Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Rite of Spring

Five weeks ago, I broke a valve spring. The #5 intake valve, to be exact. What I knew when it happened was that the engine started running horribly rough, and I felt the need to shut down as fast as I could.

Once I got it towed to a shop, we ran a compression check. #5 cylinder showed 0 pounds, and the others were erratic. I had the tow truck guys tow it to my home, as I wanted to think about what to do next.

That met resistance. The shop manager said,
"We have a saying, mechanics I mean. If we fix it, it'll be $80/hour. If you want to watch, it's $100 an hour. If you want to HELP it's $160."
He continued,
"If you tow it home, and tear into it, and get stuck, it'll take us longer to fix it than if we just kept it here and worked on it."

The gauntlet was thrown. I smiled at David the shop manager and said,
"That's fine. I'm just gonna take it home and pull the valve covers and see what I can find out."

He grudgingly let me take my poor sick car home.

Once I got it there, I opened it up, and found the broken spring. It had not shattered, but had just broken, and was still in place around the valve stem, so the valve had not dropped into the cylinder. However, since the LS6 engine is an interference engine, there had to have been valve/piston contact. The next question was how bad. Also, there was a bent pushrod and that meant likely a bad valve guide. So the heads had to come off. Hoo boy.

Pulling the heads on an engine is a bit like open heart surgery. On the C5 corvette, on can do it without pulling the engine, just. Some of the working spaces are very small, and there are many, many bolts to undo.

I do not have air tools. I have not torn down an engine since I was in high school, and that project ended in tears. I did have a set of manuals, and Google. I did have a burning need to see what the engine looked like inside, and how it worked. That surprised me a bit. It's an American V8, nothing too complex. And there was the fact that if I had taken it back to the shop, I'd have admitted defeat.

I started ordering parts. I needed head gaskets, exhaust and intake manifold gaskets, water pump gaskets, AIR tube gaskets, throttle body gaskets and gaskets for my gaskets. I needed tools. Some extensions for the socket set, a spark plug universal adapter, extra jack stands (I'd be using all four of mine for a while), some 10mm tools (all the bolts I'd be dealing with were either 15, 10 or 8mm) and a host of other little things. I also needed a machine shop.

I called my backup shop, not wanting to alert David and the primary that I was contracting something. I found a machine shop in Hutto that did good work and understood LS6 heads.

Now, I had to get the heads off, and get them to the shop.


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