Thursday, September 20, 2018

Electrical Gremlin...ARGH...

So last night I was finally replacing a few interior pieces (as I will post in a future blog post soon), when by happenstance I realized that my rear brake lamps were not working.

Of course, I checked the obvious, which was the fuse and the bulbs, and both were ok, but since the trunk mounted LED also failed to light up, I figured it was something a bit more complicated - either the switch under the brake pedal or the relay.

So this morning I called up Yamazaki-san at Nissan Prince Tokyo Motorsports Factory, and told him I would be driving in later in the day to drop the car off for this problem. Except, it then started to rain. And by the time I left work (early) not only was it raining heavily but the skies were darkening quickly.  All of sudden, driving around with no brake lights - even only 20km from home to NPTMF, seemed like a risky thing to do.

As I was taking the train home, I called my insurance company to ask for a tow truck, and the operator who verified my policy promised I would be receiving a phone call 15 minutes after I got home, from the nearest tow truck operator.

Now, with today being a very heavy rain day (and so lots of accidents out there), I was not expecting the call so soon but... yep, this is SO Japan. Exactly 15 minutes after I got home... the truck driver told me to meet him down the street from my house, because the road in front of my house is only 4 meters wide and he didn't want to block traffic!

As I drove down the street towards his direction, I saw him waving me down - he had parked the truck a bit further up the street and decided to meet me closer to my house... on foot! In the rain! Despite me offering him a ride to his truck, he declined and proceeded to run alongside me in the rain towards his truck!
Of course my car was super clean... only to get wet. Oh well.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had sent over a proper flat bed truck. Now I realized why my insurance company had asked me if the car had been lowered (yes), and whether I had any aftermarket aero parts on the car (no).
Superwide street (for Japanese neighborhood) in front of some random apartment building...
Even though the truck was a flat bed, the driver said the car was low enough that the front lip spoiler might get scraped. Standing in the rain, getting wet, I told him "not a problem" while trying to remember in the back of my mind whether the rubber bump stops I had installed for protection were still good.

I guess my poker face is terrible because the next thing I knew, the driver had pulled out these two wooden planks and...
Taking extra care! Love it!
He told me that in cases of lowered cars, in his judgment better safe than sorry no matter what the owner says, so he called the insurance company to make sure they agreed with his course of action on the wooden planks.

Once he got the OK, he directed me while I drove it up onto the bed, no damage to the front lip.  Then he pushed a few buttons and...

Once on, he then secured the car not only with blocks like below, but also used nylon belts to tie down the front wheels as well (not shown in below photo).

We then proceeded to drive to NPTMF.  45 minutes later, once lowered to the ground I drove it off the truck backwards, and then Yamazaki-san took over.

Yamada-san, who I have entrusted this car to since I first bought it back in 2006, immediately set to work trying to figure out what was wrong with the brake lights.
And yes, I was wiping down the car with the purple microfiber towel.
Yamada-san first checked the switch behind the brake pedal...

And also checked the wiring back where the bulbs were.

After about 30 minutes, he concluded that the brake lamp switch was at fault. It was operating intermittently, as he had actually gotten it to work again, but of course recommended a new switch, which I promptly ordered.

As the car is going to be there overnight I've asked them to inspect the car for any salt or other damage due to the six months my car was at WORX (as WORX is right next to the Pacific Ocean in Chiba).  In an upcoming post I'll show why I know it was left out in the open, exposed to the salt wind, and how I dealt with another aspect of that in my garage last weekend...

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Still Working On the Interior...

First, apologies to all you readers - especially those who inquired to see if I was still alive. Good news, yes I am, bad news I have been so busy with my awesome new job I started in May of last year that this blog has suffered. Of course, I think I still have to some PTSD from the whole fiasco at WORX last year (to make it perfect again I am saving up)...

Anyway, so truth be told, both the LED back up lamp replacement and the muffler silencer parts I discussed in my last two posts, I took care of shortly after rescuing my car from WORX Auto Alarm in October of last year.  As you've seen, in my very limited free time (lately I've been busy with family stuff on the weekends too, never mind my crazy work schedule) I've been working on fixing all the items that Nakamura at WORX essentially either broke, ignored my requests on, or threw out.

One item that was not finished was the installation of the matte carbon fiber door cups that Marc Binet from Xclusiv Carbon had made for me.
Or door handle surrounds, or whatever their proper name is...
It was obvious that when I went to pick the car up (after 6 months) that Nakamura was rushing to finish, barely putting the finishing touches on the Navi unit, and so items such as these cups as well as the leatherized ignition key surround, he simply did not have time for. He did manage to wrap up the red LED that I had installed as a courtesy lamp a long time ago, which actually now prevents placement of the LED in the space I had drilled out for the LED. Again, an example of linear thinking and not the creative thinking that is needed for these kinds of mods.  Anyway, in a future post I will show you how I got around this...

In any case, not installing the door cups turned out to be a blessing of sorts, as I began thinking about replacing the door handles themselves with chrome versions that were available for the R33 sedan. I had seen these on Yahoo Auction so many times, yet never pulled the trigger, and now it was too late, as no one now seems to be selling them new any more.

Maybe someday Nissan will make them again, or a used set in very good condition pops up. Until then, I had to figure out way to bring some "pop" to this area of the car.

Enter my friend and fellow R33 GT-R owner Tom S. He has an AMAZING black R33 GT-R:
This is his Facebook background photo - my kind of guy!! No way I could stay sane and keep black as clean as that!!
When I mentioned that I was looking for the chrome door handles, he first tried to find them in the UK for me, but when that didn't work out, came up with a better idea - he has a friend, James B. who could paint a set in a nice color. Oh, and James paints for Aston Martin(!) and LandRover(!!) (prototype work) and could be convinced to help(!!!!)?

But first I had to tell Tom what color I wanted. Naturally, we have to use OEM paint colors, so I went over to the Nissan Global Headquarters gallery to check out not only the cars on display but to see what OEM colors are currently being sold.
A bunch of tourists... ok I'm one too I guess
Hidden behind the service counter are these trays labelled with vehicle model names
Here are the colors available for the R35 GT-R
Not a GT-R color but a silver I liked called TRN (titanium) that we ended up going with.
I like this GT-R color, KAD (dark metallic grey) too, but thought the lighter titanium would work better.

After I told Tom about the color choice, he had James paint the used handles - as the following photos show.

Tom then sent me a photo showing the finished result. Looks fantastic, but until I see them with my own naked eyes...

Goodies from the UK!
Ok so my wife likes Malteasers (red thing on top left) and I was interested in what was wrapped in white
Look pretty good!
I think the coloring is perfect! Not too silver, not too shiny.
So I took the door panel off, unbolted the door handle assembly and unhooked these two metal roads from the backside.
Finished! Ok might look a bit weird (shiny) due to the flash at night but during the day it looks fantastic, will get some daytime photos later!
Actually, now that I have my oem handles removed from the car, I have another idea... but meanwhile my next blog post will be a repair of another kind... this one unbelievable not the fault of WORX...

Big thanks to Tom and James for your help on making my car that much better!!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

(Another) Back up Lamp LED bulb... will this one be the one?

So as many of you readers know, I've been on a quest to figure out how to improve the back up lamp on my Series 3 BCNR33.  The Series 3 (English term) or more accurately, the 後期 ("kohki") cars in Japanese, came with only 1 back up lamp, the other corresponding one having been made into a rear fog lamp.

Showing how the rear fog looks.
Previously, I replaced the standard OEM incandescent bulb with an LED, but then decided to try something fancy, by replacing that LED with a cheap HID bulb setup, complete with a ballast.  And the result? To be honest, mediocre - the HID bulb required a few seconds to attain maximum brightness, so jockeying the car back and forth to park was not fun as the bulb would cycle on and off, taking a few seconds to reach maximum brightness.

Standard Bulb

HID bulb once warmed up...
So after a bit of research I found this new LED bulb:

The PIAA "超"(Extreme) TERA Evolution, in S25 size. It has a claimed output of 300 lumens. I picked this up back in February 2017 as even back then I was concerned about the longevity of the HID bulb - HID bulbs are known for not lasting very long if they are cycled on and off repeatedly.  Luckily I did, because it looks like PIAA no longer offers this bulb for sale.  Perhaps the 183 lumens version is bright enough, but when you only have one back up bulb, it's good to have almost double that from one bulb, I think?

In any case, just as I suspected, the HID died.

Check this out:

So in went the new PIAA bulb and:

And yes it doesn't appear that bright but at night, I was surprised to find that I could see very well... at least the back up camera appeared to be functioning better than usual once this bulb went in...

I really need to think about re-doing the tint on the rear glass...

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

This device kept the peace in my neighborhood...

As I mentioned in my last post, I am going to take a break about fixing the issues caused by WORX Auto Alarm and instead, talk about a mod I made right after I got the car back.

As long time readers know, my car served as the rig for the Tomei Expreme Ti titanium exhaust.  One nice thing about offering my car was, I became one of the first (if not the first period) to have the commercial product installed on my car.

The exhaust is a masterpiece. And, if I owned my car out in the countryside with the closest neighbor a good kilometer or so away, it would cause no problems.

Unfortunately I live in a Yokohama suburb where I have neighbors to my left, right and across the (Japanese sized narrow) street. This means that every time I start up my GT-R, people notice. It also means that, if the Tomei is unbaffled, the noise is loud enough to wake the neighbors in the early morning or at night.

Clearly, I needed a solution, fast.  Initially, I simply used the bung that came with the Tomei. That, along with the Blitz E-ESC electronic exhaust valve, worked for awhile, until that eventful trip to WORX where somehow that bung came loose and was lost somewhere in Chiba.

So when I got the car back, I managed to park the car with the Blitz valve fully closed, but herein lies the problem. First, the valve is designed to close only when the engine is warmed up. That means that normally, starting from cold results in huge noise (ok, music :).  Second, I have to remember to manually close the valve to override the initial programming, which is probably not good for the engine.  In other words, a bung should be used, with the Blitz valve being a back up when ultra-silent running is needed.  While I could simply re-order the Tomei bung, I recalled a conversation with the guys at Nissan Prince Tokyo Motorsports about a superior product that was available from a third party.

A bit of research and I found this guy. Mr. Suganuma and his company, "SFC" (Suganuma Future Creation) - dumb sounding name, but very nice products, mostly all exhaust related.  I was interested in his "inner silencer" products like this one.

They come in different diameters to fit different aftermarket exhaust tips, and two color choices - the silver as above or anodized black. What's nice is that you can order the component parts separately, so if you lose a part or a part (like the muffling part) gets burnt/worn out, you can bring it back to "like new" condition quickly and inexpensively.

So I placed an order for a black anodized one in 112mm size (product number 117BK), and a few days later...

Cute, I guess? 
 So I unpacked it right away and found a thin steel tube covered by what appeared to be a thick fiberglass or similar sound baffling material. Presumably heat proof too.
The packing material is covered by silver colored paper (to protect during shipping I guess)
Of course, me being me, I have to clean out the inside of the exhaust tip before installing.
As you can see, it's a bit of a snug fit.

But of course, like most things Japanese, quality engineering means it fits perfectly!
Comes with these bits.
And the result? AWESOME! The car still sounds superb, but it's like everything was taken down 30-40%.  Yes of course for track days and Hakone touge runs I will remove, but for around town this is simply perfect.  In fact, it's so good I find myself not using the Blitz E-ESC, and I may end up removing it... we will see...

Ok next post will also be about a non-WORX issue, something I've been tinkering with for the past few years actually... stay tuned!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Fixing the Interior, Part 5 (Unwelcome and Dangerous LED Illumination for Gauges)

So this was something that initially appeared interesting and definitely modern, but in the end was executed not only improperly but also posed a safety risk!

As long time readers recall, I have experimented with using LEDs to replace the standard incandescent light bulbs in the gauge cluster, in an effort to modernize the car.  After trying several types of LEDs, I finally found these "flower" type LEDs that seem to do the best job of delivering a consistent, even level of light.

The second time I dropped in to WORX Auto Alarm to check in on progress (actually, lack thereof) on my car, Nakamura had told me about a new LED mod for the gauges that he had obtained from a fellow vendor - likely one of the ones who specialize in LED modifications. He told me my 33 would be the first 33 in the world to feature this mod, so I have to admit I was a bit excited.

Essentially, instead of simply replacing the standard light bulbs in the gauge clusters with off the shelf LED bulbs (which usually cause uneven lighting), this vendor had arranged to remove all of these bulbs, and replace with several small LEDs on circuit boards that could placed behind the gauges but within the gauge housing. Because the LEDs would be scattered about and in locations where the bulbs could not reach, the lighting would also IN THEORY, be more even and consistent. The look would be like those early Lexus instrument panels, if you know what I am talking about.
Those yellow things are LEDs - and look diffused to allow for incandescent bulb-like light diffusion

Further, because the LEDs are not simply wired into the OEM wiring, an additional element of control could be introduced - the LEDs could come on full brightness when the engine was started, but then dim when the headlights were turned on. Just like most modern cars! Sounds great, right?


I soon discovered a few problems with this set up.

First, the lighting was NOT even. In fact, the "flower type" LED bulbs I had used in the past (and again, which Nakamura had THROWN OUT without my permission when he did this mod!!) resulted in more even lighting. Check out this photo below from when I first installed these bulbs and tell me what you think.

The flower type LEDs I installed previously - Pretty much spot on PERFECT!

Compare this to these new LEDs which show uneven lighting.
I can't believe how spotty the lighting is.
You can see how the numbers like the "300" and the "MiNE'S" logo are not as bright as the surrounding numbers. The "R" in the GT-R logo has its right foot missing. The red needles are not consistent.  Further, when the lighting comes on, the redline portion turned pinkish (the photo above shows the dimmed setting with headlights on). FAIL.

Second, while the main gauges now looked modern because of the "full on daytime/dim when lights come on at night" feature, the three sub gauges (which were also modified with these LEDs) did NOT have the same functionality.  OOPS. During the day they were not illuminated. Then, when driving at night, the main gauges would dim, but the sub gauges would come and remain SUPER BRIGHT (i.e. same level as daylight brightness of the main gauges) at all times.  Completely distracting and potentially dangerous, I think.

Bad photo, but not having the centers gauges light up is distracting. 
Additionally, the lighting for these gauges turned out uneven.
See how the middle gauge is much brighter?
Third, when I got the car home and began to tinker by seeing if there was any way I could fix the uneven lighting problem, I took off the center panel to access the gauges, and found 3M THINSULATE had been stuffed into the space between the gauges and the bottom surface of the cowl.
Real nice.  So professional (NOT!) WTF...
At first, I thought it was to deaden any sounds that might be coming in from the firewall. But while I was turning the lights on and off in an attempt to see how bad the uneven lighting was, I discovered that the gauges were actually running SUPER HOT due to the LEDs!

I thought LEDs ran cool, but apparently these did not. Right then, despite the novelty feature I decided that these new LEDs would have to be removed. My biggest concern was that the heat might lead to fading/degradation of the printed areas of the gauges, turning white lettering, symbols or hashmarks to yellow or causing the white to fade (if that happened, that Mine's speedometer would be hard to replace).  Especially with the 3M Thinsulate bouncing heat back INTO the gauges.  If I remove the 3M, then the leather risks getting baked as well. Of course this is UNACCEPTABLE!

So I immediately contacted the seller of the flower type LEDs I had used in the past and ordered another full set, for both the main and sub gauges (to ensure even coloring and brightness).

This guy is nice. Sends the LEDs in little sealing plastic boxes and lots of bubble wrap.

Anyway I then went ahead and fitted these back on. The most difficult part of this was taking both instrument clusters apart, undoing the circuit boards with the LEDs, then installing them back into a spare one which I sent back to Nakamura (because he was trying to charge me 80,000 yen for this mod, if I kept them).

When all was done, I was back to this:
Not a great photo but to the naked eye, it's MUCH MUCH BETTER and near PERFECT!
So am I finally done with all the issues caused by having left my car at WORX Auto Alarm? Not quite, unfortunately. And the work I need to get done to get it back 100% is going to take some time and effort... so stay tuned... meanwhile I have some other posts of other stuff I've done since I've had the car back from WORX.