Archive for the ‘automotive’ Category.

Torklift EcoHitch 2″ Hitch for my 2015 Outback

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Back in 2015 when I purchased a Subaru Outback, I ordered it with a OE hitch. At the time it was the best (and thanks to IMBA discount the cheapest) option for mounting a bike rack on the back of the car. Due to load limits on what the vehicle can tow there was only a 1-1/4″ receiver available, and while this fit the 1Up USA rack previously used on my Civic it just didn’t provide the stability of a 2″ receiver.

Fast forward to late 2018 and, out of the blue, I was contacted by Torklift, via Reddit, where they offered to send me their Torklift EcoHitch 2″ receiver hitch in exchange for providing feedback to their designers and engineers. After some email back and forth this was all set up, and a few days ago I received the rack: Torklift 2015-2018 Subaru Outback EcoHitch, part number x7266.

Beyond the 2″ receiver, the biggest difference between the EcoHitch and OE hitches is how they mount. While the EcoHitch sandwiches between the bumper beam and the chassis, held in place by the bumper’s eight fasteners (photo 1, 2), the OE hitch both replaces the bumper beam and mounts inside of the frame rails (photo). While it appears that the OE hitch may be a bit more resistant to very high tongue weights, the Torklift seems plenty solid and is made of thicker material, so I’ve got no concerns with the differences. The other significant difference is that the Torklift EcoHitch doesn’t come with a wiring harness, but only ever having bike racks on my car this doesn’t really affect my usage. When the OE hitch was installed on my Outback this included a wiring harness along with a nifty mount to hold it next to the receiver (photo). I considered adapting this mount to the EcoHitch, but instead took some inspiration from Torklift Central’s (frankly overpriced) Eclipse 4-Flat Plug and fit a neodymium magnet to the cable (photo), then stuck the magnet to the back side of the receiver.

Needing to remove the OE hitch my install was bound to be a bit more complicated than someone who is putting the EcoHitch on a new vehicle, but even this ended up being pretty straightforward.

Whole rack, rear view, with installation instructions and parts bundled to the center.

Whole rack, rear view, with installation instructions and parts bundled to the center.

Unboxing the rack revealed a well-packed (photo), nicely powder coated (photo), solid rack that ships with an instruction manual, the eight nuts (for attaching it to the bumper mount bolts), and a piece of rubber trim gasket to cover the cut edges on the underside of the bumper cover (photo).

Besides the printed instructions (which I wish Torklift posted as a PDF on their website), there are two instructional videos (1, 2) which show the installation on everything from 2015 to 2018 models of the vehicle. These do a good job of showing the basics of the installation, but they gloss over what I think is the most difficult part; removing the bumper cover:

  1. Removing the bumper cover itself works best if you push up on the sides from the bottom, then pull out the at top. Going off of just Torklift’s instruction I first thought to pull straight outward, but this wasn’t working well and — per Subaru — can risk breaking retention clips. Thankfully I have access to Subaru’s service manual which described pushing up from the bottom, and with this technique the cover came off easily.
  2. My vehicle has splash guards installed, which had to be removed before all the bumper clips could be accessed. These guards came off via six screws and four push-lock plastic clips, but I had to use a right-angle screwdriver to fit around the tires. (There is a note in the Torklift instructions mentioning these may need to be removed.)
  3. Three out of the myriad push lock clips used to hold the bumper and splash guards on broke during removal. This is likely due to my Outback being nearly four years old. Thankfully replacements are readily available online and at dealerships and can easily be identified via Subaru Parts Online.

For this installation Torklift instructs that the hitch be fitted, then the bumper beam reinstalled. However, during the install of the OE hitch, the bumper beam and foam energy absorber is removed and discarded. Since my Outback came with the OE hitch installed, I didn’t have these pieces. After consulting with both Torklift and some auto engineer friends we concluded that the Torklift hitch will be fine without the bumper beam.

Despite this, I contacted my local dealer (Sellers Subaru) and to my surprise they gave me discarded/scrap bumper beam from an Outback where they’d recently installed a hitch. It’s maroon, but being hidden the color doesn’t matter. With the purchase of a replacement foam energy absorber ($79.95 MSRP) I was all set part-wise to remove the OE hitch and install the EcoHitch to spec. While this likely wasn’t needed, it makes me feel better about the overall install. (Photos 1, 2)

Removing the OE hitch was a bit of a hassle, as getting to two of the hitch bolts required removing the muffler and heat shield. (Another plus for the EcoHitch.) Thankfully none of the bolts were seized and removal this went smoothly. Before long I also had the OE rack completely removed, exhaust re-fitted, and it was time to install the EcoHitch.

Foam cushion over the bumper beam, and hitch installed.

Foam cushion over the bumper beam, and hitch installed.

At this point — just after bumper cover removal on a normal install — installation is very straightforward: folding a thin metal bumper cover mounting tab up against the body, bolting the hitch and bumper back on, torquing some nuts, and cutting a notch out of the bumper cover. After this it’s just a matter of putting the the bumper cover, tail lights, splash guards, and some plastic covers back in place.

From the OE hitch I already had a notch cut in my bumper cover, but it was pretty easy to cut the wider notch required by the EcoHitch. The OE hitch uses a longer notch than the EcoHitch, and thankfully Torklift provides enough trim to cover the extra-large notch present after a bumper’s been cut for both (photo). The cutting itself went easily, as the plastic is pretty soft and can either be scored and folded or cut with anything from a rotary cutter to a jigsaw.

During installation one of the bumper cover mounting tabs is folded out of the way and the mounting hole cut out of the bumper cover during the notching, which eliminates one of the points where the bumper mounts to the chassis. While initially concerning, this part of the cover rests on the top of the receiver after everything’s put back together, so this lack of retention point isn’t a problem.

With everything put back together I’m currently quite happy. The TorkLift EcoHitch looks good and sits nice and close to the underside of the bumper; I don’t think it could go much higher. While the OE hitch had 14.5″ of ground clearance, this drops to 13.5″ with the EcoHitch, an acceptable change for adding 0.75″ to the receiver’s height. This hitch is a great choice for either new installs on an Outback or retrofitting an OE hitch to a 2″ receiver.

I particularly like how the powder coating has a thick, textured look to it, and the end of the receiver has a nice TORKLIFT logo. The whole unit looks like it’ll hold up nicely to Michigan winters (and road salt). Now to wait for a new, matching black 1UP USA 2″ Super Duty Single rack to arrive!

Click here or on the large photo above to see a complete album of photos from the install.

Cut Hockey Pucks as Pinch Weld Protectors

After lifting a car via pinch weld, hearing a pop, and seeing it bend slightly I became nervous about setting a jack stands using them without any additional support. Thanks to the magic of the internet I got this idea from a car forum: cheap hockey pucks ($1.99/ea at DICK’s) with slots cut in them. The pinch weld is placed in the slot and the jack stand supports the heavy rubber puck which braces the frame rail.

These were cut by laying a 1cm strip of masking tape on the top of each puck, making a vertical cut with a hacksaw, then an angled cut to meet the vertical. The wedge of rubber was then encouraged out of the slot with a flat blade screwdriver and cleaned up as needed. Fairly simple and only about 20 minutes of work after acquiring the pucks.

Subaru Outback Oil and Tire Rotation Change Cost Analysis

With my new vehicle, a 2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium, after a basic mental cost analysis I decided to do oil changes and tire rotations myself. I’ve acquired the needed tools for both and here’s the actual cost analysis:

One-Time Tool Purchases: $175.48

  • Oil Drain Pan: $8.99
  • Funnel: $3.99
  • Oil Storage Container: $6.99
  • Oil Filter Wrench: $5.89
  • Floor Jack: $99.99 (replaced sub-standard $35-ish one from years ago)
  • Rubber Wheel Chocks: $15.98
  • Qwik Valve & Supplies: $33.65 (shipped, includes vinyl hose and snap-on fitting)

Per-Change / Rotation Consumables: $33.84

  • Mobil 1 0W-20: $26.99 (6 quarts, only 5.1 needed for vehicle)
  • Subaru OE Oil Filter: $6.85 (4-pack via eBay, w/ crush washer)

Typical prices for a synthetic oil change is around $75, and another $20 for tire rotation at a semi-local shop that I trust (LTM Quick Lube). Since coupons and deals are typically available, I’ll figure $90 average total for both. The monetary cost of doing the work myself is $33.84 per service, taking into account the one-time purchases I will break even after two more iterations; which should be before the end of the year.

Time cost is a concern, but I think this is a wash between doing the work myself and taking my car in. The first oil change and tire rotation took approximately one hour for the work itself, and I think that with the installation of the Qwik Valve this should be cut down even further, as I shouldn’t have to deal with removing/cleaning/reinstalling the drain plug and crush washer.

LTM Quick Lube is located at Opdyke and South Boulevard in Auburn Hills, and while I can usually find time, it’s roughly 30 minutes of extra driving when incorporated into another trip, and I have to find a convenient time. The oil change and tire rotation at the shop takes 15-20 minutes, so I’m estimating just about an hour to take my car in. (The dealership would also be an option, but it’s equal time away, and I suspect will take slightly longer than a dedicated oil change location.) I will also have to take the old oil for recycling, but there are convenient locations for this on my way to work, which should only add a couple more minutes and only needs to occur every other oil change.

Doing the oil changes and tire rotations myself will also give me a bit more flexibility, as if I find some time later at night or early in the morning before work I can get things done instead of having to find time when the shop is open. Thus, it seems like doing the oil changes and tire rotations myself are the best solution, giving me a bit more flexibility as to scheduling, a bit of cost savings, and no additional time cost outside of the initial setup, which has already been completed.

2015 Subaru Outback GPS Mount Prototype

I recently acquired a new car, a 2015 Subaru Outback 2.5 Premium, but it didn’t have a GPS/moving map in it. Since this is something that I’m very fond of, I picked up a Garmin nüvi 68LM and have been working on a nice way to mount it in the vehicle.

This evening I set to work with some Delrin scraps and a band saw and made these small adapters for the center console. They allow the GPS to set in a small closable glove compartment, but pivot forward so the space behind it can be accessed. With the addition of two more rubber bumpers on the back side of the GPS unit it sits fairly well inside of the compartment, and a power outlet directly behind the unit makes for a very clean look.

I’m not completely happy with the fit of these, but they are better than the balancing act I was using before and are a good prototype. After using this for a couple of weeks I’ll probably refine the idea, but I’m pretty happy with the result after a few hours of work this evening.

Rinse N Roll is White Castle?

This morning I found a suspicious $4 charge on my credit card, reportedly from the White Castle location near Universal Mall in Warren, Michigan. I haven’t eaten at White Castle in a few months, the charge was listed as Gas/Automotive, and I couldn’t remember a purchase like this so I called the card company preparing to dispute the charge and receive a new credit card.

It turns out that this was a charge from Rinse N Roll touchless car wash at 12 Mile and Van Dyke. While this shares a driveway with a different White Castle location I had no reason to associate the two. I can only figure that one person/company owns all three of these businesses, has their credit card processing going through one system, all of which are listed as White Castle. This was pretty confusing, but I’m glad to find out that it wasn’t actually credit card fraud.

2006 Honda Civic Navigation System GPS Data Viewing

Back in late 2005 when I purchased my current car, a 2006 Honda Civic EX, I found that the built-in navigation unit could record log files to a PC Card. Knowing nearly nothing about reverse engineering data files I gave up on the idea of using them for anything. Fast forward to a few months ago, and while poking around with GPSBabel for converting some mountain bike trail mapping data I noticed that it supports Honda/Acura Navigation System VP Log File Format (vpl), the format that I’d hoped to interpret all those years ago. The most basic, latitude/longitude parts of the format are documented here in vpl.cc.

This morning I dug out a 512MB compact flash card and PC Card adapter, fitted it in the navigation unit, and used the hidden menu to enable logging. After grabbing the log file and running it through GPSBabel the end result is just what I’d hoped for: easy logging of wherever my car happens to go.

While it’s not terribly interesting to see the routine, boring local trips that I make, I am interested in recording a month’s worth of data and making a heat map, or perhaps visualizing a long trip I may take. This’ll be fun to play with, I only wish I’d noticed the converter sooner.

2006 Honda Civic EX Valve Cover Gasket Replacement

Some time in mid-2013 I noticed that my car’s engine was getting a bit oily, with all of it appearing from just below the valve cover. This meant was time for a new valve cover gasket. While I’m not much of a car guy, I figured this should be a relatively easy DIY repair, and it was. By following both Chilton directions (thanks, MeL!) and some of this YouTube Video I had no issue with this repair. Following a test drive last night and today’s trip to work no new oil is visible on the engine, and it seems to be running properly. Out of pocket cost was $31.25 (for the gasket set and some RTV silicone), and I suspect I saved $100 – $200 in labor costs while learning something.

With new tires fitted yesterday, there’s only one active issue left with my car: a rattling/resonating when load is applied to a cold engine when the RPMs are low. I suspect it’s a tensioner or pump that’s sticking a bit. Hopefully within the next couple of days I’ll get some time to diagnose this one as well.

2014 Huron-Clinton Metroparks / Oakland County Parks Passes are Poor Quality

 

The 2014 Huron-Clinton Metroparks / Oakland County Parks pass is much lower quality than the ones from past years. Starting this year the sticker has a few changes which make it much harder to apply: the backing is split instead of starting at a tab at the top, and the white background fill is alcohol soluble. Because of the split backing I had a much harder time applying it and ended up with a slightly wrinkled sticker, and cleaning the window post-application wiped off some of the white paint and left it smeared all over the window. With the tear-off top of the decal being perforated along the top of the decal itself this also means that the top edge is rough and can’t be evenly smoothed.

I much prefer the older style decal, as I could easily get it applied smoothly in the lower corner of my car window (photo) and passing over the sticker while cleaning the windshield didn’t wipe white paint all over the lower reaches of the glass.

UPDATE: When I attempted to use the Contact Us page on metroparks.com to relay this concern to park management it returned an ASP error that I believe was trying to give me an HTTP 500 (Internal Server Error) so I tried using the listed info@metroparks.com email address, which then bounced saying recipient not found. That’s worse quality than the passes. Time to dig up some real people’s addresses.

Not paying enough attention to car maintenance…

 

I was originally going to post a photo of a wear indicator mentioning that, with fitting the new snow tires, I’ll need to get new tires next spring. Then I saw this one tire from the rear of the driver’s side.

With every set of tires that I’ve had on the car (this is the second or third, I think, in ~180,000 miles) I’ve had uneven wear from one wheel. It’s spotty, paneled, and results in a series of flat spots around the inside of the tire. I’d think that rotating the tires more often would help it, but I think I let these tires go a little too long without rotating them. They might not have even been done this year, having gone since the snow tires were removed in the spring.

This wasn’t losing air, but I’m really lucky that I didn’t have a sudden tire failure. I’ll definitely be buying new tires before spring now. (And no, the snow tires don’t have this kind of wear… But I did get an alignment some last year, after buying these tires but before the snow tires got much use.)

New Spark Plugs after 166358 Miles

My 2006 Honda Civic EX was probably a bit overdue for new spark plugs. I’d neglected this maintenance item for a while, but at 166358 miles it was long overdue. This evening I picked up four Autolite plugs on the way home and swapped them out. This was considerably easier than I expected.

I only ran into one small problem, when the rubber-lined spark plug socket would remain stuck to the plug deep inside the engine, popping off the extension as I tried to remove all of it. After unsuccessfully attempting to shim the extension in the socket I wrapped one turn of Gaffer’s tape around the assembly (photo) and this problem resolved. All plugs are installed, torqued to spec, with threads coated with copper-based anti-seize. It may have just been coincidental, but the car seemed to start quicker after replacing the plugs. Maybe it’ll run a bit better now, and if I’m lucky maybe I’ll get better mileage…