A collection of tricks, shortcuts, and helpful hints aimed at easing the automotive execution of ‘necessary’ modifications
Words and Photos: Jeff Smith
There’s really no better way to learn how to work on cars than by just diving in and turning the wrenches yourself. We make mistakes along the way, but learn some valuable lessons, too. Social media likes to share lots of information, but most of it is pretty tame stuff. So, we’re starting this off as our own version of a tweet or a post that lists some of the cool stuff we’ve learned in the past year.
Not all of these will apply to every reader, but frankly, one good tech tip from a friend that will help save time, money, or aggravation is worth the small amount of effort it takes to read through this collection of tips. If only one of these helps you through a difficult process or saves you some grief, then we’ve done our job.
If you have any tips to add to our catalog, give us a shout on our Facebook page: facebook.com/PPNDigital.
1. Simple Holley carb fix
In the last few years, we’ve noticed a problem with a few of our Holley carbs that sometimes sit around the shop for months before they are used again. In that time, the standard black accelerator pump diaphragm becomes brittle and must be replaced. You can replace it with an identical item from Holley, but your problem will likely reoccur if the car sits for a long period of time.
A better idea is to spend a little more money on Holley’s green Viton rubber diaphragm. The 30cc diaphragm is PN 135-10 and costs $9.89. It’s roughly three times the cost of the standard diaphragm, but it will last for as long as you’ll likely own the carburetor, so it’s worth the investment.
2. It’s permanent
A popular conversion for the older GM starter motors is to use the Ford relay and place a shunt or heavy wire between the starter and battery terminals on the GM solenoid. This works okay with the old starters, but this is not good with permanent magnet starter motors. Once any electric motor begins to spin, it becomes an electric generator, as well.
With a shunt or connector between the solenoid and the starter motor, the permanent magnet starters will continue to crank after the start key is released — because even this small current will keep the hold-in side of the solenoid engaged — and the starter will not release even after the engine starts.
This will quickly damage the starter motor if allowed to continue. Wire any permanent magnet starter with the stock-style wiring, and it will work perfectly.
3. Bad connection
Don’t gang the power leads to the positive side of the battery. Not only does it look cheesy, but if you are using an EFI or digital controller for an electronic automatic trans, this could potentially contribute to erratic EFI operation.
Move the other power leads to a remotely-mounted power terminal and only connect the EFI main power lead to the battery. This will leave only two leads (other than the starter motor cable) to the battery. This is when a dual connection battery (top and side) is a nice addition.
Your digital EFI will be eternally grateful and reward you with better and more predictable performance. Always run the EFI ground directly to the battery, as well.
4. Burp it
Liquid-filled pressure gauges are nice — they are more stable than standard gauges — but beware of the hidden hiccup. These gauges are subject to errors when exposed to high temperatures. This isn’t a concern with high-pressure gauges, such as nitrous bottle pressure. But with a liquid-filled fuel gauge reading single-digit carburetor fuel pressure, always “burp” the gauge before using it. This releases any built-up pressure inside the gauge from the hot liquid.
All liquid-filled gauges have a small rubber stopper near the top of the gauge. With the gauge sitting upright, slightly lift one corner of the stopper; this should release any pressure. We do this every time before we use our ZEX nitrous fuel-pressure gauge to ensure accurate readings.
We had a learning session where we discovered even a 0.5 psi build-up of pressure will affect the gauge accuracy by that same amount. If you’re tuning nitrous with fuel pressure, a half-psi of error at 5 psi is a 10-percent error factor, which is unacceptable.
5. 10 – 10 x 3
This is COMP Cams’ new recommended break-in procedure for flat tappet or hydraulic roller cam engines. Run the engine for 10 minutes at 1,500 to 2,000 rpm and then stop and cool it down for 10 minutes. Then, run the engine again for 10 minutes, and repeat this three times, for a total running time of 30 minutes. The whole process will require an hour and keeps the oil temperature lower overall.
For race engines, it’s best to start with lower, break-in ratio rocker ratios (like 1.2:1) and remove the inner valve spring for the first session. Re-install the inner springs for the second session, and finally, the rockers you will be running for the third session. This gradually builds up the load on the rollers and the cam. Don’t forget to use a high-quality break-in oil, like COMP’s ZDDP-enhanced line or Driven Racing Oil (which COMP now sells).
6. Take me to the pilot
Did you know there’s a wrong way to install a pilot bearing? The right way, according to Centerforce’s Will Baty, is to install the sealed end (on the right) facing the transmission. This keeps that nasty clutch dust and crud out of the bearing. It’s a good idea to add a little more grease to the existing bearing, since it comes with only a small amount. Good wheel bearing grease is acceptable.
As for pilot bushings, the Oilite bushings should not be lubed, as they are self-lubricating. This design pulls lube out of the material to the surface of the pilot, through open pores, when heated. Adding lube to these bushings will seal up the pores and eventually seize the bushing onto the shaft. An Oilite bushing can be easily identified because it is not magnetic.
7. MSD backup
Here’s the scenario. Your MSD ignition box fails, and you’re left stranded on the side of the road. While carrying around a spare MSD is the simplest way to avoid this, there’s a cheaper and less intrusive alternative.
All MSD distributors use a magnetic pickup to trigger the MSD box. This is the same style pickup used in an HEI, as well as Ford and Chrysler electronic distributors. Mount an HEI module to a small aluminum plate to act as a heat sink, then wiring it is as simple as hooking the violet wire from the distributor to the HEI “G” pin and the orange lead from the MSD to the “W,” or signal pin, on the HEI.
The two leads on the other side of the HEI module connect to the coil. The positive side of the coil connects to the “B” terminal (battery), while the negative side of the coil hooks to the “C” terminal. You can adapt the wires from the HEI module to a MSD connector (PN 8824, $7.23 Summit Racing) to make the conversion even easier. Make sure to ground the aluminum plate and use some thermal heat transfer paste between the HEI module and the aluminum plate, and you’re ready to rock.
8. Octane booster games
When considering a typical octane booster, remember this bit of information. Most octane boosters will claim to increase the fuel octane by “three points,” as an example. Most enthusiasts think this means improving the octane, using the example, from 91 to 94.
The reality is that a point of octane is a tenth (0.10) of one octane number. So three points are equal to only 0.30 of one octane. Just be aware of what you’re buying before you lay down your hard-earned cash. This NOS octane booster label claims 7 points improvement — which is better — but it’s still less than one full octane number.
9. Torque values
Torque values for tightening a fastener will change with the lube you use. For example, Centerforce lists 82 ft.-lbs. as the torque value when using ARP flywheel bolts, but that’s if you use engine oil. If you use Ultra-Torque, the torque value drops to 60 ft.-lbs. because the lube radically reduces the friction between the underside of the bolt and the flywheel.
Generally speaking, 50 percent of the applied torque is created by friction underneath the bolt head. Reducing this friction by using the Ultra-Torque applies more torque to stretching the bolt to its required spec. So, it’s critical to understand the difference in lubes and know which one to use with which spec.
It might seem a small point, but under-torquing a fastener like the flywheel bolt might be just as bad as over-torquing it — perhaps worse when it starts vibrating and shears the bolts off at 6,000 rpm. This graph shows how using engine oil under the bolt head changes the torque value after multiple torque applications, versus how the Ultra-Torque delivers a far more stable application of torque.
That ticking lifter can be caused by dirt that prevents the check ball at the bottom of the lifter piston from properly closing and sealing. This allows the oil to bleed off and produces that clatter sound. This can also be caused by poor oil change habits that tend to gum up the lifter.
Sometimes, you can remove the offending lifter, disassemble it, clean the piston, and then the check ball. Edelbrock’s Curt Hooker says you can try high-zinc oil to attempt to clean the debris. We’ve also had success using a quart of ATF, which is very high-detergent oil that can help clean the lifters.
11. Dielectric grease
Very few people realize what this stuff is. Dielectric grease is designed to insulate errant voltage from escaping from the spark plug boot. The emphasis here is on how to use it. Do not just squeeze a load of this stuff into the spark plug boot.
Instead, use a cotton swab or a small straight screwdriver to apply a light coat to the inside of the plug boot. This will keep the dielectric grease away from the spark plug wire connection, where you don’t want it. This grease on the spark plug connector will attempt to insulate the connection.
12. Watching cable `
On older muscle cars, it’s best to lubricate the speedo cable every 30,000 miles or so to allow it to turn freely. If you ever see a cable that appears to have been melted, this is caused by a poor ground between the battery, engine, and the body.
During cranking, the electrical system is looking for the shortest ground or return path, and if the ground cable is bad, much of that amperage will run right through the speedometer cable, creating heat and melting the cable. The clues are there if you pay attention to them.
13. LOMA not LMAO
Many LS engines built after 2012 come with what GM calls Active Fuel Management (AFM), also known as displacement on demand (or DOD). If you plan to change the camshaft in one of these engines, you will also have to disable the AFM system.
This will require eight new non-AFM lifters, and you must also block off the oil passages in the tall stands, in the middle of the valley cover, that feed oil to the Lifter Oil Manifold Assembly (LOMA). To delete the AFM, the oil passages in the stands must be plugged to prevent massive internal oil leaks. Lingenfelter Performance Engineering sells a tool that rivets the AFM holes closed — PN L950105305 is $79.99, and extra rivets (PN L960225305) are $19.95. This is a permanent repair.
Other alternatives include drilling and tapping each stand to close with an Allen plug, which you should only do if the engine is completely apart (to prevent aluminum chips from falling into the engine). The simplest step is to use a non-AFM LS3 lifter cover — PN 12598832, $51.97 through Summit Racing. The cover offers O-rings that seal the top of the stands and prevent oil from escaping.
14. Don’t use race oil on the street
We got this tip from Keith Jones at Total Seal. Using race oil on the street may not be a good idea. While the added zinc is good for flat tappet cam engines, the problem is a lack of detergents.
Race oils are designed to be changed often, so the detergent levels are drastically lower. Detergents are what clean the engine and actually work to reduce the effects of zinc. According to Jones, excessive zinc accumulates in the crosshatch pattern of the cylinder wall and can lead to excessive oil usage as the oil rings are overpowered.
If you suspect this as a problem, Jones says try using Shell Rotella diesel engine oil for a one-time use; it has very high detergents used to clean the soot from diesel engine combustion. The higher detergent level will clean out the zinc and reduce oil usage back to normal levels.
15. How to mount a trans cooler
With a typical automatic transmission cooler, there are several ways to mount the cooler. Our photo shows the best way, with the inlet and outlet fittings positioned at the top of the cooler. This way, any air bubbles that might be created will have a chance to be pushed out.
Another acceptable position is if we turn this cooler 90 degrees in either direction. The only position you don’t want is placing the fittings pointing downward. This will allow trapped air to remain in the cooler, reducing its efficiency.
This might seem a small thing, but it’s important if you want to obtain maximum efficiency from the cooler. Of course, this also means your trans will operate at a lower temperature, which is also a very good thing.
16. Let it bleed
When installing a new power steering box, it’s important to bleed the air out of the system before starting the engine. This prevents pumping air through the system that can take hours to stabilize.
Jack the car up so the front tires are off the ground. Fill the power steering pump reservoir with fluid and slowly turn the steering wheel to full lock in each direction. Air will exit through the reservoir as large bubbles, and you will likely need to refill it several times. When the large air bubbles no longer appear, most of the air is probably out of the system.
Start the engine and slowly turn the wheels a few more times. Check the fluid level, and you’re ready to go. If you don’t remove the air from the system before starting the engine, the extreme hydraulic pressure creates foam, which causes the pump to growl and will require long hours to eventually bleed out of the system.
17. 4L60E spotter’s trick
The 4L60E comes in two different cases. One is for the small-block Chevy in early vans and Chevy/GMC pickups up to approximately 2003. The more modern version is the LS version, which offers different case dimensions. The transmission cases come both one-piece and two-piece with detachable bellhousings. These different bellhousings will interchange between transmissions, but the converters do not because the input splines are different.
LS engines used a larger 300mm converter, so older trans will not accommodate the larger converter. The photo is for an LS-based 4L65E that is notable with the bolt hole at the very top. The small-block Chevy version does not have a bolt hole at the peak. Note also the LS version pattern is missing a bolt hole at the 10 o’clock position.
18. Let’s get vertical
Never mount round, oil-filled coils horizontally, as they can easily overheat. Oil is what keeps these coils cool, but they were designed to be mounted vertically. If this isn’t possible, convert to an E-core coil style. This design can be mounted in any orientation.
19. Copper gaskets
Sometimes, those copper brake hose sealing washers don’t seal like they should. Our long-time buddy, Bill Irwin, says he often hits them up with a propane torch to make them softer before bolting them in place allowing the soft metal to more easily seal to the caliper.
If the calipers are used, make sure the caliper sealing surface is flat and free of burrs. Also pay attention to offsets that are sometimes present in the hose on the caliper end. Make sure the offset doesn’t pinch part of the hose to the caliper.
20. Prime the pump – LS style
When starting a brand new late model LS engine, there’s no easy way to pressure lube the engine. GM recommends you remove the spark plugs and spin the engine over with the starter to get oil pressure up before starting the engine, but this doesn’t always work. That’s because the oil pump really needs to be primed first.
There’s an easy way that we learned from Melling to pre-fill the oil pump on LS engines. There’s a small oil pressure fitting toward the front of the driver side of all LS engines. Remove this plug and stick a length of 3/8-inch rubber fuel hose into this hole. Then, use a small funnel to pour a few ounces of engine oil into this passage. This leads directly to the oil pump and will pre-fill the pump. After replacing the plug, crank the engine; it should achieve oil pressure almost immediately.