Monday, May 18, 2015

More Interior LED Improvements...

While swapping the LEDs in the gauges back to some unique handmade ones, I began wondering whether the LEDs I've had in the interior probably needed to be upgraded too.  I had long been suspicious about the Luxer1 brand LEDs I installed for the interior center dome light (and the front spot lights) some time ago (can't recall but probably 2008ish?):

What the packaging looks like - I think the claims for 2-3x brighter than OEM are probably HIGHLY exaggerated...

This is what is used for the center dome light.  It's called a T10x31 LED... note the LEDs are essentially glued to a cut plastic form that fits into the dome light
Slick packaging, and although specifically tailored to fit certain cars (i.e. BNR32 and BCNR33 here), as I hadn't really done my research, and also because I bought this back when LEDs were first becoming a popular aftermarket mod, I was always suspicious as to whether these LEDs, although certainly WHITER/BLUER than the OEM bulb, were not as strong from a brightness (Lumens) standpoint. For example, reading maps and other text became harder at night...  It also appeared that, like I experienced with the gauges, there might be a problem with light dispersion?

Recently however I stumbled upon this from PIAA:
Their "Multi A"
These are supposedly a new type of LED - flat one piece, so thinner. These are called "COB" or "chip on board" LEDs which are supposedly brighter than SMDs.  Here is a link for more information about this type of relatively new LED.  Power consumption is 3W and a lumens rating of 170!  More importantly, the PIAA website showed that the OEM dome light is an 8W, 95 lumens bulb, so this means that this LED product should be almost twice as bright.  Further, they claim better light dispersion as well versus other LEDs.

And, as you can see, size-wise it's a bit smaller than the Luxer1 product:
Note: this photo was taken under the Luxer1 front spotlights...
The PIAA product comes with 3 types of adaptors (for T10, T10x31, and G14 bulbs), as well as some double sided tape to secure the LED board. I also like how the LED is embedded into a nice chromed aluminum form factor.

It's hard to tell from these photos, but here is how the Luxer1 product looks:
With the frosted cover on, hard to tell much...except it IS bluish...
With the cover off, you can see each individual LED

With the PIAAs, the LEDs were so bright that:
This was so bright it hurt my eyes.
The iPhone camera, however, by adjusting for the brightness, gives clues to the LED's construction
I could tell from the moment I plugged in the PIAAs, they lit up the entire cabin much more brightly than the Luxer1s.  Then, after I used some double stick tape and secured the PIAA unit to the dome light mount, and started testing the unit:

I also immediately realized that the PIAA's Kelvin rating, at 6000K, provides a much more natural light than the Luxer1s (which are more bluish, probably around 7000K).  This is because I still have Luxer1 units up front in the spotlights, and can compare the difference, not just in brightness but in color as well.  Also, the claims were true - this LED design DOES provide a wider, more disperse light.  You can see the color difference, as well as how the PIAA's light is more diffuse, in this photo:
Dome light on left, both spot lights turned on, on right.
I actually had only been planning to do the update for the center dome light, but I was impressed enough that I immediately ordered and then installed the "MultiD" version from the same PIAA series for the front spot lights:

The MultiD is rated at 104 lumens vs the OEM bulb's 75 lumens.
Like the MultiA, I love the form factor and the shiny aluminum construction:

Initially I was going to search for actual aircraft style spot lights that could replace this whole front lamp assembly, but then realized that it would be easier and cleaner to keep the housing but upgrade the LEDs.  Replacement was as simple as unplugging the old and plugging in the new:
Luxer1 on the left, the PIAAs on the right...
And, as the following pictures show, there was no need for a dedicated "spot lights" - these work just fine! Note that for all 4 photos that follow, the lighting used was as show in the above photo - that is, the Luxer1 LEDs were on the left side of the front light assembly and the PIAA was on the right; one was turned on while the other was off (in alternating fashion):

As illuminated by only the Luxer1s LEDs - this was taken at night, in my enclosed garage,
with all garage and other lighting, including the dome light, turned off - complete darkness
Illumination by only the PIAAs - same conditions, same camera!
As a friend jokingly remarked, it's like having daylight in your car! Just in case you thought the steering wheel comparison wasn't fair because the PIAAs on the right are closer to the wheel, check out the following.  Can't believe how dark the Luxer1s now appear...


after (and wow you can see how dirty it is...)
So this mod is highly recommended, if you want to use LED lighting (too bad I don't get paid by PIAA lol).  Not only does the PIAA throw off close to twice the OEM light, compared to at least the previous LED product, the output is noticeably brighter, wider and more natural in terms of the color.  Although, I DID notice that the PIAAs actually run HOT if left on for a while, unlike the Luxer1s.

This is fun! I think I will tinker with LEDs a bit more in the future... stay tuned.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Some Rare MINE'S Parts! PLUS LEDs, continued...

Being that my car has a hand-built and tuned MINE'S engine with forged components (and not just a new engine installed by MINE'S... I HATE IT when people who've had only that done claim they have a "MINE'S built engine"... yes I'm petty but heck for what I paid!!!), I've been wanting to "improve" the rest of my car to match. To match the sticker on the rear end (which I found out recently, is not for retail sale from MINE'S).  That is, just looking at my car one cannot tell that it has anything that is MINE'S related installed, if the engine isn't visible. So time to change that.

Unfortunately, most parts that MINE'S once made for the 33 are no longer being sold.  Or, some of the parts they still offer for the Skyline GT-R, like the brakes and suspension... well let's just say they aren't as cutting edge as they could be. Tower bar, yes it's cool but the one I have is an original NISMO piece.

There ARE a few other items I'm still thinking about, but this post isn't about those.  Thanks to the power of the internet (specifically Facebook), late last year I stumbled upon someone in the UK who imports crashed cars for dismantling, and who was offering this for very reasonable money:

Sharp eyed readers will see that the front torque gauge is an OEM one
These two gauges are extremely rare - I've only seen them offered on Yahoo Auctions maybe twice the entire 8 years or so that I've been addicted to YA.  And, if I recall correctly, for insane money. So I quickly agreed to buy, used PayPal, and the package was on its way to me (it took a few nail-biting weeks, my thanks to the seller's patience when I messaged him every other day!) and I received it just about Christmas time.

First order of business was to have the odometer reading changed to match my car's. Not that it really matters too much (in Japan people DO take their cars to dealerships to receive a written work order showing when, and at what mileage, the odometers were swapped out) as I intend to keep the car, but in any case I wanted to have a seamless transition.

It took me a few months of research (ok I was lazy), but I finally found a guy that resets odometers to the mileage you want. I won't go into too much detail here, except to say that it works!

So I sent it out to him, and got it back two days later, and yes it looked perfect!

Alas, it wasn't as simple as this. I first had to remove the OEM speedometer from my gauge panel, then remove the MINE'S one from the gauge panel it came in, and swap them out. This is as easy as removing the clear plastic and carbon (or printed carbon) bezel, exposing the gauges fully, and then unscrewing 4 screws in the back.

That was easy enough, but then, when I plugged the gauge panel in, and turned the key - the speedo needle moved slowly up to indicate "40" even though we were not moving!  Damn, a problem...

Luckily for me, I found this this shop, DigitechProService, who after a phone call, told me to send the unit to them to see what they could do, but no guarantees. Seeing that I had no choice, I sent the MINE'S gauge cluster to them and waited.

Meanwhile, I went ahead and swapped out the NISMO sub gauges for MINE'S ones. Actually, upon closer inspection I realized that the front torque gauge was an OEM piece, not a MINE'S part.
We can see that the NISMO ones actually label what the gauge is for;
the MINE'S ones start and go higher (for temp) and are graded more finely (boost)
But, I had come too far to turn back. So I proceeded to disassemble both, to swap out the two Mine's gauges into the NISMO gauge cluster - you can see that the NISMO on top in the photo above is in much better shape. (one day, yes, I will have to find a MINE'S front torque gauge...)

This confirmed that the left most gauge was OEM. 

Three or four screws in the back, and each gauge falls out
Taking out the NISMO gauges to replace with the MINE'S ones was a bit disconcerting - would they work?

This was interesting - the NISMO sub gauge cluster uses stainless bolts, and the Mine's/OEM one uses brass bolts!
I put it all back together, and this was the result:
Not bad - not perfect, but will have to do for now

A few days later, I received the MINE'S main gauge panel back from DigitechProService.  I immediately replaced the OEM speedometer with the MINE'S one (mileage had gone up 28km but they had warned me that this would happen during testing - I actually drove my car around 25km earlier in the day so I am off by 3 km...I can live with this, I think).

A twist of the key and... PERFECT!!!
Further because I had previously replaced all the bulbs with the "flower" type LEDs, the lighting was also perfect; oh and yes no pinhole light leakage.

The end result:
The sub gauges look blurry but this is due to my iPhone's camera I think. I love this photo!
Ok so now I am almost done with MINE'S parts for my car - although yes can someone find me a MINE'S front torque gauge? LOL.

Anyone care to guess the one other last MINE'S part I am searching for? It's not the coil-overs, I am pretty sure the Ohlins DFVs I run now are better technology (although what do you all say?), and next time I get them rebuilt I might just have the spring rate increased to MINE'S spec, although I'm not convinced these are the best settings for a car that is mostly street/mountain driving.  Off to do some more hunting on Yahoo Auctions....

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

LED Perfection Through Trial and Error

Given how more modern cars have nice, brightly lit (and even sometimes OLED based) gauge clusters, replacing the OEM incandescent light bulbs is a popular mod for these older Skylines.  It's easy and the difference is dramatic.

OEM bulbs on top, LEDs on bottom
(This photo and next two courtesy of the seller's Yahoo Auction page)
I can't remember exactly when I first replaced the OEM light bulbs in my car's gauge clusters for LEDs (maybe in 2009?), but I initially used these that I found on Yahoo Auctions, sold by a guy who apparently hand makes these very interesting "flower" type LED bulbs:

T10 size for the main gauge bulbs, and T6.5 for the auxiliary bulbs
-this is for the R32 gauge panel but it's the same for the R33
He claimed that, as an R32 owner he had tried several different types of LEDs but was never satisfied with the brightness, so he fashioned his own.   I too was never able to find LEDs that looked like this, so I gave it a shot... and they were good, but I always wondered, could they be better?

Here is a better view of these "flower" LED bulbs - handcrafted mess?
So I did some research, and found the latest tech LEDs with labels such as "CREE" and "SMD" - and they usually listed wattage as well. These were widely acknowledged as much brighter than earlier  LEDs.  I mean, if you believe the hype, who wouldn't want more brightness, and more power??


Obviously, these seemed to be built in a proper factory, had higher wattage and were brighter and so while those "flower" bulbs I had gotten off of Yahoo Auctions were pretty good, I presumed that using higher tech, more powerful LEDs would result in an overall better experience.  So I went ahead and ordered a set of 5 bulbs for the main gauge cluster (T10 size).

I then went ahead and installed them, only to end up with this:
Can you see how some numbers don't look as bright as the others? Yes, I have OCD.
Incidentally, this photo was taken just last week, not at the time of the original install of the CREE LEDs
If you look at the photo, you can see how the "60," "80" and "160" seem to be dimmer than the other numbers - and indeed they are. The light dispersion simply isn't as good despite these newer type LEDs being supposedly brighter.  Also, I noticed that these LEDs actually run hotter as well.
The newer CREE SMD LED on the right (might be the 5050 chip type?)

Around the same time, I had gotten Robson Leather to work their carbon laying process on the standard plastic gauge surround.  It looks great... at least in daylight.

The end result:
Top is OEM, bottom is real carbon overlay by Robson.
Unfortunately, it turns out that at night, when backlit, the carbonized piece was letting some light through. There seemed to be some tiny pinholes - about 3 - which let in some light. Nothing major but enough to bother me (again, OCD).

However, as I almost never drive at night, yes it took me almost 3 years to get annoyed enough to decide to fix these problems.

First, I went and reinstalled the flower type LEDs:
Ahh, much better, all the lighting appears consistent
Second, I figured out that the pinholes in the carbon overlay that was letting light through, was likely due to process where Robson scrapes down the surface - as you can see in this photo from the backside and the yellow circle, if there are indents then scraping might result in the plastic being very thin or, perhaps even have pinholes.

Where I found some light leakage
The solution wasn't to paint it black, like I had postulated; rather, some black electrical tape did the trick.

But this wasn't all. While I had everything apart, I wondered whether it made sense to replace ALL the bulbs with LEDs.  In the end I decided that the warning lights, I could live with regular incandescent light bulbs. But, I decided I would try to see how LEDs would work on those lights which I use more frequently and thus, would want the LED's long life as well as brightness.

Unfortunately, the first experiment, using LEDs in the turn signal indication lights, did not go well:
LED on the left, and OEM bulb on the right.
I definitely prefer the look of the green arrow on the right, the left arrow actually looked blue! So LEDs don't work here.

On the other hand, the hi-beam indicator DID come out well:
Before, with OEM bulb
An LED. Much more crisp!
So now I have the main gauges with LEDs installed not just for the back lighting, but also for the high beam.

I also have done the HVAC panel, the defogger switch, and the hazard light switch, (I may not have blogged about this) however because there are no hot spot issues with those, I've left the LEDs in there alone.

So why am I doing this all of sudden? Stay tuned...

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Update: Ohlins DFV Height Adjustment

So about a week ago, I raised the height of the front coilovers (Ohlins DFV) of the car, 1.2cm.

I hadn't had a chance to drive the car, until now... and I'm happy to report that, while it seems that some of the inner fender rubbing has been reduced (I sometimes hear a slight rubbing, and I am seeing the duct tape start getting worn off), more impressively, the car's ride has gotten better, even though I didn't touch any of the settings!

So even though I am one mm away from the maximum recommended height (at 52mm, up from 40mm), something went right - maybe the springs are working better with the lower half extended those 12mm...

The problem still remains, however, on how I will rectify the inner fender scraping problem. If there was nothing behind the plastic I could simply use a heat gun and reshape (which I might try in some places) but for those areas where the chassis might be exposed, not sure.

In any case stay tuned... Tomorrow will post on something more interesting...