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Old 06-15-2016, 10:27 PM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Jun 2016
Location: South Portland, ME, USA
Posts: 28
Year: 1990
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: Chevy P-30
Engine: Chevy 454 Big Block
Newbie Debacle

Warning! Be advised, you are about to read an account of a debacle. You may proceed with caution.

While crossing the Smokies on my way to visit friends, my engine began buffeting my eardrums like a Mil Mi-26. Wait, let me back up a bit...

Somewhere in the Midwest, I had noticed that my power steering pump was empty, covered in what appeared to be the remains of it's previous contents. I had also noticed that my brakes were very unresponsive, as well as the fact that my forearms were exhausted from trying to turn my steering wheel at everyone stoplight. Being the noob that I am, continued driving to avoid some cold weather and get farther south before I looked under the hood.

When I reached Kentucky somewhere near Tennessee, I had a look and found that the belt that turns the pulleys for the power steering and the brake booster (brake assist?) was very slack. That made sense that I was having the issues I was experiencing and pulled over at a big box auto store to purchase a new belt. Long story short, I found the belt for under $10, but had to go get some cash to purchase it. When I got back, a new clerk was manning the store and could not find a belt for under $40, even though I had the item number, whatever. Not wanting to be hornswaggled and with more cold weather (This winter had some ridiculous weather I might add) creeping up on me, I headed into Tennessee, bound for The Great Smoky Mountains.

Somewhere in TN, I mistakenly added Premium or some other grade gasoline into my tank. I was pretty exhausted and under stress and well, I just goofed somehow; never before, never again. Before I got the North Carolina border, I heard the belt loosen to the point that it was flapping against the intake fan or something and pulled over and cut it off. Aside from the timing chain, I have only one other belt that connects to the alternator.

Very soon after that was when my 454 turned into a chopper. Now, the noise I was hearing before, that I assumed was the belt, may have been the precursor to what I was hearing now, who knows. I soon released what you may be guessing already.

I had at least one cylinder miss-firing, most likely two, no brake booster, no power steering, and huh, what is this? My voltmeter is swaying erratically and I'm losing power up hill, or up the Appalachian Mountains I should say. Luckily, I made it to my destination where I could finally get to work on Mighty Mite.

Or so I thought...

After 5 purchases and 4 returns, I got the belt that I needed for power assistance and tune up package. I have had this bus for a little under a year this month, and I feel like I know next to nothing about anything when it comes to automobiles...

The previous owner (PO) pulled the stock engine and dropped in the 454 big block before he sold it to me. I can't say whether or not he did a good job or not, but when I tried to line everything up with the crankshaft and the two power assist. pulleys, well, like I said, I tried. I had to loosen the alternator to disengage its belt to insert the secondary belt. I reattached the alternator's belt and tightened it back into its regular position. Okay, good, so far not bad, this is first for me and I'm excited and proud of myself! Woohoo!

Something is not right. I feel like I am developing a 6th sense, the uncanny ability to see into the past, because I feel like I know what happened to set me up in my current condition. When the PO dropped in the new big block, he didn't or couldn't make any adjustments to any brackets or pulleys to get them to align correctly with the crankshaft. After putting in the engine, he most likely didn't feel like taking it back out do to his lack of foresight, so he just threw on a loose/wrong belt and decided to just tell any potential buyer that the belt was old and needed to be replaced or whatever. Maybe that is why with the not-so-random spare parts the bus came with (I vaguely remember him mentioning offhandedly that there was a belt that needed to be switched, if I get around to it, no big deal...) there was a handful of v-belts, none of them the right one.

After smacking brackets, summoning bum-magic with washers and earwax and whatnot, both belts are now in place! Power steering fluid is added to the pump and I gave it all a good wipe down! Now, on to the engine.

I think I kind of know what a distributor cap does, maybe. I removed 6 of the 8 spark plugs, no problem. The two remaining plugs are naturally, the hardest ones to get to and all the removed plugs have green corrosion on them, which is a sign that I have a coolant leak? Anyway, both spark plugs are so rusted that they snap off their threading inside of the engine block. I swore so earnestly, I swear I could have made a sailor blush! Now, I don't know if this was the right thing to do or if I could have gone about it in a different way, but I sprayed the inside of the block with some WB40 or white lithium, let it sit while I headed to a Blue Box store to look at my options for extraction tools.

After several hours and ~$6, I came up with a contraption of three sockets, a ratchet and a torque screw bit and began extracting the spark plug casings. MacGuyver would have been proud, I certainly was! It worked and I fingered tightened the new spark plugs in and attached the new spark plug wires. Feeling extremely accomplished, I turned the key in the ignition...

Wah wah wah wah wah eeehhhhhnnnnnn.... nada

No clicking, no turning over. The crankshaft spun a little, but the starter wasn't making it. Then I saw the voltmeter plummet when every time I tried to start her up. I attached jumpers and connected my friends BMW 328 to the bus and tried to jump. No dice. Thinking back, I wonder about polarity issues... Either the car didn't have the power or the battery is toast?

It is likely that I drained the battery using the lights while working on the bus. It is also likely that my problems have only just begun. I had to winter the bus with friends for the past six months and return to Maine. Soon, I hope to make my way back to her and get her running and bring my baby home.

I know that this is not a lot to go on, but I am praying that someone out there may have some advice or ideas to consider that might help. A new battery and a charger (any suggestions on a good charger, I have a marine/rv deep cycle cranking combo battery from Duracell, the kind that battery and light bulb stores have) are on my shopping list for when I get down there. Before I started working on her, she started just fine, fine enough for the engine knocking from the cylinders to be heard indoors. The headlights and interior lights work after trying to jump, but the voltmeter doesn't quite read 12 volts, let alone 13.7 that I believe the starter needs. I really feel like the starter needs more power, but I may be wrong and it may be fuel/combustion related. Hopefully, I have included the necessary clues for someone to throw their two cents in. Also, if I have made any mistakes or bad assumptions, whatever, please call me out; I came here to learn, not be a pretentious, incorrect braggart.

Maybe this is an unimportant side note, but the temperature gauge never registered anything; it could be anything between a faulty gauge to the thermistor (thermostat, thermometer?) not being connected. I don't know and I haven't had a chance to find out. I mention this because I don't know if I overheated the engine at some point. Could my cylinders misfire from overheating causing seal failure, a blown gasket somewhere. Maybe the evidence of coolant on the spark plugs, if that is what that was, is a clue. I really am noob with all of this stuff, so anything that anyone would like to throw out there for me, it is much appreciated. You may speak to me about mechanics as though you were explaining it to a child, I will not be offended Sorry for the long post about amateur stuff.
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Old 06-15-2016, 10:40 PM   #2
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Engine: 366 Big block Chevy! :) w/ Stick shift
hmmm... *scratching head*
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Old 06-15-2016, 11:01 PM   #3
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Jun 2016
Location: South Portland, ME, USA
Posts: 28
Year: 1990
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: Chevy P-30
Engine: Chevy 454 Big Block
Oh no!

What is making you scratch your head? The problem with my bus or the problem with my post (it is a jumbled, run-on nightmare, sorry!)
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Old 06-15-2016, 11:16 PM   #4
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You need a new battery. Forget the combo deep cycle/cranking battery - just get a battery for cranking the engine. Deep cycle and cranking are sortof opposites in battery design.

The deep cycle is designed for long, sustained discharge, while the cranking part is designed for many cycles of strong, fast output. You're battery is like a trickling faucet where you need someone to throw a bucket of water.



(I had the same thing with an 11hp lawn tractor last fall - I figured the new battery I bought would be fine, so I tossed it right in to the tractor. Turn the key and. . . .it would barely engage the starter. I cleaned contacts, took the starter off, checked the brushes, etc. etc. Then I wondered about the new battery - after a night on the charger, vroooom. You need all 13 or so of those volts. And I'm only trying to get ONE cylinder moving.)

Once you've got proper starting voltage, see how it sounds.
Unfortunately, I don't know much about engines past that, but I bet someone on here will.
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Old 06-15-2016, 11:21 PM   #5
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Jun 2016
Location: South Portland, ME, USA
Posts: 28
Year: 1990
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: Chevy P-30
Engine: Chevy 454 Big Block
Thanks, that is what I was thinking/hoping. For me, it is like being in limbo; I won't know if the repairs that I did work until I resolve this other issue. I really hope it is just the battery. It has been sitting for months in winter, and is still under warranty, so hopefully I can return and get her rolling again. It has been really stressful waiting half a year just to get back to her and see if my repairs were up to snuff. Hopefully others agree that at this point a new battery is what I need to get to the next step! Cheers!
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Old 06-15-2016, 11:27 PM   #6
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Year: 1999
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Are you sure you put the plug wires back on properly?
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Old 06-15-2016, 11:42 PM   #7
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Jun 2016
Location: South Portland, ME, USA
Posts: 28
Year: 1990
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: Chevy P-30
Engine: Chevy 454 Big Block
Yes, I made sure to label my wires before replacing them.

My family lives in Eighth Ward and I just spent the month of May with them. I will be bring my skoolie through Johnstown when I retrieve her from North Carolina any day now!
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Old 06-16-2016, 06:09 AM   #8
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where in nc are you
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my build pics
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Old 06-16-2016, 10:48 AM   #9
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Jun 2016
Location: South Portland, ME, USA
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Year: 1990
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Chassis: Chevy P-30
Engine: Chevy 454 Big Block
I'm in South Portland, ME. My bus is Bryson City, NC. I'll be coming up I-81N when I get her running again.
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Old 06-16-2016, 01:21 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mightymainermite View Post
I'm in South Portland, ME. My bus is Bryson City, NC. I'll be coming up I-81N when I get her running again.
Get a coleslaw burger when you're in Bryson City.
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Old 06-16-2016, 05:15 PM   #11
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Give me a call when you get here. Maybe I can help with the bus. Although my bus is still "under construction" I'll give you the tour. Coffee is on me. (814) 525-2532.
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Old 06-16-2016, 08:37 PM   #12
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Jun 2016
Location: South Portland, ME, USA
Posts: 28
Year: 1990
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: Chevy P-30
Engine: Chevy 454 Big Block
Hmmm... are you talking about the Tuckaseegee Tavern, because he sold that business to someone else and I am not even sure that that business hasn't gone under, too. Otherwise, where do you get a coleslaw burger? I lived there for over a year and never came across such a thing. Nick and Nate's Pizza and Grill opened up by the train station and they are cranking out the best food in town, imho.
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Old 06-16-2016, 09:17 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mightymainermite View Post
...I'll be coming up I-81N when I get her running again.
I'll buy you a Pepsi in Christiansburg VA, just down 81 from Roanoke. Or lunch at a good BBQ place just off the Interstate.
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Old 06-16-2016, 09:23 PM   #14
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Jun 2016
Location: South Portland, ME, USA
Posts: 28
Year: 1990
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: Chevy P-30
Engine: Chevy 454 Big Block
@Roadrunner: Awesome, thank you so much! I don't have many acquaintances in Cambria Co. anymore, so thank you again!

Bar-b-que sounds fantastic! I'm getting even more excited now about getting back in the drivers seat! This summer is going to be great!:T hanx:
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Old 06-16-2016, 09:24 PM   #15
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Location: Eustis FLORIDA
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Chassis: Freighliner FS65
Engine: Cat 3126
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mightymainermite View Post
Hmmm... are you talking about the Tuckaseegee Tavern, because he sold that business to someone else and I am not even sure that that business hasn't gone under, too. Otherwise, where do you get a coleslaw burger? I lived there for over a year and never came across such a thing. Nick and Nate's Pizza and Grill opened up by the train station and they are cranking out the best food in town, imho.
There was a mom n pop place on the way into town up in the mountains. Unless otherwise told, they put coleslaw on EVERY burger that they sold.
I used to have family up there. Haven't been in nearly a decade.
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Old 02-08-2017, 02:19 PM   #16
Mini-Skoolie
 
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I don't want to harp on you too heavily, as I'm sure you've beat yourself up over this already (right?), but you really should have stopped and fixed the first issue you had when you had it. Continuing to drive on only hurt yourself and your skoolie more, not to mention driving without adequate steering or braking... what if an emergency arose and you ended up not being able to swerve to avoid, or stop, and plowed into a family? Your story scares me for the safety of my family.

Alright, that being said... here's my mechanical two cents and a checklist of sorts...
  1. When you get there, check all fluids and note their levels and appearances. Coolant should be full (radiator and overflow tank) and should have a color from antifreeze (green or orange). If low, fill up with 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water. If dark colored, add Radiator Flush to you post-fixed to do list. Oil should be anywhere from amber (new oil) to black (old oil). If it is milky, or chocolate brown you have water in it. This may be due to a coolant leak. Add Oil Change to your post-fixed list. Power Steering fluid should be full. Colors can vary and I have not found great help in problem identifications based upon color alone. Brake fluid should be clear, but can have a tint of color (amber, yellow). If low, add. If dark or cloudy, add Brake Bleed / Fluid Exchange to your post-fix list.
  2. Double check your bolts, nuts, belts, etc. that they are tight and not loose. Best to check them out now prior to starting it up and something breaking from a loose connection.
  3. You need a new battery. Look up the minimum recommended cranking amps for your bus, then buy the biggest cranking amp (cold cranking amps are what really matter) battery you can that will fit in your bus. Don't get a deep cycle, as others have said. If you have the money, go for a maintenance-free type battery. The BMW's battery didn't have the cranking amps needed to turn yours over.
  4. Spark Plugs. Crawl in there and tighten your plugs correctly. Do not over tighten them! Regarding the green corrosion... I wouldn't use that as an indicator of a coolant leak. Things I would look for: white smoke, milky oil, fluid in coolant system "disappearing".
  5. Plug Wires. Make sure you wires are seated correctly on both the distributor cap and the plugs. Unplug and replug them all (one at a time) and "feel" the click when they snap on. No click usually means a bad connection with the wire... consider replacing.
  6. Put a bottle of STA-BIL fuel stabilizer into your tank to get rid of any water or bad mixtures left over from sitting.

    Gas engines only require three things to operate: Fuel, Fire, Compression. I lump batteries and starting into the Fire category. If it won't start or won't run, keep these in mind and ask yourself if it's getting all three. If not, you know where to start digging.
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Old 02-12-2018, 04:09 PM   #17
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Hey there! I saw you are in the hills of SW VA. I'm in Roanoke. I haven't purchased yet and I'm wondering if you recommend anyone in the Roanoke area for mechanical support? I have a whole lot to learn.
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Old 02-12-2018, 04:10 PM   #18
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@dapplecreek, I'm in Roanoke and getting ready to purchase my first bus. Any local tips for servicing or anything else?
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