Alabama driveway, or sixth circle of hell?
On the 4th my car began acting up about 40 miles from home. I noticed a sudden loss of power and a rough idle; I also had to deal with a highly unpleasant stall in an afternoon thunderstorm which dropped enough rain to reduce visibility to 25 yards for a while.
After limping the car home, a compression check narrowed down the problem to two possibilities, both of which involve a prohibitively expensive (with a mechanic, anyway) removal of the cylinder head. It's either a blown gasket or a burned-up valve.
Most people hear the words "head gasket" and their eyes glaze over. It seems to be an insurmountable challenge. It's actually not too complicated for a do-it-yourself-er. It is an involved process that calls for a small degree of organization and preparation, but it's not too difficult. If not for the the sweltering July Alabama heat, it would almost be fun. It feels as though the sun is only a few feet over my head out in the driveway all day; if not for the two gallons of water I drank out there I wouldn't have been able to function.
Also helpful are a little bit of common sense, careful reading of the manual, a smattering of advice from the knowledgeable (Pete, I owe you a case of beer so far,) and grease up to your deltoids. You are going to get dirty. Accept it. I must have gone through an entire tub of Gojo in the shower this evening while removing grease and grime that went all the way up past my sleeves.
In the first hour of work, I had her up on jackstands, the collector pipe below the exhaust manifold was removed, and the coolant was drained from the radiator and the block. Removing the plug wires was the first order of business topside.
Another hour's work saw the manifolds unbolted and cleared away. I pulled the exhaust manifolds, but just unbolted the intake. I'm really not interested in re-rigging and re-wiring the fuel rail right now.
After a few breaks and some re-organization, it was time to tackle the valve cover, chain tensioner, and camshaft sprockets. This is where the screaming and cussing began. I removed the chain tensioner before breaking the bolts on the cam sprockets, so the cams moved a little bit out of true as the bolts came loose. I'm glad I made index marks on everything.
By nightfall, I was done for the day. All that's left are the head bolts, then it comes off and I find out just what the hell is wrong in there. If I'm lucky, it's just a head gasket. Conveniently, the new gasket set arrived via UPS right as I reached the point where I'm going to need it.
If I'm not so lucky, there's a burned-up exhaust valve on cylinder #5. If so, it's no matter. I need to adjust the valves anyway, so I shouldn't complain about spending a few hours lapping the valves and putting in some shims.