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For years I have told anyone who would listen that the most hazardous driving conditions of the winter occur in April, when a quick fall of snow is saturated by rain at 32 degrees F.  I even had a name for the phenomenon, April grease.

We drove into some on the way home from Merrickville today.  I was mildly curious to see how Ruby would do on zero-traction slush, but primarily I was eager to get her home without damage.

The trip began bravely enough, with very little traffic on the back roads.  The few winter- hardy drivers plowed along, their pickups in 4WD and loaded tanks of sap in the back.

As long as I was exactly in their wheel ruts, things were normal.  But if the right wheels climbed a 1″ pile of slush, Ruby let me know with a stutter-step to the right, the same as any other car I’ve driven in this stuff.

On a side note:  because of this slush I quit using a Volkswagen for winter commutes.  A light FWD like our Jetta would lose control for as long as both front wheels were floating on slush — in passing situations, for example.  I opted for a series of Volvo sedans, those of the skinny, tall Michelins. They were pretty good, though I managed the odd front-wheel skid with them, as well.  When the new 4Runner came along I learned just to drive it in 4WD through thick and thin.  It was very stable in the passing lane unless in 2WD, at which point it behaved like an annoyed pig on ice.

Back to Ruby and the unfamiliar April slush.  As we passed Toledo things became greasier, though I noticed that most drivers were still holding a pace for dry pavement.  Then one guy braked to turn.  His SUV split-arsed a bit, but he recovered neatly and continued into a barn yard.  Though well back, I tried my brakes on the tricky surface.  To my surprise nothing happened for a bit.  It wasn’t a skid — no machine gun rattle from various corners of the car — but rather it seemed that the brakes just weren’t working.  Ice on the rotors, or all wheels with zero traction?  Likely ice.  I’ve noticed that before on Ruby.  This never happens on a Lexus, but Toyota designers didn’t have to worry about brake cooling on a sedan designed for geezers.  Cayennes occasionally find themselves on a track, so the rotors are built to run very cold.  32 degree F slush, a whirling, shiny object and you have a perfect chance for ice to form.

So part of the routine for driving Ruby in near-freezing conditions is frequent touches of the brakes to defrost them.

Once they were dry, I over-applied the brakes as a test.  The usual muted machine-guns went off, and the car slowed quickly, dead-straight.  A basic safety line established, I experimented with the Goodyear winter tires and the grease.  Frankly, I wasn’t all that impressed.  The wheels are simply too wide for the weight of the vehicle on grease.  The coarse off-road treads of my pickup would grip the asphalt better, I think.  I slowed down to just a bit over 80 km/hr.

Why the critical attitude when I certainly should have been driving more slowly in bad conditions?  In my wife’s Lexus, a pretty good slush car with a relatively high weight-to-tire width, I know how quickly I’m driving without a look at the speedometer.  In Ruby, I really don’t know without instruments.  Speed creeps up if I don’t use cruise control.  Stealth speed is not what a driver needs in April grease.

Will I leave Ruby at home next time in bad conditions?  Naw.  I’ll just set the cruise at 80 km and go for it.  It’s still by far the best, safest car we’ve ever driven.  I just need to adjust the control nut behind the wheel.

And now that I think of it, on one memorable 5 a.m. drive to the Ottawa Airport on April 7th, I refused to drive my Volvo an inch further because I couldn’t keep it on the road.  We went in our friend’s Dodge Mini-Van with AWD.  It drove like a motorized living room, but it didn’t slide around on grease.

Those who have driven the Chaffey’s Locks Road from Perth Road to Hwy 15 over the years don’t need any convincing that it is one of the best scenic drives in Eastern Ontario. Regular improvements have turned the rough cottage track into a fine hard surface through the original twists and climbs around Upper Rock and Opinicon Lakes in this section of the Canadian Shield.  The wider eastern stretch from Chaffey’s Locks to Hwy 15 also received a superb paving job two summers ago.

Of course the county fathers clapped a 40 km speed limit on the whole thing lest there be a Miata wrapped around every tree.  The many bicyclists in summer no doubt appreciate this.

After an errand in Kingston on a snowy morning last week I came home by Perth Road, but then turned toward Chaffey’s, partly to escape the deluge of salt and sand on the more heavily-travelled route to Westport.

Ruby discovered twenty miles of packed snow with a light dusting of sand down the middle.  This could be interesting.  At 5380 pounds empty, the Porsche Cayenne plants its winter tires quite firmly on the surface below, so I expected a smooth and controlled drive around the many dips and turns.

But I hadn’t taken the traction control into account.  After a while I began to wonder why the car felt so rooted to the road, so I tried to induce a little bit of slippage on a sweeper around an open field.

No.  Ruby just slowed down to a reasonable pace and continued on her way.

What?

I tried again when I found another good sightline.  As soon as the computer detected any slippage, on came brakes in a couple of wheels and she resumed the correct line.

You mean I could drive this road without braking for turns?  But that would be crazy! There are far too many blind spots for that.

So behave, you old coot!

And so I did.  Ruby and her computer/nanny guided me on an amazingly smooth passage to Chaffey’s Locks.  The ride was as serene as an illegal golf cart tour on a back road on a fine summer day.  It offered about the same sensation of motion, but it wasn’t long until Ruby pulled up to the stop sign at Hwy 15.

We ducked across the sandy main road and followed a series of other snow-covered by-ways back to Young’s Hill.  Only at the hairpin on an unused road around Forfar Station was I able to confuse Ruby.  I guess German programmers didn’t anticipate a 25 mph hairpin turn on virgin snow over gravel.  The left rear lost traction, all four brakes instantly burped that machine-gun rattle, and Ruby collected herself and proceeded at a resolute ten miles per hour regardless of my efforts on the throttle.

Two thoughts collided:  I certainly wouldn’t want a teenager to learn to drive on this thing. If the computer ever failed with the bad habits it had engendered, he’d crash.  But then I thought how great this car would be in the kind of slush on a crowded highway which turns light front-wheel drives into aquaplaning death traps.

There’s no doubt that a smart tank like Ruby is the right conveyance for my new grand-daughter.

 

Today I ran into a case where Porsche over-engineering produced a potential safety hazard for the uninformed trailer user.

A Cayenne’s a logical choice to tow a 6X12 covered U-Haul trailer, but not until the rental’s safety chains receive an important modification.  The hooks on the trailer I recently rented would not engage the rings on the factory trailer hitch because the steel is too thick to accommodate the triangular safety devices.  Jamming the hooks into place wasn’t going to work, so I limped three miles to my shop from the rental depot by a back road.  By then, one of the three chains had worked its way loose and was dragging.

I borrowed a pair of hooks from a robust trailer I built a few years ago.  The photo shows them in place, pinned into links below the U-Haul hooks.  I only had access to two hooks this time but from now on I’ll keep three which I can add on to safety chains to ensure that the robust hitch does not itself produce a hazard.

Update:  29 December, 2016

Grab the chain about 12″ from the hook, stick the CHAIN through the hole, loop the hook around the chain. This worked for me at UHaul.

Another RennList contributor used 3/8″ stainless steel quick-links to do the same job.

According to trailer veteran Tom Stutzman, Toyota has similarly robust hitch dimensions.  Pennsylvania mandates simple S-hooks which fit easily.  Ontario regulations require the problematic hooks.

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Woodlot excursion

December 25, 2016

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Over the years it has become a Christmas ritual to tour the woodlot by whatever means necessary.  Ten years ago Charlie and Shiva began the tradition by bullying the golf cart into the trip through too much fluffy snow.  When the Ranger replaced the golf cart, it hauled passengers and their snowshoes across the windy fields to the woodlot and froze them on the return trip.

This year Charlie started up both 2004 Cayennes to try out their low range and differential locks around the yard.    Ruby was thus already cleaned off and warmed up when I grabbed my keys and tracked him down on the property.  Then we toured the sugar bush.

We soon observed that it would take a good deal of snow to stop a Porsche Cayenne equipped with winter tires.  I did manage to twist over an earth berm at such an angle that I needed to use the locker to maintain traction to the wheels, but Ruby felt right at home off-roading in snow.

The only problem is that puttering through the woods in a Porsche Cayenne isn’t much fun.  It’s far too capable a vehicle.  A golf cart or 2WD UTV, or even a snowmobile, provides much more of a challenge, and hence a higher fun quotient.

On the other hand Charlie is now a father and I’m not getting any younger, and we did break a good wide walking track through the bush.

Ruby visits Sweet’s Quarry.

December 15, 2016

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When Charlie tried to transfer his trailer’s registration from BC to Ontario, the clerk told him he was obliged to provide a weight for the vehicle.  Email ensued.

Roads were good today so we unloaded the BMW track car, squiggled it over driveway ice and into the shop, cleared out the luggage in the trailer, and hit the road to the Sweet’s Corners quarry.

Ruby towed the 2950 lb trailer quite willingly, though in a headwind on the return trip the fuel consumption shot up to just over 17 litres per 100 km.  (Interestingly, a few weeks later a 6X12 U-Haul tandem trailer exacted the same fuel penalty on a trip to Ottawa.)

An ongoing debate on Rennlist.com has dealt with whether a Cayenne is car, truck, or other.  Up until this point my comments have favoured “car.”  With this photo, though, I may be entering the “truck” tent.

The weigh-scales guy loved Ruby.  This tag shows the gross weight of Ruby and the trailer at 3780 kg, or 3.78 metric tonnes, as the quarry guys prefer.  That’s 8333.5 pounds to me.

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Ulp.  That means Ruby weighs 5383 pounds!  And the fuel tank was nearly empty.  The trailer weighed 2950 lb.

New CV boots for Ruby

December 2, 2016

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Background

When I switched to winter tires I was surprised to find a substantial deposit of grease inside the right front rim. The boot looked intact, but closer examination revealed a bit of cracking in one location, so axle disassembly seemed inevitable before I took the car on a sanded road.

The local auto parts supplier had access to the boots, but I had to resort to Amazon for a 32mm, 12 point impact socket for the axle bolt. Two days later the set of sockets appeared at the house, courtesy of  Canada Post.

There are no videos explaining how to perform this unglamorous repair to a Cayenne. I found one cryptic explanation on RennTech.org by a man named Whippet who popped one in to fill a need. Perhaps I’ll post an addendum to fill in a few gaps where I was left bewildered.

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Morning

I removed the right front half-shaft successfully in pursuit of the cracked boot.  After a thorough bath in the parts washer, there wasn’t any apparent internal damage to the joints,  but now I have to figure out how to pop off one end or the other prior to re-lubing both cv’s and adding boots.  Major cleanup around the brakes is in order.  Fun, but messy.

At the moment I’m stuck until I find instructions on how to disassemble the half-shaft.  20161202_095255

Early Afternoon

I had to search VW sites to gain insight into how the half-shafts come apart.  Eventually I ran across a video where a guy separated one with a slide hammer, but he said that a flat board with a slot for the axle would work pretty well for removing the outer joint if you hit it sharply with a hammer, only his board broke.  Mine didn’t until the part which goes through the brake rotor had come apart.

I’m beginning to believe that the trick to working on a Porsche is to use a heavy enough hammer.  A light mallet had no effect on the axle, but a 20 ounce construction hammer’s effect was smooth and incremental. (Similarly, I have found an eight-pound sledge perfect for the disassembly of ball joints and wheel removal.)

The cleaning of the CV joints involved hosing down each in its turn in a stream of varsol over the parts washer.  Not bad at all, though I’ll need to buy more solvent.

Then came the battle-of-the-day with after-market clamps which came for the boots.  The two which fasten the narrow ends to the axle were perilously large for the job, but might work.  The others were too small.  After a long battle I managed to fit the outboard clamp (no other type of clamp will work in this position because of narrow clearances).  The clamp next to the front differential was 1/4″ short, so  after almost two hours of trying, I twisted on a 4″ plumbing clamp.  There’s no shortage of clearance in there.  I read somewhere that the pipe clamp’s a stronger alternative to the ubiquitous zip-tie on DIY boot-repair projects.

The Hint

A hint I read online eventually allowed the breakthrough on the outboard boot:  a contributor recommended drilling a small hole 1/4″ ahead of the other holes on the boot clamp.  He said this allows the use of needle-nose pliers to pull the clamp together enough for it to latch when other attempts are unsuccessful.

Surely enough, with the extra hole I was able to snug up the clamp enough that it would hold its place so that I could use the specialized crimping pliers purchased for the purpose.  I guess it’s hard to visualize the benefit of drilling a hole in a pipe clamp, but smooth pieces of stainless steel offer very little to hang onto, especially when one attempts to install them over a neoprene enclosure bursting with grease.

 

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My day with the quarter-shaft was quite challenging.  What vexes me more than anything is that I spent a day trying to salvage one of the only inexpensive parts on this car:  rebuilt quarter shafts are very cheap on the gray market.  On the other hand, my labour is free.

Monday, 5 December, 2016  5:54 a.m.   

The axle went back into the car yesterday.  Everything went surprisingly well until it came time to torque the six studs to the differential.  I couldn’t keep the axle from turning, so I pressed Bet into service on the brake pedal.  After I wore out both her legs pumping the dead pedal, we concluded that the brakes wouldn’t hold sufficiently for me to put 60 lbs of torque onto the studs, so brake bleeding moved up in the schedule.

Careful not to damage the brake line or electronic feed from the ABS, I had removed and stored the calliper early in the process.  This left the line dripping brake fluid into a tray for two days.  Now I can’t get the brakes to bleed, I assume because there’s an air lock in the system.

Charlie told me at various times he had dealt with dry brake lines on his 968 during an extensive rebuild, and it took a while to get the fluid to flow. His old bleeding pump applied pressure at Ruby’s fluid reservoir*,  but to no effect.  I’m nervous about online reports of broken pump lines spraying paint-destroying brake fluid all over everywhere, so    I’ve been very tentative in my use of this unknown tool.

Ruby’s paint is still almost perfect.

Resetting of the two alignment-critical bolts and torquing of suspension and axle parts remains incomplete.

If anybody has any ideas on reviving brake fluid flow, please chip in.

*Number 1 rule:  Make SURE you’re pouring the brake fluid into the correct reservoir.

3:30 p.m., Monday, 5 December

Brakes now work.  Under a concealment panel I found the actual brake reservoir.  No amount of positive air pressure on the power steering reservoir would bleed the brakes.  So I siphoned  nearly 1/2 litre of Motul DOT 4 brake fluid out of it.  Then I refilled the reservoir with hydraulic oil (like it said on the reservoir, only for the Kubota).  Shall drain and refill the power steering system asap.  The unlabelled plastic tank was nearly empty when I opened it, expecting a brake reservoir, so I looked no further.

 Geezers!

Bleeding the brakes was straightforward once I had located the right reservoir and put some brake fluid in it.  To its credit, the car’s sensors quit complaining as soon as the brakes worked.  Ruby didn’t hold my mistake against me.

When I told Bet she asked, “Are you going to tell Charlie?”  

I grinned:  “Sure.”
“He’ll have nightmares!”

Now all I have to do is torque everything.  The brake calipers are already at about 200 lb.  The torque wrench clicked at 140.  Then I added a 2’pipe to an old ratchet and tightened them up one lurch.  The axle nut goes to 340, but I’ll use my tractor wrench with a 4′ cheater pipe and take it easy:  for my rotary mower blades it calls for 540 foot pounds torque.  Immediately after it’s tightened, the nut is too hot to touch.  

 

I’ll have Bet hold the brake for the six axle screws which torque to 60 pounds.  And so on.  I’ll look up the suspension numbers. Then off for alignment again.  

Ruby’s all together now, though the steering wheel is turned about 10 degrees to the right. Next stop will be at the Hank’s Tires alignment rack.

Ruby has visitors

November 13, 2016

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I posted this photo before my typing skills had returned, so I’ll tap a few notes three weeks later.  Ruby’s visitors, a sister Cayenne S from Ottawa and a diesel Mercedes from Montreal (I dare not guess at the model number) were both purchased as tow vehicles for track expeditions.

Both track haulers fill the rest of their days transporting infant daughters, so their bullet-proof qualities rank high with the new fathers.