Tuesday, February 20, 2007

My First Oil Change

mileage = 72948mi

It took me awhile to complete my first oil change, but most of the time was waiting for the oil to drain. After about an hour, there were still some drops coming down slowly. The biggest pain is the splash guard that covers the oil filter. I had to bend it back to get my torque wrench with the oil filter attachment on the filter.

I tried to torque the oil filter to 11ft/lbs like the manual specified but the filter was a little slick and kept sliding off the filter wrench. It was already pretty tight and there wasn't any clicking so I just stopped. So far there are no leaks though. By the way, the oil filter from Nissan specifies 15ft/lbs of torque, which contradicts the user's manual, but I couldn't even get 10ft/lbs torqued. Even the drain plug is specified for 22ft/lbs, but I couldn't get 10ft/lbs. It seemed really tight already, so again I didn't push it.

The hardest part about doing the oil change, besides the oil filter, was the stupid dipstick. It's pretty difficult to read, but I think I have the right amount of Mobil 1 Synthetic in it.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Removing and Cleaning the Valve Cover

mileage = 72392mi

In order to see what kind of work was needed to change the spark plugs, I removed the valve cover for the first time. There are four 5mm allen or hex key bolts that hold the valve cover on. The bolt in the lower right-hand corner is a pain because it is deep in a well. I only used a 5mm hex key, but a socket hex bit with a 3" extension is probably the proper tool to use. After removing the three easy bolts, I twisted the cover counter-clockwise to get a good angle to get my hex key to fit into the bolt. Little by little, I was able to unscrew the fourth bolt.Underneath the cover, the engine was pretty dirty considering it is covered. There was some spilled oil around the ignition coils and bits of sand everywhere. As far as the spark plugs go, the three in the front are easy to access, but the back three are really hidden. It looks like the intake manifold needs to be removed to get to the back three spark plugs. Its going to be a really big job for spark plugs.The valve cover was pretty dirty and the bolts were pretty corroded. I used some Fantastik to clean the plastic valve cover and some engine degreaser to clean up the bolts. I wish I had done this earlier before things get rusty and dirty.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tire Rotation Done

mileage = 72392mi

I bought a cross-shaped lug wrench from Walmart for $8 and it worked much better than the tool that comes with the car. One of the lugs was still really hard to loosen, but with the lug wrench I did get all the lugs removed within 5 minutes. The next problem was that I struggled with the wheel for about an hour and I couldn't get it off. After kicking it, using silicone spray and trying to pry it off, I gave up. I even tried to remove the center cap on the wheel in case the allen key in the trunk was needed to remove anything. It turns out that there is nothing under the stock wheel's center cap. Having given up on getting the wheel off, I lowered the car off the jack stand and tightened up the lug nuts with the wrench. Then I sat down and started the engine. I felt the car lower a bit and thought something was wrong. After a visual check, I drove it around a little and noticed some uneven spinning of the tire and a slight noise. Something didn't seem right and I was convinced to go to Sears again to get the right socket for my torque wrench. After trying AdvanceAutoParts for a 21mm socket, I bought the Craftsman 12point 21mm 3/8" drive socket that I had returned for $8. I also bought an extension bar set for $11 made by Companion (p/n 30571) that includes a 3", 6" and 10" extension. It has dual positions, fixed and wobble (whatever that means). This is the same price that I paid at Home Depot for the 10" extension, so I'm going to return it since the Companion set already has a 10" extension. Using the 3" extension and the 21mm socket, I torqued all five lug nuts to 80 foot/lbs like the user's manual specifies. The strange tire spinning was now smooth and the problem solved. It's amazing how much easier tasks are with the right tools.

Now that the car was running fine, I took it to a tire center for the tire rotation. It cost me $9 to get the tires rotated and I watched the guy remove the wheel with ease using a right-hand palm strike to the lower right-hand portion of the tire. I felt retarded after he made it look so easy. After all the tires were off, the guy measured the rotors and showed me that the rear rotors were under the specified values, so they would need to be replaced. The front rotors were at the minimum specification and he said you need about 3/10 margin to cut or re-surface the rotors. In the end he recommended four new rotors and brake pad replacements (10% left in front and 30% left in the rear). He also recommended two new tires and a wheel alignment. The quote for all of this work was about $1200. I'm going to have to look into finding a cheaper way to get these done.

As far as the tire rotation goes, the tire center only does front to back and doesn't criss-cross them. On the driver's side the front tire was already in better shape than the rear tire, so that was left alone. The passenger's side, however, needed to be swapped. Using some kind of tread measurement tool, the results are now 6 for the left front, 7 for the right front, 5 for the right rear and 4 for the left rear. The guy at the shop told me that 5 and under is when they recommend new tires, so I'm probably going to have to look into rear tires now. The maintenance on this car is starting to stack up.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Rotating Tires is Not That Easy

I got a new jack and jack stand set from Sears that was on sale for a total of $42.79. Using Sears.com and the 5-minute in-store pickup worked out well. It was perfect because my car weighs about 4200-4300 lbs, which is just a little too much for a 2-ton rated jack set. 3-ton sets are more costly, but I found a Craftsman set on sale at Sears and it was 2-1/4 tons. Perfect. I also bought two wheel chocks made by Buyers Products Company (5"x6"x5" Part No. WC1467A $8.87 each) from Walmart and a 21mm 12 point 3/8" drive socket from Sears (Part No. 50677). After inspecting each tire and having a plan to rotate the tires, I brought all my tools outside only to find that I couldn't get any lug nuts off because they were too tight. The tool that came with the car seemed to bend and couldn't loosen the lug nuts, so I tried my torque wrench with the new 21mm socket. The torque wrench felt like it was going to break. Since the 21mm socket cost $8.02 from Sears and wasn't 6 points, I returned it. Another problem with the socket was that it was a deep socket, but the wrench barely cleared the side of the tire and wheel. Therefore, if I somehow cracked the lug nut open, my knuckles probably would have paid the price. Using a socket extension was even more flimsy and felt like it was going to break.

The cross-shaped tire iron I saw at Walmart was about $8 and it will probably work better so that is my plan to rotate tires. The 21mm socket would work well, but a breaker bar that has some clearance from the wheels and tires would probably be necessary. At least, I learned the exact size of the lug nuts. I had to change the 22mm socket for a 21mm socket initially.

One last thing I bought was a set of Gas Saver Low Air Pressure Indicating Tire Valve Caps (TH0401) made by Legacy Manufacturing Company for $4.87 at Walmart. I decided to try these out and so far they seem pretty good, but they stick out a lot farther than I imagined and they look a little crazy. In addition the packaging, says they are accurate to +/- 2 PSI (pounds per square inch). It would have been better if they were more accurate since they don't go red until the tire pressure goes below 27PSI which is already 5PSI below the recommended 32 PSI. Being under-inflated by 7PSI seems like a lot, but hopefully it will be easier to see when the tires need air so that I can get better gas mileage.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Refilled Battery and Added Two Quarts of Oil

mileage = 72300mi

Wow, only 2200 miles or so since my last oil change and the level was below the L line on the dipstick. After adding a quart, the level got up to the L line, so I added another quart. The second quart was a little bit high, but only a quarter of an inch over the H line so I didn't drain oil. I was worried because oil overfill can cause big problems with the engine. After driving a few miles everything seemed to be okay. I will have to investigate why the oil is so low and so black considering I haven't even gone 3000 miles since my last oil service.

While under the hood, I noticed that the battery fluid level was below the low line so I got some distilled water to fill it up a bit. After doing some reading, distilled water is necessary because it doesn't have any trace metals or chemicals, unlike tap water. There are six little caps on the battery and I needed pliers to unscrew them. Using a funnel, I filled all six holes in the battery with distilled water, but this brought it over the high line. After overfilling the battery, I took a turkey baster to pull some water out of each of the holes. This brought the level back in range and I screwed all six caps by hand.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Debadged. No Emblems Left Except for the Nissan Logo.

mileage = ?

I went through with it and debadged the Maxima SE emblems from my trunk. It took me over an hour because it was really cold outside and I don't have any way of getting a hairdryer out into the parking lot. Therefore I didn't use any heat to soften the adhesives. Instead, I just used dental floss after letting some Goo Gone ($5.22 from Walmart) soak in behind the emblem. Actually I used a lot of floss because it kept breaking. Most of the styrofoam padded backing between the paint and the emblem was still on the car after debadging and that took the most time to remove. I did prepare the adhesive by spraying liberal amounts of Goo Gone and let it soak for a few minutes, but it still took a lot of work to get everything clean. I used an old credit card to do the heavy lifting and remove that thick padding material. Once the layer of adhesive was pretty thin, I sprayed some more Goo Gone and used my thumbnail to make things nice and clean. My thumb still feels like I've been playing video games for three days straight.

After getting most of the adhesive off the paint there was still a noticeable outline, which I expected. It might be hard to see in the photo to the left, but the outline was obvious from a little distance. To remove the silhouette, I used a four-step detailing process on my trunk.
  1. I applied some Meguiar's Paint Cleaner that I've had for many years and then wiped it off with an old t-shirt
  2. Next I put some Meguiar's Polish down. After a little bit I wiped that off. The outline was starting to go away.
  3. My new Meguiar's G1016 Smooth Surface Clay Kit ($16.27 from Amazon.com) was ready to go. The Quik Mist spray lubricated the paint and then I used the clay bar to clean the surface. It seemed to pick up some dirt that was missed from the other steps and the paint was now super smooth.
  4. The final step was to put down some Meguiar's Carnuba Wax to protect my work.
In the end, the outline or silhouette was only noticeable if you put your face right near the paint and looked for it. Although it took longer than it should have, debadging makes the car look pretty good and it will be easier to detail without having to go around any emblems.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Changed the Manual Transmission Fluid

mileage = 72267

My manual transmission fluid change was probably overdue.

Based on the write up below, I decided to try and change the manual transmission fluid in my 2003 Nissan Maxima SE.


It is a good write-up, but I would start by testing to see if you can remove the fill plug with a 10mm hex wrench. Don't buy anything, besides a 10mm hex wrench until you can get the fill plug off. Here's what I got from Lowe's. The 10mm wrench is missing because I was cleaning it.

Here is how to find the manual transmission fluid fill and drain plugs. Check how nasty the undercarriage is after 72k miles. There is a something blocking the view so you need to get your head on the ground to see the drain plug. The fill plug is much harder to see because you need your head under the car.

I had to use all my strength to get it open. Maybe a hex bit, instead of a simple hex wrench, would have helped with torque, but either way I think it would be difficult. Also note that I did everything without jack stands or a lift. It took me about 20 to 30 minutes to remove the fill and drain plugs. There was a pretty loud crack when I got each plug lose. Remember this car has 72k miles on it with no real maintenance besides oil changes and no undercarriage cleanings.

Here is what I bought.

Redline MT-90 Manual Transmission Fluid (3 quarts) from JSCSpeed.com at $7.95 a quart bottle, Total Price = $33.64
Kobalt 10 piece set of metric hex wrenches (10mm is the only one you need) Item#25490, $4.26 from Lowe's

Bag O' Gloves! (25 pack) by Hand Care Inc. (http://www.handcare.net) Item#225, $2.98 from Lowe's

Create-A-Funnel by Legacy Manufacturing (http://www.legacymfg.com) CDCV-K4, $12.99 from Pep Boys
Gear Oil Filler Spout (FloTool) by Hopkins Manurfacturing (http://www.hopkinsmfg.com) 10106, $4.49 from Pep Boys

8 quart Round Drain Pan, $4.99 from Pep Boys

This is the first time that I've done anything under the car and I was able to get the manual transmission fluid changed, but it was really messy. My first tip is to where gloves and safety glasses at all times, even when you're filling the fluid with a funnel. Have a lot of paper towels or rags to wipe your hands and the different parts that the fluid sprays on.

My second tip would, be to set up the funnel system before pouring anything in. The flexible clear hose was a disaster because any kind of bend puts a crease or fold in the tube and nothing flows. As a result, you have to bend and move things around until the fluid starts going again and this could lead the tip to fall out of the fill hole. My other problem with the funnel system was that not all of the "mix and match" pieces fit that well together and I had some leaks.

This is the procedure that I would use:
  1. Find the fill plug underneath the car near the driver's side tire. There is a some panel or plate that blocks your view.
  2. Make sure you can loosen the fill plug with a 10mm hex wrench.
  3. Leave the wrench in there and open the hood. You should be able to see the fill plug looking down behind the radiator at the front of the car and to the side of the battery.
  4. Create a funnel with an extension that can reach the fill hole. The hole is parallel with your tires, so you need to make a 90 degree bend to get the tip into the fill hole. Now the preparation is complete.
  5. Take the car out for some errands and then wait 5-10 minutes for the car to cool a little bit.
  6. Get a lot of newspaper, an old piece of carpet or a garage tray to catch all the oil that will spill. I wouldn't do this messy job without something to protect the ground.
  7. Find the fill plug and remove it with the 10mm hex wrench. Make sure to also get the gasket that can stick on the fill hole.
  8. Clean around the fill hole with a rag. The fill hole is hard to see so I had to do it by feel.
  9. Make sure you have latex gloves on and have your oil drain pan ready. Find the drain plug, which is easily seen by just looking under the car from the driver's side front tire to the back passenger side tire. Once the drain plug is loose, position the oil pan to catch fluid that shoots out about a foot or so, initially. Hand loosen the drain plug and be ready for dirty fluid to come shooting out.
  10. It probably takes 20 minutes or so for all of the fluid to drain out. Use this time to clean or replace the drain and fill plugs with their gaskets. I believe the drain plug was in worse shape because it is on the bottom and exposed to the elements more than the fill plug, so I used the fill plug, that was in better condition, as the drain plug replacement. The junky drain plug I used for the fill hole because its easier to change, since you don't have to lose any manual transmission fluid to replace.

  1. When all of the manual transmission fluid is drained, take the drain pan with a funnel and pour it into a proper container for recycling. Please dispose of the old manual transmission properly. Click this link to find your local recycling center.
  2. The drain hole is easier to see, so wipe around the drain hole and the bottom of your car to clean up all the gunk and old fluid.
  3. Take your new or cleanest plug with the gasket and hand tighten it back on the drain hole. I was told not to tighten it too much because the heat may cause the plug to be too tight to remove. What I read was hand tighten and then go another 3/4 of a turn. Also I think its supposed to be 20 ft/lbs, but I didn't use a torque wrench, so I hand tightened and added a quarter turn. So far there are no leaks and it has been about a week.
  4. Setup your funnel system to go into the fill hole and pour in two quarts of Redline MT-90. It takes about 2.5 quarts to fill up, depending on how much is fluid is spilled or leaked.
  5. Slowly add more fluid, little by little, until you see fluid coming out of the fill hole. Let the fluid stop coming out of the fill hole and screw the plug and gasket back in. Use the same tightening as the drain plug.
  6. Clean up the mess and you're done.
My clutch was running pretty smooth, but started squeaking a day later, so I'm going to have to look into the throw-out bearing. The car seemed to shift more smoothly, but the difference wasn't really that noticeable. After looking at my old manual transmission fluid, I'm sure it was necessary, even if it doesn't feel like its a new car.

With my mistakes it might have been better to pay the $19.99 to have the shop do it, but I know it will go smoother if I have to do it again. Plus, I would bet that the Redline fluid is better than whatever cheaper alternative the shop uses.