 7,500 miles (not the 10,000+ miles Mercedes originally suggested) and insisting on the correctly rated oil, like Mobil 1 0-40.  But that only helps once the engine is fixed.  And that’s a project.

Balance shaft replacement requires engine removal and extensive disassembly. These photos show a typical Mercedes sedan with engine removed, and then the progressive teardown of the engine to reach the affected parts.  This is a week-long job in most cases.





To do this repair the engine is set on a stand.  The lower oil pan is removed for access, and then the front end rear covers come off the engine.  At that point the timing chains are exposed and the balance shaft (which runs through the motor, front to back) can be removed.





The photo below shows a new balance shaft being inserted into the block.





When the engine is pulled from the car we encourage owners to look at all the ancillary parts, as this is the time to replace them pro-actively.  Items to check would be belt idlers, motor mounts, water pump, and others items that are prone to wearing out. Also look at maintenance – are the plugs and air filters fresh?

When the engine goes back in the car it should get fresh Mercedes coolant and fresh synthetic oil.  While some shops re-use old fluids those services are part of every repair at Robison Service. 

There’s one more possible complication I should mention.  That is the possibility of sludge.  If the engine’s service was badly neglected there may be sludge in the motor, and there’s no good way to clean that out short of complete overhaul (a very costly job).  That is a serious problem, and if found, we generally suggest engine replacement.

(c) 2016 John Elder Robison
John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, celebrating 30 years of independent Mercedes-Benzrestoration and repair in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the Mercedes clubs, and he’s owned and restored many fine German motorcars.  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.


Friday, June 17, 2016

Leaking ABS modulators on 1990s Rolls-Royce and Bentley motorcars



By this juncture, wise owners of vintage Rolls-Royce and Bentley have learned to take fluid leaks in stride.  It’s part of the charm, to keep the garage floor lubricated.  Folks who could not handle the leaks bought Toyotas instead.

But we assume the leaks won’t strand or disable our cars.  We particularly assume the leaks won’t cause us to crash.  That is what makes this particular story so distressing.



The 1997 car shown here arrived at our shop with some common complaints.  The brakes were soft, and pulled to one side and the low fluid warning was coming on.  It seemed routine – add some fluid and bleed the nitrogen bubbles out of the system.  We encourage people to do this service every year, in the spring, because nitrogen gas leaks into the fluid slowly as the accumulators age.

But that didn’t solve this car’s problem.  Bleeding did fix the pull, but only temporarily.  A closer look revealed the problem.  The ABS modulator was leaking, allowing fluid to escape (hence the low fluid warning) and allowing air to get into one of the front brake circuits (hence the pull to one side.)

The fix for that was obvious – a new modulator.  That was when I had a rude surprise.  I went to the heritage.bentleymotors website and entered the VIN.  Then I typed “ABS modulator” into the search box. The part I was seeking came right up – the UR27685.  As is often the case, the website said, “dealer to advise on cost and availability.”  Unfortunately, the dealer found no cost, and no availability.  The part was discontinued.

I was rather surprised that Crewe would simply drop an essential part that’s used in most 1990s sedans.  But that seems to be the case.  A search online revealed it’s out of stock at the aftermarket sites too.  I hated to do it, but we went to the used parts people and got a “pre-owned” brake modulator.  It leaked too. 



With that we realized that some new solution was needed.  Fixing the leaking modulators is not an option, because they are assembled in a way that precludes disassembly.  The other issue is that repair parts are not sold.  That means anyone repairing the modulator would have to assume responsibility for testing and validating critical brake system components.

After considerable thought and document review, we settled on what we think is a better option – we changed the hydraulic plumbing to the configuration RR/B had immediately before the addition of ABS. 

The original Rolls-Royce hydraulic brake system was extremely complex – un-necessarily so, as it turned out.  They had two pumps pressurizing two reservoirs, and those reservoirs were pipes to two sets of distribution valves, lines, and brake calipers such that each wheel had two essentially independent brake systems stopping it. 

By the late 1980s the engineers at Crewe had quietly backed away from that in favor of a system where one hydraulic circuit powered the front brakes, and the other circuit powered the rear brakes and the level control.  The cars still had two brake calipers on the front wheels, but they no longer had two lines feeding them. Now they were fed with one circuit.

When you look at an older Rolls (like the Shadow in the top photo below) there are two completely independent circuits for each wheel.  By the 1990s (lower photo, Continental R) it looked the same superficially but the two calipers were now fed from one hose.




This was the hydraulic system RR added antilock functionality to in the late 1980s.  Returning the ABS-equipped car to that basic design turns out to be fairly straightforward.  The modulator has two “inputs,” from brake circuits 1 and 2.  It has outputs for the left and right front, and the rear.  It also has returns to vent excess pressurized fluid back to the reservoir when ABS activates. 




We made up a series of pipe adapters to take the place of the modulator.  The benefit of this is that we don’t have to engineer and validate something new.  We’re returning the car to the previous iteration of the Crewe brake design.  Given the choice of no ABS versus a system that leaks, becomes unsafe, and will eventually fail entirely, the choice is obvious.

And for most owners, the elimination of another $3,000 part that can fail is a welcome simplification.

As these cars age, it is certain that other parts will be discontinued and we will face similar situations.  The best we can hope for is to make wise choices and hope for simple modifications with good outcomes.  This appears to be such an example.


Thanks to vintage Rolls-Royce and Bentley master technician Bud Orlich for figuring this one out!

John Elder Robison

(c) 2016 John Elder Robison
John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, celebrating 30 years of independent Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Bentley restoration and repair in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Bentley clubs, and he’s owned and restored many fine British motorcars.  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.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Diagnosing Raps and Noises in Land Rover Pushrod V8 Engines

How do you diagnose a liner or piston rap from a Land Rover engine? 

These are the most serious noises, because they call for complete engine teardown and rebuild.  Liner noises are often confused with valve train rap, and considerable time may be spent chasing a false trail.

Piston and liner noises sound similar but the setup and circumstances may differ.  Here are some videos where you can see and hear the difference.

Piston noises tend to come on gradually, with no noise at first and increasing noise as the engine warms up.  One good clue to a piston noise is that they tend to worsen under throttle, and go away if the plug wire is removed from the affected cylinder. 

The following video shows the piston movement and associated noise in a dismantled engine:

video 


Piston rap happens when the pistons are too loose in the bore.  This was particularly a problem for the 2003-4 Discovery engines.  The pistons are usually tapered with more wear at the bottom. This taper causes a poor combustion gas seal at the piston rings, so motors with sloppy pistons may use oil, or have dirty oil.

Those things aside, piston rap is not fatal to the engine.  A truck with loose pistons may run for years, making gradually more noise.  We fix the problem with new flanged liners and new pistons.  The liners are honed to the exact size of the pistons and the rebuilt engine typically runs more smoothly and silently than it did when new.

Liner noises are different in that they often come on suddenly like flicking as switch, as the engine gets warm.  The engine will be silent, and then, suddenly, it raps so loud you think it’s coming apart.  Once rapping the liner noise is not affected by pulling a plug wire.  The noise may go away under throttle on the road, as combustion pressure jams the liner in place.

In a cold engine the liner is held tight by metal contraction.  As the motor heats up the aluminum block expands more than the steel liner, and at some temp the liner comes loose. That is when the rap starts.  That's why it has a sudden onset, and that sets it apart from gradually increasing piston noise.

The video below shows (in the center of the frame) the liner moving up and down as the crankshaft is rocked back and forth in this 2003 Land Rover Discovery 4.6 engine.  The noise in the video is what you hear when the engine is running, just louder.

video


Liners move when they were installed incorrectly.  In the manufacture of the motor the liner was supposed to be pressed into the cylinder bore until it seated against the step cast into the block. Then the liner would be cut off flush and countersunk.  Liners that are properly installed CANNOT move, because they are constrained at the bottom by the block casting and at the top by the head and head gasket.

After the liner moves for a period of time it will destroy the head gasket fire ring, and the engine will fail.  Until then, the truck will run fine.

Check out the photos of an original liner, and a flanged liner. We fix this problem by fitting new liners with flanges at the top, so they cannot move up and down.  The liner is clamped between the block and the head gasket and cannot move.  The fit at the bottom – where the original errors occurred – is no longer important.

The original Land Rover V8 liner, the one that breaks loose and moves (c) JE Robison Service


A flanged liner, which cannot move (C) JE Robison Service
Here is a closeup of an engine block, counterbored for flanged liners.  If Land Rover had taken this step to build a better quality engine, these failures would not be happening today.  Carmakers make all sorts of tradeoffs to same money, and this one is not working out too well 

Land Rover block, ready to fit flanged or top hat liner (c) JE Robison Service


In addition, the flanged liners seal against combustion gases getting into the cooling system through cracks in the block casting behind the liner.  This is another and more common cause of Land Rover engine failure.

As of this writing – Spring 2016 – the cost to bring a truck into our shop, rebuild the motor to address failures like this and repair the other issues common to a worn out motor costs $11-15,000.  When motors are rebuilt we can upgrade from 4.0 to 4.6 and we can balance and blueprint for greater smoothness. J E Robison has been doing these rebuilds and upgrades longer than any other shop in the USA, and we’ve seen a very good service record on the rebuilt motors.

The change to flange liners addresses a fundamental weakness in the engine, and renders them much less susceptible to future failure. To read more about liner issues and what we do to rebuild and improve these motors I suggest this essay from 2012


This article applies to all pushrod Land Rover V8 engines, including the motors in Range Rover Classic, County LWB, Discovery, and Discovery II.  It is not applicable to the newer L322 Range Rover, or the Range Rover Sport, LR2, LR3, or LR4.

Thanks to master technicians Paul Ferreira and Danny Ferrari for finding and figuring out these failures.

John Elder Robison

(c) 2016 John Elder Robison
John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, celebrating 30 years of independent Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Bentley restoration and repair in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Bentley clubs, and he’s owned and restored many fine British motorcars.  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.