Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chapter 12 - Let the Tinkering Begin

Let the Tinkering Begin

The parking lot attendant at our office likes the car. When I first drove it to work he quizzed me about it.

“How much did this car cost?”

“Not as much as you might think.”

“It is new?”

“No, a 98.”

“Looks like a new car.”

“Tell me, how much did you pay?”

“Just over seventy thousand.”

“Seventy thousand for a car! You can buy a house for less than that.”

Now he tells people the car is his. He lets them take pictures but won’t let them get to close.

“You can take a picture but stay away from my car.”

Starting Friday April 11 2008 the “SLOW DOWN” came on every other time I drove the Ferrari home from work. At the time I thought the car was trying to tell me something.

“Don’t drive me to work, what do you think I am? A sedan? Some pedestrian four door piece of garbage? You think I am a sedan. I know it. How dare you treat me like this? I deserve better.”

The warning light came on at almost exactly the same spot where it appeared the first day I had the car. Literally, within ten feet, right before the left turn I make onto Humphrey Boulevard. I was driving home from work then as well. Each time the light went off within a few seconds. I am not making this up.

Perhaps in the roughly four miles between my office and the Sylvan exit the car was exceeding its temperature threshold but why did the warning light go off almost immediately? Why did it not come on when I drive the car, often in a more spirited nature and for much longer distances, on the weekend?

In addition to the intermittent “SLOW DOWN” light the car developed had developed another small problem. The light(s) that illuminate the speedometer, tachometer, and other gauges no longer worked. This was only inconvenient if I drove at night and was interested how fast I was going or how much gas was left. I hoped it was just a fuse. I did not want to consider the effort it would take get up into the space behind the gauges to change a bulb.

It took a few minutes but I found the fuse box and happily discovered that my dash light problem was due to a blown fuse. Ferrari had been kind enough to supply spare fuses so problem solved. Deep down I suspected the problem was greater than a blown fuse. Fuses do not self destruct just for fun. I was pretty sure there was a short somewhere in the circuit protected by this fuse but at that instant I chose to believe that changing the fuse would solve my problem.

While looking for the fuse box I discovered the CD changer and a big knob that says “OFF”. I thought the car had a CD player but as I can’t imagine listening to anything other than the motor I had never looked for it.

In case you ever have to change a fuse in a 355 the fuse box is in the luggage compartment, on the driver’s side, just behind the headlight assembly. It is not under that odd little bump in front of the windshield, no matter how hard you look under that odd little bump, which is shaped just like a fuse box, you will not find any fuses.

To get to the fuse box you have to remove a carpeted cover. The cover is held in place with bolts that don’t look like bolts. They look more like something you would pull to release, not turn. Each one has a little Cavallino on the top. Later I learned that some 355s were supplied with an almost identical looking device that had to be pulled. Once you remove this cover you will see a bunch of wires, connected to a weird machined aluminum block with metal tubes coming out of it and a plastic cover. The fuse is under the plastic cover. There are two nuts which hold it in place.

Why am I telling you this?

Because the owner’s manual does not. It simply says the fuse box is in luggage compartment and provides a diagram of the fuse box. The diagram has to be held upside down to line up with the fuses unless of course you are standing in the luggage compartment.

This would be annoying in my Toyota. Come to think of it a blown fuse would be unacceptable in my Toyota but in the Ferrari it was endearingly idiosyncratic. While searching through the owner’s manual for clues to the short I came across the following gem.

“Warning - Always remove the ignition key when leaving the car in order to avoid risk to passengers remaining in the car who may accidentally operate the window switches.”

I chose not test the fuse right away. I knew it was going to blow the instant I turned the lights on. A few days later when driving home around dusk I had got my answer. No lights. The fuse I replaced was also blown. Is it correct to say a fuse has blown? Not sure. In any case the instrument lights did not work. To add insult to injury the lid that covers the gas cap is no longer opening. To open the gas lid you push a button on the central console, a little pin retracts, and a spring forces the lid open.

My hunch was that the spring no longer had the oomph to open the door. Unfortunately, I cannot buy just the spring. I can buy the entire hinge assembly for $72 but I would like to try to fix it myself before replacing the whole thing. I don’t think the electo – magnet (Ferrari’s term) is bad because the pin holding the door closed is retracting.

Back to the fuse.

According to the owner’s manual the instrument lights are on the same circuit as the lights which illuminate the license plate. This circuit appears to have nothing to do with the gas cap lid. Since would be easier to check the license plate lights than remove the instrument panel I decided to start with them. No luck. I was hoping to find a frayed wire partially welded to the rear bumper. Nope, everything was in good shape. I took the time to clean the sooty exhaust buildup off the bulbs, lenses, and bracket. When I was done I had very clean license plate lights which still did not work.

Some online research pointed the possibility of a problem with the ground for the instrument panel lights. Unfortunately the ground is located behind a vent with no convenient or even inconvenient access. I can get to the ground by removing the vent or the instrument panel. As neither seemed like easy options I decided to remove the pod which holds the instrument panel. The vent is fairly small and I don’t think I could fit my hands in there to do any work.

On a quiet Saturday morning, right after I made a cup of coffee, I went into the garage, set up my shop light and went to work.

That’s not entirely true.

I was too impatient to wait until the coffee was done. I ground the beans, went to the garage and set the shop light up, went back in the house and poured boiling water into the French press, back to the garage to find and remove the two screws holding the instrument pod in place, back in the house to press the coffee.

The 355’s dash has three major components, the instrument pod, the upper dash and the lower dash. All three are covered with leather. In my car the instrument pod and the upper dash are black. The lower dash is Bordeaux. Removing the instrument pod requires a Phillips head screwdriver and no mechanical aptitude what so ever. Remove the two screws near the bottom, lift the end facing you up and pivot the back down to free it from a bracket.

Both articles I read recommending turning off the power to the car prior to removing the instrument pod. Remember when I was poking around looking for the fuse box and I found a knob with the word “OFF” on it? In the 355 you turn that knob to “OFF” instead of disconnecting the battery. Cool huh? I figured I would start out following the directions. There would be plenty of opportunities to disregard instructions and do what I wanted.

I also took the precaution of covering the steering column with a cloth to protect it from scratches. The steering column is covered with two trim pieces made from the silly putty rubber product that Ferrari used on the interior of the 355. I am sure this product had some redeeming features at one time if it still does they are lost on me. In spite of my precaution I scratched the top of the steering column. You wouldn’t notice it if you were not looking. I will notice it every time I get in the car. I had planned on replacing the lower of the two panels, now I will have to replace both. The material is so soft you could scratch it by covering it with terry cloth and yelling at it.

In the manual version of the 355 there are six different wiring connectors which need to be disconnected to remove the instrument pod. There is no need to mark them as they are all different shapes. After a minute of two of fiddling they came apart and the instrument pod was free.

At this point I had a Ferrari with a big hole in the dash. Nice. The car looked like had I stolen it and was parting it out to pay for drugs.

With the pod out I looked at the ground. It was not really “behind” the vent. It was behind and to the side of the vent, enough so that my big fingers would never be able to get to it. The ground looked fine. Makes sense, the gauges still worked and they were connected to the same ground.

I wish I would have thought of that before removing the instrument pod.

I messed with all the wires looking for corrosion, burns, or any other weird stuff but found nothing. I loosened the screws that connect the lighting rheostat to gauges and made sure they were making a good connection. Before connecting the wiring and putting the instrument in place I cleaned and conditioned the leather.

I doubt I fixed the problem but I didn’t have a 7.5 AMP fuse to test my work, having destroyed all the spares Ferrari was nice enough to provide.

I was right. I did not fix whatever was causing the fuse to blow. Luckily it does not appear that I broke anything while I had the dash apart. I picked up a packet of 7.5 AMP fuses, put one in, turned the key far enough to provide power to the headlights but not so far as to start the motor. No instrument lights. Checking the fuse revealed it was blown. With the ignition off, I put another fuse in, and immediately pulled it back out to check it. Still intact, I put it back in and turned the key. I did not turn the lights on. When I checked the fuse it had blown. Hmm, gonna have to think about this.

Inexplicably my tinkering with the dash and license plate bulbs has fixed sticky fuel lid. I know the two systems have nothing to do with one another. Well, I think the two systems have nothing to do with one another and I cannot fathom how my messing with the dash or the lights would have any effect on the fuel lid but it now works perfectly. My efforts were not completely in vain.

A new approach was needed. I called another Ferrari owner with more mechanically aptitude than I. Kevin Matlock and I met on a wine country drive with arranged by a mutual friend, Jon Lebre. Barb and I met Kevin and Jon at a Starbucks.

We drove out to JK Carrier, a winery in the Yamhill valley. Jim Prosscer, owner/winemaker/friend, was bottling wine but took a break from his day to taste a few wines with us. The road we took to Jim’s winery was bumpy so I switched the 355 to comfort mode. If there was a difference in the ride quality I could not detect it. The only way I was sure the car was in “Comfort” mode was a big orange warning light shaped like a shock absorber.

Kevin suggested removing all the bulbs, putting in a new fuse, and adding bulbs until the fuse blew, this way if the short was in one of the bulbs I would locate it and could replace the bulb. I had already put the dash back together so I tried this approach with the license plate bulbs.

No luck. However, motivated by Kevin’s scientific approach I experimented with the light switch in different positions. The fuse did not blow if the exterior lights were off. This led me to conclude that the short is between the lights and the relay. Maybe.

I needed a break from the electrical gremlins. I decided to wax the hood and front fender, a project where my chance of success was pretty high. Shortly after buying the car I purchased a bottle of Zymol. I did not think different brands of wax would have such a large difference. I used good wax before but I can see the difference made by the Zymol. I can also smell the difference. Zymol smells like banana vanilla wafer pudding. I love banana vanilla wafer pudding but ate too much when I was young. Since then I have not been able to eat it. Luckily, the smell brings back only fond memories.

Waxing the car started my love hate relationship with its paint. The color is beautiful with a wonderful liquid quality. It is one of those colors which changes dramatically depending on the light. On a cloudy day the paint takes on a silvery blue tint. In bright sun the blue is gone and metallic titanium dominates. The paint is beautiful as long as the surface has not had to face any road debris. The lower section of the hood, front edges of the fenders and mirrors have taken a beating. My 911 has more than 78,000 miles on it. It has fewer paint chips than the Ferrari. I think the chips are due to the amazingly thin paint. Don’t get me wrong it is not poor quality paint or a bad paint job. It is just thin paint.

The paint chips gave me an excuse to go to Tonkin. A previous owner tried to touch up a few chips with the wrong color of silver. Steve Wintermantel, the fellow I would have bribed with Borolo had my Ferrari buying experience been exactly what I expected, called their service center and asked them to send over a vial of grigio titanio paint. While waiting we looked at a F40, 599, and 456 which were parked in their garage and a Radical on the showroom floor.

Steve suggested I ask Kelly, RTGT’s service manager, about the short. I drove to their service center hoping to get some tips on fixing the fuse. “Bring it to us, we will fix it.” was all Kelly would offer up. I suspect he knew something I did not. Letting Tonkin fix the car would have been the right choice. At the time and now as well I doubted my ability to find the short and didn’t want to end up with pieces of the Ferrari spread all over the garage and be unable to put it back together. Regardless I was not ready to give up quite yet. Not ready to admit I could not fix it.

There were other reasons not to take the car to Tonkin.

Tonkin would fix the car. No doubt about that but I would have to pay for it. Taking the car to Tonkin would ruin my plan. Gone would be my goal of spending no money on maintenance. Not only would my plan be shot but I was worried about other issues Tonkin might find. The “Slow Down” light probably will not fix itself. I was afraid Tonkin would find all sorts of things wrong with the car, that my perfect car was not so perfect. If so I did not want to know.

I took another run at the short but this time I was prepared. Well maybe not prepared but better equipped than before. I bought a multimeter. Before starting I made the mistake of looking up the cost of new gauges, $2,718.59 for the set. How’s that for exact pricing? Not $2,699 or $2,719 but $2,718.59 and not a penny less. I didn’t imagine the gauges are causing the short, after all they still work. Looking up the price was macabre entertainment.

I laid out a big moving blanket, tools, and my new multimeter on the garage floor behind the car. The multimeter was just like the one my Dad had when I was a kid, the old fashioned kind with a needle. I removed the license plate light assembly and bulbs. Presto, continuity. Like I thought, or anyway like I hoped, there was a short somewhere on this circuit.

What I still didn’t know was if the license plate bulbs and the gauge bulbs are on the same circuit. I decided to assume they were. There was evidence which pointed to my assumption being false. According to the owner’s manual the gauges share the circuit with the license plate bulbs. The gauges still worked it was just the lights which are out.

I worked my way up the wire from the license plate bulb to a junction, disconnected the junction and tested the upstream end. Continuity again. The short was further up. I continued working my way up the wire. Unfortunately, the air intake got in the way. To get past the air intake I had to remove a panel, about eight inches wide and a few feet long that Ferrari put in place to hide wires and hoses. With the panel out of the way I was able to remove the hose connecting the air filter box to the intake on the side of the car, behind the passenger’s ear.

The hose is flexible, made out of fabric, and takes an odd route from the intake vent near the front of the engine to the air filter box at the rear. I followed the bundle of wires as far as I could before they disappeared into the bowels of the car. I did not find anything that looked or felt like a short.

Everything went smoothly until I was replacing the Allen bolts I had removed to take out the panel. Each had a washer and I dropped the washer from the last bolt into the engine bay. On a regular car this would not have been a big deal. The washer would bounce off the exhaust manifold and land on the garage floor. In the Ferrari it landed on the tray that runs from the front to the back. I considered leaving it there to fall out the next time I drove but that did not seem right so I took a coat hanger bent it straight and fished it out. Barb asked what I was doing.

“Building custom Ferrari maintenance tools.”

With the car back together I tested the circuit at the license plate bulb. No short. Fantastic, maybe my wiggling of wires had temporarily fixed it. Then I remembered I had not reconnected the junction. Still shorted.

Know what would help?

A wiring diagram. Anyone who knew what they were doing would have looked for a wiring diagram after the second fuse blew. Since I have no idea what I was doing it took me several days to come to the conclusion that a wiring diagram would help.

I could not find one anywhere. Then I had an idea. I went to the Ricambi site, found the parts catalog for a 5.7 Motronic 355 and looked up the part diagram for the license plate light. Ah ha, a wiring diagram. Well kinda, more like a top view of the car with some lines showing the routes of the various wire bundles. The wire I am interested in runs from just above the license plate around the engine on the passenger side then behind the passenger bulkhead to the center tunnel. From there it runs under the ashtray and up into the dash. It goes nowhere near the gas cap lid.

Maybe I nicked the wire when I was installing my new ashtray. After I tucked the kids in I went into the garage, set up my shop light, we have terribly weak lighting in our garage, and took the ashtray out. No luck. The wires are well below and too the side of the screw that holds the ashtray in.

Uncle. I surrender. Tonkin it is all yours. Really, I mean it. I hope there is nothing other than the short and the catalytic converter ECUs wrong with the car.

The instant I decided to let Tonkin take care of the car I realized no matter how much it costs to fix, no matter how much I spent on maintenance I would not regret buying this car.


David said...

Your blog is inspiring and makes my dream of one day owning a super car much more realistic. If you don't mind me asking, what is your profession?

David said...

Hi David,

Glad you are enjoying the blog.

I run a computer services company.