Apr 8

The Passat turned 75,000 miles a week ago last Saturday - appropriately, on the way home from her routine pre-registration smog check.  She has served us well these past 10 years, and seems ready to continue doing so.  I snapped a photo of the odo turning 75k for posterity:

Passat 75,000 Miles

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Apr 7

Because I'm tired of sifting thru recipes written on scraps of paper when I'm in the mood for a good Margarita.

This recipe was lifted from somewhere on the web - it is not mine, and I don't recall having modified it from the original in any way.

  • 1 1/2 cups tequila
  • 1/2 cup orange liqueur (Grand Marnier)
  • 1 can frozen lemonade
  • 1/3 can beer - light beer, the least hoppy you can find (Bud Light, Tecate)
  • 1 lemon - juiced
  • 1 lime - juiced
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • Water to taste and ice

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Jun 3

I threw this together on a whim with odds and ends that I had lying around the kitchen.  Everyone had good things to say about it, so figured I'd capture it here.  This quick and easy (and healthy) stew took all of about 10 minutes to prep, and was ready to serve inside of 30.


  • 2 cans black eyed peas drained
  • 1 can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 14oz can chicken broth
  • 1 to 2 cups prepared chicken chopped (1)
  • 1/2 large sweet yellow onion sliced
  • 1/4 cup celery chopped
  • 1 red jalapeno pepper diced
  • 2 cloves garlic sliced
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • olive oil


Heat olive oil, add sliced onion and cook covered while preparing other ingredients.  Add celery, jalapeno pepper, and garlic, cover and cook until onion and celery are softened.  Add all other ingredients, cover and bring just to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  Serve hot and top with shredded white Mexican cheese blend and/or cubed avocado.

(1) I've really enjoyed keeping the Tyson Grilled & Ready frozen cooked chicken products on-hand.  Properly frozen, they maintain great shelf life and are very handy in a pinch - used in all sorts of dishes from soups and stews, to pastas and tacos, they greatly cut down on prep work and food waste due to spoilage.  Imparting a smokey grilled flavor, use of the product adds another dimension of flaovr to the dishes it is used in.  For this recipe, another alternative includes use of left over rotisserie chicken.

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May 21

Today I performed the Pathfinder's first brake job.  At around 50k miles, and some occasional squeal, it seemed a good time to perform some maintenance.

I went into the project cold, having not bothered to look for and review others experience and/or tutorials published on the various Nissan forums.  I expected, with the universal brake service kit I'd picked up some time ago at Harbor Freight that there is virtually no caliper which could defeat me.  As it turns out, a brake job on a late model Pathfinder is a breeze.  With the impact wrench to ease the tedium of tire removal and fitment, the entire job was done in approximately 90 minutes, and I dare say I could have completed the same in closer to one hour if only I had a proper floor jack.  Somehow, performing the same tasks on the Passat is grueling, and I've never been altogether satisfied with the results. 

In part, the work I did today on the Pathfinder is meant as a product test of EBC's "Green Stuff" brake pads. Provided the EBC pads perform as well as most claim in various reviews, I plan to fit them to Passat in due time - the economy pads that are on the car now perform at around 70% of what I would call acceptable.  For the Passat, I'll probably marry the Green Stuff pads to the EBC Ultimax rotors as the StopTechs on the the Passat now are getting pretty tired.

With only approximately 10 miles on the Pathfinder since the service work was performed, it's a little early to call final success.  However, I can say that even without proper bedding and run-in time, the the Pathy is feeling more responsive to the brake pedal than it did even when new.  So, it's looking good so far for the EBC product line.

A couple of notes for safe keeping - I was not able to find what I felt was an authoritative source for brake caliper torque specs, so I went with my gut of 90 ft lbs in the rear, and 100 ft lbs in the front.  I'd see other specs, which were all over the board, and seemed far too light - some as low as 35 ft lbs.  These were some hefty bolts hanging some large dual piston (in the front) calipers, with considerable rotational force, stopping a fairly heavy vehicle, and could hardly imaging less than 100 ft lbs in the front.

Second, as should always be done with alloy wheels, getting an even torque across all lug nuts is important - for this, I found a reasonable sounding working range and went with 95 ft lbs all the way around - though I noticed later today that America's Tire suggests 105 ft lbs in their chart posted online.  I'll have to decide tomorrow if that last 10 ft lbs warrants breaking out the tools fooling around with the car again tomorrow.

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Jan 23

I've had my sights set on a Sonicare electric toothbrush for quite some time now.  It's hard to come to grips with the prospect of shelling out $70, $100, even $150 for something as inane as a toothbrush - especially when you're accustomed to paying no more than $5 for 2-pack of generic Safeway brand brushes.  This was a luxury that I was biding my time for, and finally found myself in the right place (Target), at the time (during a promotion), and was able to obtain my quarry at the right price ($55).

Mine would be the model 5300 Sonicare Essence.  This would be considered the entry-level brush which lacks some of the superfluous features, and slimmer design of the much pricier models available.  However, after reading numerous reviews, and considering the total amount of time spent brushing my teeth each day, the basic model seemed capable enough of fulfilling its duty.

My purpose in obtaining and committing to use the Sonicare was namely to eliminate the slow and unstoppable onslaught of plaque, to restore gum health, and to see if the unit could actually affect whiter teeth without having to resort to costly whitening strips which seem to have a short-lived impact.

Now, I've had the Sonicare for all of two days, but can already attest to its remarkable ability to eliminate plaque - in fact, I'm amazed at its ability to make plaque simply disappear.  Gum health will take longer to assess, I'm sure, but in only a few days, I've enjoyed pinker, healthier looking, and better feeling gums already.  Oddly enough, the intense vibration of the Sonicare against the gums is such a pleasant sensation that I find myself looking forward to bushing, and brushing longer as a result.  The jury is still out on the Sonicare's ability to yield whiter teeth, but I'm confident for its ability to eliminate plaque, that whiter teeth will come as a result.

Prior to use, and now proven, I'd picked up a couple of pointers.  First, not to turn on the Sonicare until it was loaded with toothpaste and actually resting against your teeth - turning it on prematurely will send atomized toothpaste in all directions at once.  Second, turn off the Sonicare prior to removing it from your mouth (see previous, replacing "toothpaste" with "saliva").  Third, learn to position your head so that your mouth-drippings don't flow down the body of the toothbrush - the Sonicare is a nearly-sealed-unit except for the joint where the brush head attaches...in this spot, your slimy used toothpaste will collect if given the chance.  Finally, take care not to touch the brush head against your teeth directly, especially against particularly sensitive teeth or dental work, as the exceptional rate of vibration of the Sonicare feels almost like an electrical shock when this happens unexpectedly.

Though I still classify the Sonicare as a luxury item, for its price alone, I'm quite pleased with the investment, and promote its use to those who can afford to part with some cash.  I can hardly conceive of paying much (if any) more than I did - I do wish that the entry level model had a price point of around $49.

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Jan 2

Apparently the Passat had a more exciting New Years Eve bash than I.  Though I found no direct evidence of copious consumption of expensive champagne, or crazy experimental sex, I did find the remnants of a dozen or more escargot cooked and littered about the intake manifold.

I've spent my share of hours under the hood, but have never seen this before:

Snails on the manifold

Happy New Year ... Tongue out

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Dec 11

I've just enjoyed my 70-thousandth mile in the Passat today.  She's running better than ever since having invested some effort this past Summer in various maintenance items.  Next-up, the timing belt...we're just about due now.  70k on a 2002.5 - I figure I'm averaging less than 9,000 miles per year, which is not too shabby, and probably explains why the car looks in such good shape when it's clean and detailed.  Cool


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Dec 4

We've suffered with a persistent climate-control/heat problem in Pathfinder for over a year now.  Of course this is hardly a "problem" during the Summer months, but come Winter, the fact that the problem persists is all-too-evident. 

When the problem first arose, I recall thinking that it was some anomaly due to the manner in which the vehicle was parked - backed into a rather steep driveway.  Thinking it was simply the nature of the beast, not to want to push hot coolant into the heater core when the core itself was the highest point in the cooling system, I'd expected the problem to go away once onto level ground.  And, in fact, it did...

Initially, I half-noticed that from then-on, the problem was evident regardless of how the vehicle had been parked - the heater simply failed to heat at idle, but was blazing hot once the revs were above idle.  Keeping a close eye on the thermostat, it seemed apparent that the stat itself was not the culprit, but as the problem didn't annoy me too much, it went forgotten more often than not.  Further, the thought of the expense for diagnostics and repairs were less than enticing.

It was only some time later, when using the climate control system one day, that I heard the bubbling/gurgling sound that pointed to air in the system...music to my ears, for bleeding air from the cooling system is child's play in the world of garage mechanics.

The procedure:

  • Park the car on a rather steep incline to raise the relative height of the radiator cap to the highest point in the cooling system.
  • While cold, pop the cap - pack some towels around the filler neck.
  • Start the car and run it at around 2000 RPMs for a couple of minutes - just enough to circulate the coolant, and let the engine come up to operating temps.
  • Check the coolant level, and add more if needed.
  • Bring the RPMs back up to around 2000 and turn on the heater - wait about a minute and check levels once again.
  • Turn off the car, replace the cap, and fill the overflow reservoir to the appropriate "hot" level.

I've learned that the Nissan trucks are, for some reason, prone to this problem.  Frequently, hard towing and other engine stressors can result in coolant evaporation and subsequent bubbles in the system.  Thankfully, this is a procedure that just about anyone can manage, and is cheap to-boot. Smile

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Sep 18

Recently, when I replaced the alternator on the Passat, I had occasion to look closely at, and pull the serpentine belt.  There had always (well, for quite a long time anyway) been an unidentifiable rattle, could never really pinpoint it, but suspected a failing water pump given the history of the later model Passats and the propensity to kill water pumps.  However, the occasional inspection didn't reveal any suspicious physical evidence of water pump failure, so let the situation slide.

Then comes along the alternator job, and to my horror, the discovery of a serpentine belt tensioner pulley that conjured memories of a Peruvian rainstick that I once owned - a disturbing clicking suggesting blown bearings (see recording below).  The belt itself looked as though it had a few more miles left in it, but was past its prime just the same, and there really is no logic in replacing one without the other anyway.

A quick search found BLAUfergnugen blowing out tensioner and belt combo kits for under $60 as part of an overstock promotion.  Received in less than four days, a quick inspection of the parts revealed solid quality parts originating from Germany.  In fact, in comparing the old and new tensioners, it was evident that they were one-in-the-same sans VW-Audi logos having been ground off the new unit.

Altogether, the swap was accomplished in under forty minutes, and a fair amount of the time spent was in snaking the old belt out from under the lower pulleys where the A/C plumbing allows for very little wiggle room.  The front end did not have to go into service position - instead, the tensioners could be rotated into position for extraction/replacement by leveraging the space between the mechanical fan blades (taking care not to make contact with the radiator fins).  It's tight quarters, but very do-able.

I must say, the engine is perceptibly quieter now and my comfort/confidence level has elevated several degrees knowing that this critical item has been taken care of.

New tensioner is in.

The tensioner is the 2nd little pulley from the top.

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Sep 4

In the spirit of owning my vehicle maintenance, and catching up on maintenance that was over-due, I spent the late afternoon cleaning the Mass Airflow Sensor (MAF), changing the air filter, and changing the oil and filter on the Pathfinder.  Needless to say, the Pathfinder makes an easier task of this overall than the incredibly tight quarters within the engine compartment of the Passat.  That said, the Pathfinder is not laid out in such a way as to make it as cleanly a task.  Namely, the oil filter is accessed through a small port hidden behind an access hatch in the skid-plate and is situated in such a way as to ensure that a fair quantity of oil is spilled hither and yon as the filter is removed and fished out through the access hatch.

Despite the relative roominess, the design of the air-box itself requires a fair amount of wrestling in order to properly align the upper and lower halves as a fresh filter is squeeze-sealed into place.  I found that brushing a generous coating of mineral oil around the lip of the top half of the air box was the only way simultaneously hook the front edge into the receiving loops on the bottom half while sliding the top half into alignment for final clipping into place.

On the bright side, unlike the Passat which developed its characteristic litany of oil leaks that have only just been satisfactorily rectified, the Pathfinder absolutely burned not a single drop of oil since its last oil change thousands of miles ago.  The ability of Japanese engines to hold oil like a completely closed system never ceases to amaze me.

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Aug 26

As if riding the coattails of its recent litany of oil leaks and subsequent repairs, the alternator failed on the Passat.  I've had chronic problems keeping the battery charged for awhile, so was not completely surprised when the battery light and "Alternator Workshop!" error presented itself on the first of the two hottest days of summer 2010.

A quick assessment led me immediately to believe that the whole of German manufactured goods produced in the year 2002 was built around my alternator.  There is no conceivable way in which any more crap could be so tightly packed around such a failure-prone component as the alternator on my car.  But alas, a great deal of diligence and some methodical deconstruction opened up just enough space to extract the beast and replace with a re-manufactured unit - saving myself between $400 and $600 in labor alone by tackling the work myself.

This kind of thing never feels fun in the moment, but there is a certain sense of accomplishment once the project is complete.  Further, the total time spent was far less in reality than was felt in the moment - in fact, roughly 90 minutes to put the vehicle into service position (i.e.: remove a great deal of the front end and pull the front clip forward to open access to the requisite components), 90 minutes total to replace the alternator and button-up the front end.  Add a full hour's worth of effort in extracting the original alternator (which was an incredible pain in the ass to dismount and jimmy out of its comfortable little hole), and at only four hours of time invested I still consider myself ahead, and have gained significant experience in the process.

A couple of images to share - the first shows the car in service position, and the second (see the red pen) illustrates where the alternator lives.

Passat in service positionPassat alternator location

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Jul 24

Following up the valve cover job, I thought it best to complete the effort with a flush and oil change.  As the health of the PCV system appeared passable, even before a recent cleaning, I suspect an oil over-fill was the root cause of my oil leaks and valve cover gasket problems.  This, coupled with age, and use of 0w-30 oil led to brittle failing gaskets which were unable to contend with the pressure of an over-fill of low viscosity oil.

I'd read a lot about SeaFoam and decided on it as my poison.  One pint is to treat one car in a three-prong approach - crankcase (oil treatment), fuel system (as an additive), and top-end (via vacuum "infusion").

As it has been too-long-to-admit since my last filter change, I took the following approach:

  • Drain oil.
  • Replace filter with a fresh one.
  • Replace oil with a lower viscosity generic (0w-30).
  • Add about 5oz of SeaFoam.
  • Let the car idle for 5 minutes, then kick it up to around 2k to 3k RPM for a few minutes.
  • Drain oil while the engine is still hot to get as complete a drain as possible.
  • New filter.
  • Fresh Mobil-1 5w-40.

I'll treat the fuel system next, when I'm ready for a fill-up.  Soon, I'll give the top-end cleaning a try - this is a little more complicated though, and I hear it creates a tremendous amount of smoke and stink, so have to plan accordingly.

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Jul 23

Known widely (at least within the Passat circles) as being leakers, mine seems to be no exception.  I had identified rather nasty leaks around the lower corners of the valve cover gaskets on both sides, and leaks from the cam caps at the back of both heads.  These are very common spots in which leaks develop on the VW V6.  Thankfully, the fix is not tremendously expensive or strenuous.  A complete rebuild kit can be sourced from ECS Tuning for a nominal $85 which includes valve cover gaskets, cam caps, cam seals, and cam chain tensioner gaskets - and huge tube of VW/Audi-spec RTV sealant.

The work is fairly routine - I started with the right side trusting that access would be easier and that it would be a better side to learn on.  The airbox came out, which opens up the area nicely, pull out the long PCV tube that vents the right head (and it expect it to break and require replacement), and the valve cover came off.  A light smear of RTV in the corners of this gasket is critical as its fit makes it susceptible to leaking at the corners.  The cam caps are easily removed with an old chisel and some careful hammering - once the chisel has a bite, the old cap can be worked out and replaced with a new one.  Again, RTV is a must on this press-fit aluminum cap/cup, as well as some time to cure to ensure no leakage.

The left side is a little trickier in that there is coolant plumbing to contend with and generally not as much room to work.  Start by flopping the coolant overflow tank over and out of the way (remove it if you wish, but not necessary), pull the PCV tube from the back of the valve cover, then go to battle with the nuts along the bottom edge of the left valve cover that are tucked behind various coolant hoses.

Ironically, the left cover was a real pain to remove, where the left cover (as expected) popped right off.  Reassembly led to some challenges in getting the right-hand cover lined up on the studs to drop into place.  I've no idea what the hang-up was, but took ten minutes to get it positioned properly to drop onto all eight studs.  Despite the tight space and difficulty removing the left cover, it glided right back into place with no fuss at all.

I skipped the cam seals as a complete job would inlcude pulling the timing belt, there was no evidence of leakage in this area, and couldn't see inading the space if there was no compelling need.  Likewise the cam chanin tensioners are known to blow gaskets, but mine seemed perfectly healthy - why fix what's not broken??

Altogether, this was probably a three hour job - this includes a fair amount of time deliberating over the cam chain tensrioner gaskets and cam seals.  A more decisive plan and second time around could probably compress this down to two hours with time to spare.

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Jul 2

Left side axle replacement to resolve what was most-probably a failed/soon-to-fail CV joint complete.  In the previous post on replacing the right side axle, I explained the procedure and pointed out that it could most easily be accomplished without having to disassemble suspension components, or even removal of the brake caliper.  In fact, the left side is even easier with just a hair more wiggle room through the fender well wall into the engine bay, thus eliminating the need to turn the wheel and jack the suspension to gain the additional crucial millimeters needed to engage the spline in the hub.

In fact, the left side axle replacement was hardly a project at all at no more than forty minutes worth of effort.

Now, it seems nothing is ever quick, easy, and trouble-free.  In an unfortunate turn of circumstances, it seemed the wheel speed sensor (critical to the proper function of the anti-lock braking system) was not reinserted far enough to properly sense wheel speed.  As such, I found that the ABS was engaging randomly during the regular low speed braking.  To be sure, I pulled the sensor all the way to clean the face of any foreign contaminant, reinserted all the way, and backed it out an 1/8in.  Blast, on startup, I'm greeted with the dreaded ABS light - generally an indicator in this circumstance that the sensor has been damaged.  I'll give it a week to see if the error condition clears - there is a chance (so I've read) that the error will clear and that this is not an altogether unusual behavior and consequence of axle replacement in the Passat.

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Jun 30

The CV (Constant Velocity) joints on the Passat, especially on the right hand side, have been sounding a bit dodgy lately - a clicking noise on acceleration from stop while in a turn, especially one where there is a slight incline involved. 

The logical conclusion is a failing CV joint due to excessive wear - generally the result foreign matter intruding into the joint itself.  As I was doing the front brake pad replacement, I noticed a great deal of grease flung about all over the back-side of the hub, caliper, rotor shield, etc.  Further investigation yielded a completely split outer boot and a fair amount of play in the axle.  As it turns out, both the right and left sides were equally trashed, but only the right side was complaining audibly - even so, as I'd no idea at what point the condition first materialized, the wise choice was to address both sides at once.

I decided to tackle the worst of the two sides (right-hand) first given I wanted to deal with the right and left independently - in other words, remove the old, install the new, put in a few miles, check for road feel, noise, lights/error codes, etc.  I also decided that I would reduce the overall effort by swapping the entire axle instead of attempting to rebuild the joint.

On the B5.5 V6 Auto/Tip Passat, pulling the axle is relatively simple - not requiring a great deal of dis-assembly beyond removal of the wheel, the axle itself, and the removing the shield that surrounds the connection between the inner side of the shaft and the transmission.  One additional step, a preventative measure, pull the wheel speed sensor a half-inch to avoid damage whilst pulling/inserting the spline shaft and working the general vicinity.

With a little patience, and some ingenuity, the new axle can be coaxed into position by way of slightly jacking the suspension up, and turning wheel first to the left, then straight once the spline is engaged in the hub itself.  From this point, the bolt-up is simple - taking care to bring the six inner bolts (axle to transmission) to 59ft/lb of torque, and the outer hub bolt to 140ft/lb torque plus an additional 1/2 turn.  Failing to bring the hub bolt to proper torque will quickly destroy the wheel bearing.  The outer hub bolt should be tightened once the wheel (torquing lugs to 89ft/lb) is remounted and the car lowered.

Altogether, excluding numerous interruptions, this task took me (a first-timer on this vehicle) about 90 minutes to complete.  The hardest part of the task was torquing the inner bolts while working around the suspension - getting leverage to apply nearly 60lbs using extensions and a clumsy (and slightly sloppy) triple-square drive can be frustrating.

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Strict Standards: Declaration of serendipity_event_xmlrpc::event_hook() should be compatible with serendipity_event::event_hook($event, &$bag, &$eventData, $addData = NULL) in /home1/pigslips/public_html/s9y/plugins/serendipity_event_xmlrpc/serendipity_event_xmlrpc.php on line 160

Strict Standards: Declaration of serendipity_event_podcast::event_hook() should be compatible with serendipity_event::event_hook($event, &$bag, &$eventData, $addData = NULL) in /home1/pigslips/public_html/s9y/plugins/serendipity_event_podcast/serendipity_event_podcast.php on line 939

Strict Standards: Non-static method TwitterPluginFileAccess::get_permaplugin_path() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /home1/pigslips/public_html/s9y/plugins/serendipity_plugin_twitter/serendipity_event_twitter.php on line 1554

Strict Standards: Non-static method TwitterPluginDbAccess::load_short_urls() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /home1/pigslips/public_html/s9y/plugins/serendipity_plugin_twitter/serendipity_event_twitter.php on line 1518