An alternative look at life in the Land of the Rising Sun, coming from its southernmost prefecture, the island of Okinawa.
Posted By Dave on July 8th, 2014


Those who have known me a while will know that I just about kept my body shape in control (mainly in Okinawa through sweating generally due to the heat and humidity) or because of walking so much with my car dying.  It definitely wasn’t due to exercise though!  But after a couple of months of being back in England […]


Archive for December, 2009

Back to Basics with the Alto

Posted By Dave on December 26th, 2009

Make no mistake: my first foray into upgrades for my 1993 Alto Works RS/X was an unmitigated disaster.  The combination of parts didn’t work, the turbo was duff and my car ended up off the road as an indirect consequence.  But that”s because I was upgrading far too much far too soon.  The car had barely got running right before I was throwing injectors, ECUs and turbos at it with gay abandon.  I was going about it completely wrong and if I do nothing else I try to learn from my mistakes.

So learn I did and after the boost gauge which diagnosed my broken upgraded turbo problem, some of the money I earned by selling parts was spent on my car’s breathing and traction.

First off, a car works to its peak performance if it’s getting good airflow to and from the engine.  So with that in mind my first couple of parts were purchased.  I got a used HKS Power Intake filter for a very good price locally, and an Apexi N1 exhaust at the other end of the airflow system.  I’m normally not a huge fan of the foam filtration system that the HKS filter offers, but it was cheap and a lot cheaper than a brand new Apexi or Blitz filter.  As for the exhaust system, the Apexi N1 is a manufacturer and model that is well trusted in the tuning community, and it was used but at an excellent price so was a bit of a no-brainer for me.  The exhaust has given my car a bit of a beefier sound but not obnoxious like a lot of the exhausts for kei cars.  The car also feels a bit peppier with it on too.

The last part of my first trio of upgrades has proved to be one of the best buys I have probably made for cars so far.  I picked up a set of Yokohama Advan Neova AD07 tyres for under Y32,000 for all 4 tyres including shipping to Okinawa.  They are a little bigger than the tyres I had on previously (165/60/R13 as opposed to 155/60/R13) but the difference in grip is phenomenal.  The car feels like it’s glued to the road and is much more planted than it ever was before.  I still get a bit of bouncing on the country roads but that’s due to my suspension setup; going around corners is a delight though now, and is so much more responsive.

So with those upgrades installed, it was time to head back to the internet in search of more bargains for my car.  With a few little drives inbetween part-hunting sessions of course!

Posted in Cars

Slow Spooling Issues

Posted By Dave on December 24th, 2009

So the car was up and running again, but I still wasn’t really feeling the big increase in power I had expected from a turbo/ECU/injector swap.  If anything, it was feeling even slower than before!  I knew the best way to check what bost the turbo was putting out was to fit a boost gauge, so I found one of the cheapest I could locally, and wired it up.

My suspicions were proved true, as the turbo was only spooling at over 5,200rpm and then only reaching a maximum of 0.6bar.  The stock boost level for this turbo was 1.0bar so something was wrong somewhere along the line.  I checked my hosing for leaks but found nothing.  Even pulling the hose off the turbo actuator (an action which should cause the wastegate to stay shut and the car to overboost) had no effect on the turbo’s output whatsoever.  It was producing boost, but just hardly any of it.

It was at that point that I decided it was probably better to cut my losses and go back to a stock setup to see if the boost was any different.  I started by changing the ECU and then testing the car, but it made no difference.  The injectors were then put back to stock ones but no change either.  Eventually I had to pull off this new turbo and put the old one back in.  Took it for a drive and put my foot down.  The turbo was spinning to 0.7bar and spooling by 3,000rpm or so, feeling much more sprightly.  So it looked like it was the turbo.  In the end I sold off the ECU and injectors as a package, and sold the turbo for parts.

I realise now I’d gone from pretty much a stock car setup and headed straight to stage 2 modifications without doing the basics first (i.e. I had tried to run before I could walk).  The parts sale had gained me some money too so I elected to save a little of it and spend some on the stage 1 upgrades I should have made in the first place.

Posted in Cars

My Alto Works Problems Solved (for now!)

Posted By Dave on December 14th, 2009

When I last left you I had arrived at my tuning shop with my car engine being held together by some red RTV, and me a nervous wreck after making the longest 20-minute drive ever from my house to the garage.  The guy stopped working on a car that was infinitely more powerful than mine could ever hope to be, and took a look.

Now the non-car people might not know this, but when engine heads are made/cast they will have some holes in them that were made in the moulding process.  These holes are about 2-3cm in diameter usually, and are then capped off with something called “freeze plugs” which are basically a disc of thing metal which just presses into the hole and blocks it off.  There are usually a few of these around the engine in various places.  This I did not know, and was soon to be left feeling very stupid about.

“It’s just a cracked freeze plug” the guy said, telling me I had nothing at all to worry about!  It had cracked possibly because it was weakened when my car temperature went up during the drive home from installing my turbo after the fan wiring mishap.  I just needed to buy a new plug from Suzuki, knock the other one out with a screwdriver and a hammer, and then press this one in, in its place.  So off I drove to Suzuki, and it turned out this repair that at one point was looking like it might cost me over Y100,000 cost me Y110.  Just a small difference!  But I felt so lucky I’d missed out on a couple of auctions for engines when all I needed was a 2cm disc of metal to fix it.  In 2 days my freeze plug was here and I hammered it into place, with a fair bit of RTV around the edge to make sure it sealed, and that was that!  I was on the road and fully mobile again!

Had a couple of little issues since, but they have mostly been ironed out.  One pipe was leaking a little coolant.  Some RTV fixed it for a while, but I managed to pull the right pipe off an Alto that was in the junkyard to replace it so fingers crossed that’s sorted now.  A radiator cap leak was also causing some of the coolant in my expansion tank to be leaking out, but a replacement cap has fixed that too.

The next issue to come up… well who knows!  But I’m sure it won’t be long until it does.  Until then I’ll just have to get myself ready for whatever it is going to throw at me.

Posted in News

Alto Works Trials & Tribulations

Posted By Dave on December 12th, 2009

I frequently say on this blog that I learn from my mistakes, and I certainly do make a few with my car.  The last time I posted about my own ride was back in October, when I was eagerly waiting to install a new turbo, injectors and ECU.  Well that set of upgrades didn’t really go to plan, and has kind of been indicative of the past 6 month here in Okinawa.  Big plans, the works of which proverbial spanners have been flung into from all directions.  But I have lived and learned (just about), and hopefully as some of you read my mistakes you might do too.

The injector/ECU/turbo setup was installed back at the start of November, with big thanks going to Josh at the Hobby Shop for helping me out.  The first 2 parts of the threesome were a cinch, but the turbo was a swine to get out and replace.  This was mainly due to the fact that I had no real idea how to get at the turbo and get it out.  or the record, the easiest way is to take the front bumper off and then all the safety bars and such, and bring it out the front of the car.  What took me the best part of a day the first time I did it, I have since done in under 2 hours.  And then other issues came up.  We decided to remove the radiator so we could have better access to put the new turbo in, but we didn’t expect the main radiator inlet to just break away from the hose when we pulled it off!  So a radiator rebuild was then needed.  As a stopgap I managed to find a radiator from a similar but not the same car which would fit so decided I would just throw that in until my original one was rebuilt.

And then while the car was in the air and I was looking around it I suddenly thought, “Oh, what’s that liquid near the passenger rear brake caliper?  Ahhh… that will be a brake fluid leak.”  So a caliper rebuild kit was needed for that.  That in itself was a learning experience though as I rebuilt both calipers on my own.  They work now fine with no leaks; the only downside being on rare occasions it sounds like I have a foghorn in my car on light braking!

But the turbo was eventually installed and I headed for home.  The upgrades I’d made didn’t really thrill me but I was thinking it was just because I had to get used to the bigger turbo.  Headed on the expressway as I just wanted to get back home and relax.  Had been going for about 5 minute doing about 80kph when I suddenly noticed my water temp gauge going up.  A few expletives later and I’d pulled into the nearby rest stop and opened the bonnet.  A bit of steam was coming out, but then the water temp on my gauge went right back to normal.  Very strange I first thought.  The fan behind the radiator was running and blowing air forward… and then it hit me.  The fan’s wiring on this radiator was opposite to the one on my original radiator.  This means that as I was driving on the expressway the fan was trying to blow air forward and was competing against the air coming into my engine bay, creating an area around the radiator where there was almost no airflow at all as the forces were acting against each other!  The faster I went the more heat would be generated and would not be able to escape through the coolant system.  My only option was to drive home as slowly as I dared on the expressway.  Once I was on smaller roads I was fine as the speeds were slower and so the fan could actually work to cool the coolant.

You might think that’s it but I’m only just getting started here!  So I made it home and rewired the fan that night so it would actually suck air through the radiator and not try to blow air forward.  The next day I did a bit of driving around and tried to test out the new setup properly.  It just felt so sluggish and like it wasn’t boosting much, but I could hear the turbo spooling a little.  I decided to do a little more testing another time and went for a drive into Naha.  Here is the scary part.  On the same road and even at the same bend as I crashed my Evo, the water temperature gauge started to go up again, quite quickly.  I was getting quite used to this by now and pulled over, but this time the steam had got a while lot worse.  It was also joined with the engine losing power and misfiring, and it was smelling of sickly boiling coolant.  I rushed to the engine bay and lifted up the bonnet to see what was going on, and was greeted with not a nice sight.  There was coolant everywhere.  It was all over the engine bay, and especially near the head.  The reason the car was misfiring was that there was coolant around all the spark plug leads, and I was assuming next to the plugs themselves too.  I filled the engine with more coolant and slowly drove back home, even though I had to stop every 2-3 minutes and turn the engine off for things to cool down.

I made it home and left the engine to cool while I went to my apartment and onto the internet to find out what the hell was wrong.  The first idea was a cracked head, as was the second… and third… and almost every other answer I could find.  This just made my heart sink like you couldn’t believe.  Just a few months after having to rebuild the engine on my Evo, I was facing the prospect of having to do another rebuild on another engine.  A few hours passed and I went down to inspect the engine some more and clean up some of the coolant that had covered the engine.  Looking down on the head I could see  a hole about the size of a ball-point pen nib that it was all coming out of.  Spectacular…

For the next 2 and a half weeks I was back to being a pedestrian again, and using public transport to get to and from work (a painfully frustrating and quite expensive thing to do in Okinawa).  After a couple of weeks though I made it down to my tuning shop who had been looking for a new head for me.  Typically, the twin-cam F6a engine heads were all but impossible to find in Okinawa, and I was looking at having to buy a whole engine from mainland Japan, having it shipped down and then doing a whole engine swap.  The engine prices were coming to about Y60,000 plus shipping, which meant that the whole swap of the engine would probably cost over Y100,000.  This was still at a time when my employment situation was dodgy at best and I was just about breaking even each month.

The guy at the shop asked me to explain where the crack in my head was so I drew him a diagram and tried to show him as best I could.  To my surprise, he said that a crack like that might be repairable if I could get it down to the garage.  He told me to try RTV’ing the hell out of it and leaving it for at least 24 hours before trying to drive down there and they would check it out.  That raised my spirits quite a bit as I had the realization that this repair might not be as costly as I first thought.  So I went home and liberally coated the area around the crack in RTV and left it to dry for a couple of days.  48 hours later I filled the radiator with coolant and fired up the engine.  Hate to use the cliche but minutes seemed like hours as I waited for the engine to warm up so I could fill the cooling system properly.  And then I began the 20-minute journey down to the garage.

That is probably 20 of the longest minutes I’ve ever had!  And every minute I was watching the water temp gauge for any signs of it going up.  I was torn between driving fast and having the engine run hotter but getting their quicker, or driving more slowly and keeping cooler but taking longer to get there.  In the end I opted for a middleground and it worked well as I made it down there in one piece.   The guy from the garage came out and opened the bonnet and took a look at the engine…

And as for what he said, well I’ll tell you about that in my next post!

Posted in Cars
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