Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My "feet are wet" in areal photography, but what I am standing in, doesn't smell so nice...

This is a follow up to the post about getting my feet wet in the genre of areal photography via the Syma X1.

In an earlier post, I said "I wanted to get my feet wet in areal videography"  I have jumped in, and my feet are now wet.  The trouble is, they are wet from standing in a substance that is less translucent and odorless than I would like.....

So, after making sure my finances are suitable to afford some expense, I purchased the Blade Helis, 350qx over the Chinese competition.

I did this because I want to buy American, helping to maintain American jobs, and I know there is no way to maintain a strong nation without a solid manufacturing base.

That, and I wanted to deal with people that spoke my native language clearly, so there wouldn't be any misinterpretation.

After doing my part, I am not certain the American company I have dealt with are holding up their end of the bargain...




There are several entries into the 350 size quadcopters, with the most well known being the DJI Phantom. There is also the Walkera, The Parrot, AR Drone, and many, many others, including ones that are custom made like Whitespy.


This little guy was around 1000.00 complete with transmitter, but
with the introduction of the craft I bought, the Blade 350Qx, you
can pick one up for 479 with transmitter.


I bought the Blade 350QX for a few reasons.

A.  It really does not give me a good feeling to give a Chinese company so much money.  I feel guilty enough about buying the really great SYMA X1.

B.  I did not like the user friendly, toy like feel of the transmitter that came with the DJI, I wanted a real hobby grade transmitter.

C. I want support from an American company.  I have heard support for the DJI phantom is basically none existent.







So, I took the plunge, and was immediately underwhelmed....















I get the Spektrum DX6i, and it is everything I wanted it to be.  A big, professional feeling, and complicated RC transmitter










However, the actual 350qx is underwhelming.  It is smaller and lighter than I imagined and has a chintzy feel to it.


Underwhelmed, but not phased, I take it out for it's first flight after programming the DX6i transmitter that is NOT the manufacturers poorly made "tutorial" video.  It is the one that says something like "programming the DX6i for the blade 350QX in under 4 minutes"

NOTE:  There are questions people are asking on the Blade tutorial video, and blade never goes back and answers them.  Legitimate questions...






Since my Sony AS-15 action cam didn't arrive, I have no choice but to Velcro my 808 # 16 to the belly of the 350qx craft, forgoing the anti-jello mount that is to be used for the higher quality action cameras like Hero, and Sony.

 I am kind of glad I did use the 808# 16 directly on the belly so I can see how the craft sounds like it is going to rattle apart. At a price of 419.00, this type of lack of quality is unacceptable as far as I am concerned.

Non Jello mount or not, it shouldn't run like this. 






Jello(wobbly video) is one thing I understood, but the vibrations coming out of the craft, are like ordering a Cadillac, and discovering it came new from the dealership with two bad wheel bearings....



How would you feel if you plunked down the money on a brand new Cadillac, and had this happen?




My 32 dollar SYMA X1 is more smooth than this very expensive, yet not very refined air vehicle.  Smoother if you just spin the propellers, and smoother in flight.



Yes, they are not the same, with one being an apple, and the other being an orange, but when you pay 419.00 for a video platform, you have the right to expect a much higher quality point, than some 32 dollar Chinese toy...





Try to imagine you forked over the money out of pocket for a Cadillac, and discovered a 15,000 dollar KIA had better quality... Wouldn't you feel like an idiot?











In addition to the main point, which is how much of a rough rider the American made, Blade 350qx is, I want you to also understand, that Smart Mode is really underwhelming.

In Smart mode, the left stick(on mode 2 transmitters) throttle, or lift, becomes "altitude adjustment"

Smart mode altitude adjustment really isn't that nice. the engines on the 350 qx are constantly cycling up and down, so that the engine pitch is constantly changing, sending oscillations into the craft, which makes the video EVEN WORSE.

Smart mode is basically un-useable for video.  On the transmitter end, the craft is slow, and rough to respond, and feels like it is fighting you the whole way.

Less tight control of altitude within a window of a few feet after maybe 10 feet of height would actually yield a smoother flying mode. To do this, gain could be high when the vehicle was close to ground, and gain could slowly turn down as the vehicle gains height.   This is possible to do, as the 350qx has GPS receivers, and a barometer that calculates height, which is how altitude adjustment works in Smart Mode.




For the 350qx, you will find some really unhappy people, and some that are singing the praises.



The unhappy people I think are people who want to shoot video,  and the people singing the praise are old hobby people that just want to fly, with the only reason they would attach a camera, would be to record their awesome flight.

That, and I think some people are blinded by the idea of heaping praise on an American company that is trying to compete in a really tough world.




For me, I do try to go out of my way to buy American, but when I do, I expect some quality. I am not going to blindly throw my money away for the sake of patriotism.

I just am not really happy...

UPDATE A DAY AFTER THIS POST:
I spoke with Chad at Horizon Hobby, and he is going to have 2 new motors sent to me free of charge.  I am happy enough with that resolution.



Mark :(



About the author


My experience in the world of RC.

15 years ago, I was pretty deep into RC(not like some of the fanaticism you see for  a lot of RC people), but I had my vehicles..

A 60 inch trainer, with a .40 OS motor, 3 electric planes(2 two channel, and one 3 channel), a 60MPH Traxxas Nitro 4 Tec, and a 1/8th scale, Duratrax, Nitro Thunder Quake( the quality just wasn't there for this vehicle either, the 2 speed transmission never worked)


Why I got this.

Not to get back into RC, but to have a unique video camera platform, to make unique nature videos.




I also came up with the following theory today, the day after the first flight...

















Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Getting my feet wet for the world of RC areal videography

I want to get into the world of RC areal videography, because I desire to make better vacation videos of the cool places we see.

Since I plan on spending some serious money in the future, I thought it would be best to buy some cheap toy, and a small mountable camera to learn how to fly quadcopters, and to learn the ins and outs of video taken from this platform.

So, I purchased the 32 dollar(as of this writing) Syma X1 quadcopter, and a forty dollar 808, 16 keychain camera to mount onto it.

I specifically bought the UFO version because I intended to mount the camera right on top of it. However, the angles were too steep, and I had to cut out the center part of the dome to mount the 808 keychain camera.

See the Syma X1 here, by clicking this link



The HD keychain camera that I bought for it is here, click me


Once I received the toy, I was immediately pleased. 

That is of course until after I wrecked it a few times, and one of the motors became weak...

Then I had to find replacement parts, and had to start thinking about if my soldering iron had a small enough tip to do the soldering on the surface mount, wave soldered control board to replace the broken motor...




After I damaged the motor, I was able to max the trim out on the radio control, and with that, and some major dynamic stick input, I was able to fly the RC without the camera.

With the camera, it is a whole different story though.  I have to wait until I get my new motor from banggood.com until I start major flights with the camera.

So, while I was waiting, I started the process of learning how to bond the camera to the Syma for flight, and the following is that process, with an additional mod that helps me tell what direction the model is flying in.

REV ONE MOUNTING





Although I ultimately wanted a bottom mount camera, I decided to first mount it on the top so when I
crash, it won't destroy the camera.





The camera is stuck on top there with the provided velcro













REV 2 MOUNTING SCHEME


The toy flew better(more balanced) with this setup, but it still wasn't completely
what I wanted.  I will include a link below to this flight after I upload it.










Onto REV 3




The canopy is reversed so it is on the bottom.  I put some small pieces of Velcro to help hold the camera





I believe this is the final rev for this setup.  The camera Is stuck on with Velcro, and the rubber band.
You can also see the lifting suspension I came up with to elevate the model, and maybe soften
landings.




With this setup, you can reverse the setup for top, or bottom mounted cameras.



Other modifications

This of course is made up of plastic tie wraps.  I used a hair dryer to heat up the tie wraps until they
were shiny, bent them into the form I wanted, and let them cool in that configuration. I am not sure if this softens
the landings, or just shifts the phase of the impact.  For example, instead of getting a sharp spike in acceleration, It
turns the landing into more of an oscillation.











When the model flew away from me, I couldn't tell which direction it was facing in the distance, so I added a red LED in the back of the craft.


I cut holes in the body with a push pin spaced at the same distance as the LED leads.










The LED I got from Radio Shack.  It is a 25mA, 3 volt.  I soldered a 1/8th watt, 100 ohm resistor in series with it
which should source 12mA of current at full battery charge(4.2 volts)
I soldered the led supply wires to the power pads on top of the board




You know, it is harder than you might think to find a level surface to let the quad calibrate "level" on before you fly it...


So I came up with this case, and screwed levels in the X and Y axis so that I can tell when it is level.

Not only is a good launching platform, it is also a great carrying case!

Front





Side




Action shot



New Camera Mount





This is cut out of a Talene Custard container.  It allows not
only a flat surface, but also enables me to replace
the battery WITH the camera already mounted.




NOTE: I had to trim the battery mount a little with some diagonal pliers to get the mount to fit flush.








I glued on the plastic platform with hot melt glue.  I also filled in
the sides, so when I put on the rubber bands, the platform has
a solid piece to be wedged against.








This is what it looks like with the two rubber bands holding it in place.
I could have centered that platform a little better...


 



Mark

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The deadly addictive drug of Facebook and how I kicked the habit

Like any recreational drug, facebook at first entices you with some euphoric highs, and then before you even have time to realize it, you are hooked.  You have a hopeless addiction, that like any other addiction is destructive to your well being.

In the Beginning,

Facebook was there in the corner of the web for years without me ever trying the drug.  People would sometimes point to it, and try to entice me to take a hit.  "Oh I am on Facebook, maybe you should get an account so we can keep in touch".

A little fun never killed anyone,

At first, I was just a recreational Facebook user.  I could take it or leave it anytime I wanted to.  Very infrequently I would drop in to check on it, and then I wouldn't look at it for weeks.

At first the intense high,

Very slowly over time, I started to check my facebook pages more and more often.  As people joined my network, and laughed at my "witty" remarks, the satisfaction became greater and greater.  The validation was intense.  "I am funny", "I am smart", "people like me"

I became a more regular user without really even giving it a second thought.

Then the quest to maintain the high,

Later, after people stopped commenting on my witty remarks, probably because I posted so often, people were tired of feeding my ego with the polite "lol" and thumbs up, I decided I needed to have a purpose on Facebook.  I needed to change the world and enlighten people with my "wisdom"

I started pages like "The coalition against foreign control"(blushes), which was a webpage I started to bring to light the alarming fact that we were giving away our countries power and strength, by giving China all of our manufacturing tasks, and borrowing money from them...

Onto the next stage in any addiction,

Which is the daily habitual use, without the pay off of the extreme high, but necessary all the same, just to maintain your sense of normalcy.

Actually for me, I had to use the drug in the morning, and several times at night.  Like smokers with their cigarettes it was the first thing I did when I got up.  Then when I came home.  Then before dinner, then in the evening, then I would check it right before I went to bed.

I didn't enjoy it, it is just something I had to do...

A look in the mirror,

At some point, I decided how ridiculous it was to come home and tell Facebook how my day went...

Instead of talking to my loving wife, I would log onto facebook first thing when I came home to post what "funny" thought I had that day, or what quirky circumstances came up at work...

Making the decision to make a change,

I would say this is the final stage, but like any addict, I think it is a constant battle to  never rebound back into drug use. Why do I say that?

First when I went to delete the account, I caved and just "deactivated it"  I thought I was safe, but then I realized that I had somehow been posting to an account that I tried to deactivate by logging into a completely different site that I had linked to Facebook...  I got a message that the review I just wrote was "posted to my wall"

I thought, "how the hell did that just post to my wall?" I deactivated that account... WRONG!  If you deactivate you account, and post to a site that at some point you linked to it, it reopens your account without warning.

Then, I was determined.  I "deleted" the account.  Oh, but it doesn't delete right away, it schedules a deletion two weeks from the time you decided to delete it...

So then I open the account just to confirm it will delete by what date it originally stated, and it had moved the date back five days.

My wife suggested it was because I logged on just to see if in fact, it was still scheduled for deletion.

If you log on to confirm deletion, it resets the waiting period!

All of your "friends" disappear,

Just like your buddies you used to drink with, or perhaps the ones you used to smoke pot with, once you decide to quit the habit you will find your facebook buddies aren't really your friends after all...

They are just fellow enablers...

They won't come looking for you, to ask, "what's going on buddy, I haven't read your posts in a while?"  No one really cares.  Facebook friends don't care if you are, or are not there.

They, like you, only care that people read their witty remarks like, "I am so addicted to coffee, I may need to go to rehab!  Seriously, I need it"...  LOL, that is a good one!

Will I be successful in maintaining sobriety this time?

Only time will tell.. As of right now, it is scheduled to be deleted in the future.  Please wish me good luck, and send your positive thoughts, and hope that I can maintain strength.

You know, I didn't realize how the drug had taken away joy.  Colors now seem brighter to me.  I see the world again like I did before I got hooked on the drug.

I think I have my "artistic eye" back for my photography.  It is like the world popped back on, and I hadn't even realized what had happened to me.

Drug addiction is like that I have heard, it happens slowly over time until you hit rock bottom, and decide to make a change.

I solute those who can take it or leave it and use it occasionally, but I am not one of those people, so for me, it is cold turkey!

Mark :)


Thursday, December 26, 2013

The 15 Minute Wood Gas Camping stove!

I was bored today so I decided to make something I wanted to make a long time ago, when I was into "survival/prepping" experiments.

Now a days, I really no longer care about these things, but I was bored, so I decided to try and make one.

I used just a few supplies, and only two tools to make it.

Supplies:
A. One Coffee tin
B. One Chai Tea tin
C. One Leatherman
D. One pink Sharpee Marker
E. One pair of old kitchen scissors(to make the pot holder)

It took me 15 minutes to make. The idea was to not use any modern power tools.

The temperature outside was 32 degrees, and the water was probably 40 degrees when I started it.  It took the stove 10 minutes to boil a pot of water, but I think it could have done it faster if I knew that I had to keep feeding it.

It burned very cleanly, once I fixed the problem with the pot holder(pictures as bottom)

Pictures not enough?  There is a video on this at the bottom!


Step One


Cut a hole in the coffee tin lid with a knife that is slightly smaller
than the tea tin(inner chamber)




Clarification

Make the hole in the lid slightly smaller than the smaller tin

Step 3


Poke several holes in the bottom of the inner(Tea Tin) chamber



Clarification.
When completed, it should look like this





Step 4.


Poke holes all the way around the bottom side of the inner tin about 3/4 inch from the bottom. Make
large holes, these(shown( ended up being too small)



These hole I am putting in the sides of the tins are rather small.  It made the stove smoke a lot, and it didn't burn well.  It took me 5 minutes to go back with my leatherman, and twist it into the holes to make them larger.  Make them as large as you can.  Don't break your knife, but you should be able to twist it back and forth to make a decent sized set of holes.

Step 5.


Add hole at the top 3/4 inch near the open end of the inner tin. Again make the holes large.
The ones shown were too small.  Turn your knife a little in the hole




Clarification.


After your done with the inner tin it should look like this


Step 6.


Cut large holes the whole way around, 3/4 of an inch from the bottom
of the outer(coffee) tin.



Step 7


Place the inner(tea) tin inside the outer(coffee) tin lid





Step 8

With your multi-tool push the inside of the steel lid tabs up against the inner tin
as much as you can to make a tighter seal



Supplies and tools used

One tea tin, one coffee tin, one leatherman, and one pink sharpee(to mark
the circle for the hole for the inner chamber)




ALMOST finished product


It turned out the pot holder(lid for the tea tin) was too restrictive in its current form





"Finished" with better pot holder


Cutting up the lid in this way made a pot holder that didn't smother the fire. I had tried using little rings of
3/4 inch copper pipe that I had cut to about 3/4 length in height and all though they worked okay, they kept falling
into the stove.  



Results...


Right before this, it was a strong rolling boil, but I let it calm down because it fogged up the camera lens...



I actually did the cooking using 4 copper rings I cut out of 3/4 copper plumbing pipe.


This worked well with the exception that the copper rings kept falling into the
wood gas stove.  After removing one with my leatherman, I tried to pick it up,
burning the finger print off of that particular digit





Later the same night, I made the following version.


Again, the idea is to use as few tools as possible.  I could make a better pot stand for sure with a few machine bolts, and my power drill, but the idea is to do this on the primitive, so to speak...

It took me about 10 minutes.  What is that you say?  I should have used more time...

Step 1 of the improved pot holder


First draw a pattern with a sharpee.  If you knew Geometry, this would be a snap!
I don't know my geometry.....








Step 2 of the improved pot holder


Cut the pattern out with your knife.  BE CAREFUL!!!








Step 3 of the improved pot holder




It's "done"




Final product



It actually held the standard pot up pretty well!  Looks like garbage, is garbage, but it works!
You can cook your hobo stew on it!!







See the video tutorial at this link, and watch me boil water!


See the free 15 minute wood gas stove VS snow!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Technical Side of the Continuously Variable Transmission(CVT)

Belt type CVT transmission have really been around for ever.  In fact, my 1981 Arctic Cat, Snow Mobile had a continuously variable transmission that operated on the very same principle as the one in our new 2013 Subaru, XV Crosstrek.

Shown is a snow mobile, rubber belt driven CVT


However, since we just bought a vehicle equipped with a CVT to use to tow our tear drop camping trailer, suddenly I was interested in finding out every detail I could about how reliable the CVT is, what can happen to it, and if anyone has had any problems towing with one.

This new interest was brought about because of one time when I was pulling the trailer, gave it too much gas when it was cold, and felt what I would later find out was a "shudder"








It's easy to understand how the belt and variators( variable belt pulleys) work to give you an infinite number of gear ratios allowing you to always get the most torque out of the engine, no matter the speed.

Shown at the link below is the belt driven CVT.  This model is driven by a fiber reinforced rubber belt.





Below is a white board tutorial I did to try and explain the concept of the cvt






However, once you add a STEEL CVT belt instead of the normal rubber one, things become much more interesting...

The advantage to the steel belt is that it is stronger, and since it is bathed in oil, it never needs changed.  Similar to a timing chain in an engine.



Suddenly you have to start to think about the fluid dynamics of the CVT oil with its additive pack.

Wikipedia has a misquote on how the belt driven CVT works.  I have not only read the Wikipedia article, but the original masters thesis that the Wiki author plagiarizes to write the page.

In this wiki, it is stated that the "CVT fluid is there to ensure that the steel belt "never" touches the variators or pulleys"

In fact, the CVT fluid is there to ensure that the belt never touches the variators WHEN THE GEAR RATIO IS CHANGING.  Meaning when the CVT belt is traveling up and down the variators vertically to find the right gear ratio.

After the transmission finds the appropriate gear ratio, the oil film of the cvt has to get out of the way, and allow the steel belt to lock up directly with the surface of the variator to propel the vehicle.

Companies put additives in the CVT fluid to protect the variators and belts when this happens. One additive they can use is zinc-chemical, which on the molecular level, forms little pads on the cvt variators so that when the belt gets pressed into the surface of the pulleys, there is not metal to metal damage that occurs, scoring the variator surfaces.

So, the first question is, how reliable is it? 

Well there have been some reported problems with these transmission for sure.  There have been many slipping belts(causing sure failure), there have been instances of the quick lube oil change shops stupidly putting in the wrong Automatic Transmission Fluid after a "transmission flush", and many instance of shuddering. 

However, there has also been wide use with the CVT transmissions and especially in Europe.  That means there are literally millions of these transmissions on the road, and only a small fraction of them that are problematic or fail.

So what can cause a slipping CVT belt?
Many things, but a few sure ways would be gunning a cold transmission from a stop, not allowing the CVT to engage before switching form reverse to drive before giving it throttle to drive off, and exceeding the listed towing capacity in general, and under certain situation like high heat, prolonged hill climbing and such.

A: Gunning a car with a cold CVT transmission:  Before the CVT fully warms up, the transmission fluid can be thick, which means it doesn't pump as well.  This in turn means that it is possible that the transmission might not be able to apply the needed horizontal clamping pressure on each side of the variator onto the steel belt to ensure it locks up tight between the surface of the belt, and variator, producing a damaging metal on metal slide. 

B. The CVT takes more time to situate itself when switching from Drive to Reverse, or vice versa.  While it is performing this task, the transmission drops horizontal pressure to the variators.  If one tries to switch out of reverse and quickly gun it, it is possible that the transmission might not be able to apply the needed horizontal pressure in time to lock the belt to the pulleys and once again, you get a metal to metal slide.

In this type of slide, it is possible, or even likely that the steel belt(think chain) can rub on the variators causing it to chew up the surface of the pulleys.

C. When you exceed the listed towing capacity, you are putting a lot more strain on the belt and pulley(variators) in the direction perpendicular to the horizontal clamping force of the variators.  You can overwhelm the friction caused by the horizontal force on the belt, and have shearing. Meaning there is too much strain and the belt can tear loose of the pulley, and slip along the variator, causing damage.  This is more likely on prolonged up hill climbs, and in hot weather.

The quick lube stores putting in the wrong ATF fluid, what can happen?
Standard ATF fluid for cars with planetary(regular) type gears is much thinner than CVT oil.  The thinness of the oil will not prevent the steel chain from touching, rubbing on the variators and chewing up the surfaces when gear ratios are changing.  In essence, you are letting the metal CVT belt file down the surface of the variators, which will absolutely lead to a transmission pan full of metal shavings, and catastrophic failure.



DON'T LET THE QUICK LUBE SHOPS TOUCH YOUR CVT TRANMISSION.  TELL THEM TO STAY OFF OF IT!

In the end you are likely not saving yourself money, you will cost yourself thousands of dollars in repair bills.  If you want someone to do something to your CVT, seriously as much as I hate to admit it, take it to the dealer!

CVT shuddering, what can cause it? 

In short, microslips.. These aren't like the a slip that can necessarily cause major damage to the transmission.

A. Not letting the transmission warm up(thick CVT fluid not allowing enough horizontal pressure to be placed on the variators.

B. Worn out CVT fluid that additive pack suspended in the oil is past its useful lifetime, thereby  preventing a high belt surface to variator surface high friction coefficient.




Tutorial:
Press your palms together as hard as you can, then try to slip them back and forth.  Now wet them, and try the same thing... This is like the belt slipping on the pulleys(variators).  Except unlike your hands, the belt slipping on the variators(pulleys) will damage them...

A. The phenomenon that makes it so your hands don't slip easily is a higher friction coefficient.

B. When the engine is cold, think of not being able to press your palms together as hard. They will slip easily.

C. When you are towing a trailer that is too heavy, think of someone else grabbing your hands and pulling them apart at a right angle to the direction you are pushing them together.

Of course, the transmission puts A LOT more pressure on the belt than you are capable of on your hands.  Also, instead of a nice soft rough surface like your palms, inside the transmission, the surfaces are extremely hard, ultra smooth steel that had a film of oil in between the surfaces, right before it was pressed out to lock up the surfaces.

Are you gaining an appreciation for the forces involved to propel a roughly 3500 pound car towing a trailer with a smooth steel belt, and pulleys?


Summary:

I. Warming this car up before you drive it hard is way more important than on a manual transmission, or even a standard automatic transmission car in order to allow the CVT fluid to flow correctly applying the proper clamping force to the steel belt.

II. Under hard use like towing, constant extreme acceleration, driving in extreme heat, and up and down large mountainous hills, you will want to have your CVT fluid changed, BY THE DEALER earlier than is recommended.  You don't want the oil to thin out loosing viscosity thereby allowing the steel belt to rub the variators while the car is hunting for the proper "gear". Plus, once the additive pack wears out, the anti wear materials are rendered useless.

III. The steel belt driven CVT really is a thing of beauty. The car will almost always be in the right "gear".    However, it will not stand up to the abuse that other transmissions can take.  There are no gears with teeth that lock the drive gears and engine torque together like in other transmissions.

IV.  High heat on this transmission plays a more critical role because for one, the CVT fluid can thin out, which once again will allow the belt to rub off material on the pulleys(variators).

V. The torque converter(what allows your car to idle while it is in gear) locks up much quicker in these transmission over a standard auto trans.  This prevents heat build up, and makes the car more fuel efficient.  The torque converter is able to do so because of the infinite, and very high gear ratios possible in this type of transmission.  The transmission is capable of a really "low granny gear" as well as an overdrive capability all in one.  It is like having a 20 gear transmission!

I have a robust all wheel drive Subaru which has a CVT, but Nissan is putting CVT transmission's in their 245 horse power, Murano SUVs, which should indicate how strong the CVT really can be.



The CVT really does drive BETTER than a standard Automatic with gears, however for reliability, I would still choose a standard Automatic over one.  Having said that, our only choice in our new XV Crostrek was either a CVT(which they had lots of), or a manual transmission, which they only had one of.




We chose the CVT for my wife.



technical ariticles

first article

Second article

Yale course on fluid dynamics I found helpful




Monday, December 2, 2013

Oil really might be black gold..

You might think this is a "No Duh" moment, but are you sure you really know why that is?


During the initial warranty period of my new cars, I am forced into some sort of OCD like compulsion via the new car owners warranty agreement to follow what I know, are arbitrary oil change intervals.  I do them when stated, because the car manufacturers are basically holding a gun to my head saying I will do their bidding, or run the risk that if my car engine is not engineered, or built properly they will try to weasel out of fixing my car for free for the minor infraction of missing one small oil change.

After the warranty period though I was free!  No longer could anyone make me do something that was against my nature...

It was not uncommon for me to go 30,000 miles without changing the oil.  I reveled in the thrill of letting my oil work itself into a nice sludge, and thumbing my nose at the industry, thinking I am much smarter than you people!  You can't bullshit a bull shiter!

I reasoned that todays modern engines are engineered so well that they can take the abuse, and still live to see 200,000 miles.  After all, anecdotally  I had my own research! The Subaru I traded in had 196,000 miles on it when I was done with it!

To be fair, I did blow up two engines before that, but those were flukes! They both had issues before I got them!  I was doing reverse donuts in the diesel Volkswagen when it died, and the Chevy spectrum was just poorly designed! 

Chevys of the mid to late 80s were garbage anyway! ;)

Since I love conspiracy theories I loved to think about how I was smarter than the evil oil cartels who conspire with the auto manufacturers to have larger and larger profits at car owners expense by hoodwinking foolish weekend mechanics DIYer car owners, and just conscientious car owners into changing their oil more frequently than necessary.

Yep, this modo has served me well until I decided to first start towing my tear drop camper with the Mazda 3, and then later to decide I didn't have the financial strength to trade the Mazda in on a new car when it reached the 200,000 milestone I had previously set.

Suddenly I was very interested in the fluid dynamics of common engine oil. 

What color should it be? 

Why do I need an oil with a good "detergent package"

What sorts of additives do they add to the oil, and what do they do?

Through asking myself those questions, I came up with some knowledge about engine oils.

Since we live in the age of the internet, I was able to find all of those newly important questions for my new found interest, love, and respect for engine oil.

Once I realized that this really DID effect my pocket book, it was all over, I had to know.

Below is what I have found:

A: Used engine oil color doesn't matter.  Mostly.  People are often troubled by their new engine oil turning black quickly.  They shouldn't be.

The reason engine oil turns black so quickly 95% of the time it mostly due to modern engines oils superior ability to store and suspend harmful contaminants in the oil itself and away from any critical parts. 

First, there is a detergent pack to help scrub crude off of the engine parts.  The detergents in use today are metallic salts called, Sulfonates, phenates, phosphonates, and salicylates
 
 
Second, modern engine oils have dispersant agents that help to keep contaminants in suspension inside the motor oil, away from the critical parts.
 
Common dispersant types include polyisobutenyl succinimides and polyisobutenyl succinic esters

Even though modern oils are so good at first scrubbing off the harmful deposits and then storing them inside the oil, viscosity doesn't change, and the oil does not suffer degradation from this. 

So just because an oil is black, does not mean it is bad, or needs changed.

Older oils couldn't do this near as well. What happened was that the contaminants circulated round the engine for a while limiting flow rate, and often collecting in the most inconvenient places in the engine.  The oil pump sump intake, the oil journals(tubs that supply oil to all the delicate parts of the engine), the grooves of the crank bearings, piston connecting rod bearings, etc.

Older oils may have looked clear, but that just meant they didn't always pick up all the contaminants and store them in suspension inside the liquid of the oil.

 
Below is a gummed up, and destroyed piston connecting rod bearing. This is likely from other events
which I will go over, but this serves to show you what I mean.


 
 
 
New connecting rod bearings.  Used ones in good shape should be like this. Smooth, with clear ports
 
 
B: There are many reasons why shorter trips of say 5 miles are much worse for your car engine, than 50 miles per stretch.
 
I will go over a few.
 
On short trips in the car, your engine oil does not get the chance to properly heat up and bake, for lack of a better word for the appropriate time in order to cook all the water moisture out of the oil.
 
This in turn, leads to one major component of the dreaded ENGINE SLUDGE..  Just like "the blob" it will creep up on you and get you!
 
 
Yum!
 
 
 
 
 
 
What a nice clean engine should be
 
 
 
 
 

Now in addition to short trips, or more precisely in conjunction WITH not changing your oil, this can lead to engine sludge.
 
Engine sludge, can break loose and block oil pump pickups, get embedded in oil journals, stick the piston oil rings into the pistons, etc. 
 
Not changing your oil will most likely lead to every above symptom  for two reasons right off the top of my head.
 
I. If you don't change your oil, that wonderful oil that I said it so superior to the oil of old, will get oversaturated.  It will start to thicken and be more like well, sludge...
 
II.  If you are not running your car for long periods of time, a sure fire way to get all of that nasty water vapor out, would be to take the car for a drive to let the oil warm up, and then drain all of that nasty "water logged" oil right out of the engine, and replace it with fresh, loving, clean oil.
 
III.  This fact often goes unmentioned on the car guru sights.  If your only running your car for short trips, there are many more engine starts than a car with the same mileage that has racked up the mileage on the highway during long, 100 mile journeys.
 
This of this.  Two cars with 50,000 miles on the odometer.  Car A has driven 100 miles a day at 65 miles per hour.  2 engine starts a day, which would be 500 total engine starts.  Car B, which has driven for 5 mile hops through the city to the mall, has probably more than 2 starts a day, but well just take two for easy math has 10,000 starts over that 50K miles.
 
Starting your engine cold, is the worse thing for your engine.  Most of the wear and tear happens then in the split second before oil has a chance to flow into the critical places!
 
C: Modern Synthetic motor oil IS better than old fashioned mineral oil in almost all, if not all respects.
 
You probably have heard horror stories of people switching form regular mineral based motor oil to synthetic and having all sorts of problems.  One main problem that people had was developed oil leaks.
 
This is true.  There were issues.  What would happen is mineral oils, would swell engine gaskets, while older style synthetics wouldn't.  So in essence your engine gasket would thin(or more precisely, wouldn't swell up to fill all the gaps), and the engines would develope oil leaks.
 
Not only would you have your nice clean driveway and garage marred by the unsightly look of your car defecating on your nice clean surface, but what would happen is your engine would leak oil, and you would need to add more oil regularly to your car. 
 
If you didn't, your engine would run out of oil, and lock up tighter than the lending of modern banks
 
Equally as important as the oil running out of your engine into the driveway, your car would then burn oil through the combustion process.
 
It would start to burn oil because of the valve seals "shrinking up", and not providing a good seal.  Oil would leak through your valve seals, into the engine combustion chamber, making your car smoke when you gagged on the throttle, burning more oil, fouling your spark plugs, clogging your catalytic converter, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, making you look like a geek to the other drivers
 
Never fear though!!
 
Modern Synthetic motor oil, suffers none of those problems!  The evil oil cartel, and motor oil manufacturers have gotten smart!
 
They now put gasket swelling agents into their synthetic motor oils that keep your engine seals in good shape, even if you decide to switch to the premium synthetic oils.
 
Now that we have discussed how the evils of synthetics have been eliminated, let me list why modern synthetics are actually superior to standard mineral motor oil.
 
I.  Synthetic motor oils are capable of greater engine contaminant storage.  Think of this fluid as a larger tank capable of holding within it, safely away from the critical engine parts anything that would get into the oil, and harm the engine.
 
This is how you can go longer between oil changes than with standard mineral based motor oil.
 
II.  Synthetics aren't as prone to thicken up under extreme cold temperatures in the winter.  That means when you start your engine on that ass freezing cold day, the engine oil will flow better and get to the vital parts quicker than standard oils. They have really good pour point depressants that keep the oil from thickening up when cold by preventing the molecular growth of wax crystals.
 
III. Synthetic oils are less prone to loose their viscosity or "thin out" at extreme temperatures(extreme driving). keeping your engine parts protected during hard driving.
 
IV.  Synthetics clean your engine better than mineral motor oils.  Standard oil tends to varnish the inside of the engine parts.  Synthetics do not do this, and from what I read can actually clean the varnish off the engine parts.
 
D: Those fancy, high mileage oils are more than just hype, and clever marketing to trick you out of your hard earned cash..
 
I have read a great deal from technical magazine articles, and anecdotally online that Valvaline Maxlife really does work.
 
 
 
It has a great additive pack, that actually does condition old seals, and may in fact stop a small oil leak. 
 
I have read story after story online about this.  The process of sealing your engine against oil leaks both from your driveways perspective, and your combustion chambers not burning oil, is worth the extra cost.
 
UPDATE AFTER FIRST OIL CHANGE:   The Valvoline Maxlife completely stopped my car form burning oil.  Before that, the car would burn quite a bit of oil.  In fact, if I waited a month to change my oil, I would come back, and the oil level wouldn't even read on the dipstick.  Now when I check the dipstick, the level hasn't moved!
 
Most oils have a lower level of the type of additives that are actually in the products above.
 
Most oils are detergent oil, meaning they have additives that help to scour off crude from your engine parts. Just not to the level of the detergents in high mileage oil.
 
High mileage oils have special anti-wear additives in them, that are designed to limit metal stress.
 
Forget about special after market oil additives like Slick 50, and Duralube.  There is no scientific evidence they do anything. Just get a good oil, and change it fairly regularly, and your engine will be happy with you!
 
 
 E: Another important topic that isn't about the oil so much, as the tool used to keep it clean, is your oil filter.
 
Changing your oil filter is just as important as changing your oil. 
 
 
There are some writings that you should change it half as often as the oil, and how as the oil filter becomes used it can filter smaller and smaller particles, which makes some sense, but just to be on the safe side, change it at the same time.
 
Buy a good oil filter, don't cheap out!  Especially if you are like me, and like to push the envelope on oil change intervals.
 
Cheap filters not only will filter less harmful particles like metal particles, but may also become clogged easily.
 
If your oil filter becomes clogged, you may find your engine starved for oil, and locking up.
 
I am not sure all oil filters have the bypass valves that are designed to open up when they become saturated and clogged.  Especially filters like mine the Mazda which are just an interchangeable paper filters, instead of the normal steel canister.
 
I will attach links to the persons site that incurred a huge expense to test different brands of oil filters.
 
 
 
I am sure I am missing some stuff.  I set out to just record my findings.  There are some really knowledgeable people out there that can tell you about oil chemistry, base stock, etc.
 
 
I am not claiming to be an expert, this just tries to summarize my findings, and I attempted to write it in a way others can read. 
 
Some of this I knew. I was aware about the short trips, and what engine sludge does to an engine. I knew that they had started adding swelling agents to synthetics some years ago, and how they were previously problems. 
 
However, I didn't know how easily sludge forms even in todays engines, with the oils of today, how the detergents in the oils work so much better than in old days, how the modern engine oils are so good at suspending particles and keeping them away from engine parts, and the fact that High Mileage oils actually do work, and are worth the money...
 
 
I have worked on engines(major rebuilds, bottom ends, cams, connecting rod bearings, new pistons, etc) for years, but stupidly never saw the importance of common engine oils.  I always thought engine design was the most important, and still think it is, but engine oil, is half the battle.
 
 
Feel free to let me know if I need corrections!
 
 
As well as this...
 
 

Mark :)