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Friday, August 8, 2014

Heat em up!!

    Heat, Brownian motion, atomic or molecular excitement, thermal energy, call it by any of its names, heat is 'just' another form of energy that can be used for work.  Heat, as with any form of energy, can be added or removed from any given system, extracted to do work, stored for later, concentrated and  transferred. 
   Heat is motion.  Heat is the measured wiggle and giggle of the atoms or molecules in a substance.  That motion can be slowed, and the result is a measured drop in temperature; the temperature rising indicates an excitement or increased activity on a molecular level.  

   On the Celsius temperature scale, which is calibrated to 100 degrees when pure water boils at 1 atm or 101.325 kP of pressure and 0 degrees when water freezes to ice, the lowest possible temperature we can create or measure is -273 degrees, what is known as 'absolute zero'.

   Absolute zero is actually zero degrees on the Kelvin scale and 273 degrees is the point at which ice melts to water, 373 where water boils.  Same degree calibration, just 273 degrees slideways down the scale. 

   Because the rest of the world already switched over to the metric system for easier communication, I am not even going to discuss the Fahrenheit scale.  Its outdated, and although there are more fine gradations of temperature built in, the scale is based on sea water, not pure water.  What sea? Dead sea or Caribbean? Big difference.  Purify your water, calibrate your thermometer.

   Temperature, as we know it, is a direct measurement of the kinetic energy of the individual atoms or molecules.  The more agitated the molecules are the higher the observed temperature.  We cannot measure the individual motion of the molecules in our soup say, but we can measure the average energy of the molecules in motion.

   Heat can be transferred two ways by physical means, and by one method  over a distance.  Lets take care of heating via distance first.   When you put your hand up to the sun you are feeling many wavelengths of electromagnetic (EM) radiation that are absorbed by your skin or deeper tissues and converted to heat by adding kinetic energy to the atoms that make up the tissues of your hand.  This is called radiation, or radiative heating.  An object emits infrared, or heat waves, which are a form of EM, as soon as the temperature of said object rises above absolute zero.  If it is warmer than its surroundings, it will emanate EM radiation out, and receive less coming in from cooler objects.  In this way, objects cool via radiative loss and cooler objects in the path of those EM waves heat up via radiative heating.

    Physically we can move heat from one object to another by conduction, or direct contact from the hotter object to the cooler one.  When you place your hand on a hot object, it feels hot to you because you are feeling the movement of heat from the hotter object into your hand.  An object that is cooler than your hand removes heat and feels cold as a result.  Conduction happens through contact or touch.

    The other way heat can move via physical means requires uneven or spot heating of a fluid, a gas or liquid to operate.  This very interesting and complex transfer of heat is called convection.  Most heated fluids lose density and rise upward away from gravity.  Its that simple.  A flame below a pan of water will cause the water to rise away from it.  A convective flow will always occur when you heat a fluid unevenly.  Cooler fluid sinks to the bottom to replace fluid that is rising from the heat being added and a cycle forms in which heat is added at the bottom and circulated up to give that heat off at the top.

  It is convective flow, combined with the Coriolis effect, that causes our weather and the ocean currents on our little planet.  Water in the oceans and the air above are heated more on the equator and less at higher latitudes-  but only during the day.   That heat is moved around and is always uneven because the earth is only ever half lit by the sun.  Half is giving off heat, half is being heated.  Heat moves from hot side to cold side, but never catches up.  Hot air moves, cold air fills in behind it.  It sounds so simple right?  Not even close.  This is the most simplified and basic model that can be devised.  Basic, but real.  The complexity and detail of a reality based model would be staggering.  Weather modeling is done by massive computing arrays... not geeks on blogs.

   Heat is a form of energy, and in the next article I will go into how heat is used in all differing applications from engines and desalination plants to nuclear power plants and even the pumped hydronic heating systems in homes.  Heat removal, transfer and recollection are the hallmarks of our society.  Well ok, that and really cool silicon gizmos.  Thats for other writers to dissect tho...

Til the next round...  If you found this useful, follow on Twitter @MachineWhisprr or MachineWhisperer on Facebook.



Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Electrical Issues, Short or Open?

To the uninitiated, one electrical issue looks like the next.  'My lights quit working, can you fix it?' is a common question, or some variant thereof... I think its a short'.  I explain that I can't know until I check it over with test equipment, and ask the client if they did the basics and checked the fuses.  Usually that question gets a blank look for an answer...  

If you have never studied electricity, an automotive electrical system can look insanely complex with wires everywhere, switches in all sorts of places, various black boxes and connectors scattered everywhere, and to top it all off, nothing is labeled, which makes it even less friendly.  

All circuits in a car, motorcycle, RV or boat are all very similar.  You have a source of power- the battery or alternator or both, a fuse to protect the circuit, a switch, loads that are being powered (light, fan, etc...) and then the wires to connect it all up and conduct electricity from the source to the load and back.

All loads need two wires, one for the supply or negative side, one for the positive or return side.  Someone a long time ago screwed things up by saying that the positive side of a battery is the source of current, but that is nonsense and we need to kill that old confusing and useless paradigm.

Here comes the physics part of it... you have been warned.

Electrons form the outer, reactive shell of an atom of stuff, lets say metal in this case.  Those electrons, the source of the word electricity, carry a charge we arbitrarily call 'negative' while the inner portion of the atom carries a 'positive' charge.  It is these charges and the polarity difference that keeps atoms together, the positive and negative charges are pulled together by forces created by that polarity.  The weak electromagnetic force in physics is the direct result of these charges and  defines the interactions between those charged particles.

Extra electrons on the negative plates of a fully charged battery is what creates the negative charge on that terminal of the battery, and the lack of electrons is what creates the positive terminal.  Current physically flows from the negative side with excess electrons to the positive side with not enough electrons.  Voltage is considered to be the strength of the force created by the difference in the number of electrons stripped form the positive and dropped to the negative side during charging.  A discharged battery has the same number of electrons in both plates, therefore no voltage or current flow can happen.

A flow of electrons, bumped from one atom to the next on and on down the wire, is what we call electricity.  The voltage is the pressure driving the electrons down the wire, while current or number of amps is the actual measured number of electrons that are flowing in a given time past a given point.

In a standard circuit, the current flow is controlled by the resistance of the wires and load, and by the voltage pushing it down the line.  A fuse is rated for a specific flow of current through it, after which the wire inside melts and burns out stopping the flow of electrons through it.  If the resistance is too low in the circuit, the current goes up in direct proportion to the reduced resistance.  The same resistance can pass more current if the voltage is raised as well.  Either way, some safety device should be installed to prevent that over-current from damaging other components and wiring.

An open circuit is the simplest and most common form of failure.  It is also the hardest to track down.  An open circuit is simply one that no longer connects, thus current does not flow.  Somewhere in the circuit, something broke and no longer is connected and conducting.  It could be a switch that no longer switches, a burned out bulb or other component, or even as simple as an old fuse that finally blew from years of use near its limit.  Then there are the nightmare scenarios where there is a break in a wire somewhere in that massive bundle of wires and now we need to find it.  It could be broken in any of a thousand places along as much as 50 feet of wire in a bigger vehicle.  Like I said... nightmare scenario.  In these cases, I will often run a new wire with the old ones and power that load directly skipping the old wire entirely.

If two wires melt or rub through and touch metal to metal, the result is a connection that was not intended and usually results in over current.  This is a 'short circuit'  Literally, the circuit is too short to be healthy, it skips the load and has found a shorter path from one side of the battery back to the other side.  Hopefully the overloading of the circuit results in blowing a fuse, but if the circuit is one of the main power distribution wires, the fuse may be so high powered that it never blows, even while wires are smoking and catching fire.  

Replacing a blown fuse with one of a higher rating is always dangerous and stupid even for trained and experienced technicians running diagnostic tests.  Find the cause of the short, find it and fix it.  Then replace the fuse with the correct one and carry on.  Intentionally overloading a circuit by using a higher current fuse than the wire is designed for WILL result in a wiring fire.

A short circuit from improperly routed wires, or over-fused, under-wired circuits causing a fire is the biggest danger in self wired vehicles.  The car owner has the option to install stereo systems, additional lights and power sockets, inverters and appliances nowdays.  All these new and interesting electrical add-ons can be bought in the parts stores  or truckstops easily but have no decent instructions to educate the novice installer how to keep it safe.  

Helping your mechanic diagnose electrical problems starts by properly describing the problem.  If you can tell your mechanic that the windshield wipers have an open circuit and don't work, its very different from saying it has a short circuit in which the fuse blows every time and you smell burning plastic.  Correctly stating the problem is the first step to your mechanic not spending hours to determine what kind of fault is happening.  

Hope that clarifies a few things for ya... til next time...

MW outta here :-)


Friday, August 1, 2014

Help Your Mechanic Help You

First, happy August, its mid-summer up north here, mid winter for the southerners, I smell a change in the air for us all... Hows that for prophetic eh?

K, back on topic...

 If, and this is a big IF, you pay attention, are aware of changes in your reality, and you check over your vehicle and fluids on a regular basis, you are the best diagnostic tool your mechanic has in his or her toolbox.  You, as the owner/ operator are the first defense against vehicle breakdowns, the first one to recognize a problem or change and the best person to describe the problems as they arise. 

You know your vehicle, your mechanic works on it.  You know whats normal, your mechanic knows how it 'should' be.  You know how things change over time, what is different today from yesterday or last month, while your mechanic can say 'thats worn out and needs replacing'.  

When a problem arises or something seemingly changes, paying close attention and gathering information like a good investigator using all your senses to help your mechanic define and determine the problem can save you time, money, and machine downtime.

Being the best diagnostician you can be is crucial to preventing shistey mechanics from scamming you, having your vehicle hijacked by a mechanic who doesn't know diagnostics very well, or having the wrong parts changed.

When you can explain that the grinding, scraping noise appears to be coming from the rear, maybe right side, and only happens after letting off the brakes, the mechanic will know much more than when you only tell them that there is a noise in the car.  

A good mechanic, on a quick test drive with an experienced ear can track down simple issues, but you, as the driver, can help give crucial info that can speed up that problem finding.  

If you are driving along and feel a new vibration, what just changed?  What did you do just before it changed, what kind of road conditions changed, did you hit a big bump, a piece of road shrapnel, a pothole, puddle , patch of gravel or small animal?  

Is it a vibration, or a grinding sound?

Is the feeling of it coming from the seat under your butt, or from the steering wheel? 

Is it worse turning right or left? 

 Does it only happen when you accelerate? 

All the info you can offer to your mechanic, related or not, may prove to be the important missing piece to determining cause and getting it fixed quickly.

The other day, a client called me kind of scared for her vehicle and family.  When she called me, she could only say that the car was bucking and shaking at about 15mph, not accelerating beyond that.  I said I would check it out first thing in the morning, and not to drive it anymore tonite now that she was home.  I immediately suspected fuel pump, fuel filter, wet ignition, or ECM sensor failure.

Upon complete diagnostic inspection to check everything and a test drive- all of which took a bit over an hour- I concluded that it was all in the automatic transmission.  How you ask?  

The truck fired right up, and OBD2 codes came up irrelevant.  During the test drive I noticed I could change the behavior of the vehicle with the shifter.  Starting out in D it would clunk, then buck, shudder and not accelerate well at all.  If I shifted it into L and followed engine RPM shifting like with a standard transmission, it would clunk only once and accelerate normally.  Still not a happy transmission, but noticeably better treating it more like a manual.  After asking a few questions, I concluded it is time for a transmission fluid & filter change and flush: hope that fixes it.  It may not tho... it may be a shredded transmission, may be too late already for the price of over 10 years of no fluid changes.

Taking the time to determine what changes the behavior, what does nothing and is unrelated, and what might seem unrelated are all aspects of putting on your investigator hat and listening, feeling, observing  and noting what changes, what causes what, what seems to be causal or corollary versus what seems coincidental.  Even mentioning that the fluid has not been changed since you have owned the vehicle is valuable info to share with your mechanic.  Collect all the info you can to give your mechanic the best chance to properly diagnose the problem quickly and effectively.

When something changes, or some new noise or malfunction comes into being, ask yourself these questions:  

   1- Does it change when I...? (turn the steering wheel, press the brakes, run over bumps in the road, turn on the lights or blower, etc...)
   2- When did it start? (after driving thru a puddle, taking a hard left turn to avoid a collision, adding questionable fuel from a backwoods fuel station, or cleaning the engine, etc...)

   3- What are the noticed symptoms?  (it grinds when I..., it shakes when..., the car won't stay straight and pulls right hard when I hit the brakes, etc...)

When you roll into your mechanic, a good description of a problem might be:
 'Hey Bob g'mornin.  Thanks for the emergency checkup, Heres a breakfast burrito from that little cafe up the street.  Hey, so I drove through a fairly deep puddle at 30 mph yesterday and now every time I hit the brakes the car immediately pulls really hard to the left.  There is a harsh grinding sound from what sounds like the left front wheel and the steering wheel shudders when I take a left turn and hit the brakes at the same time... Oh, and it gets really bad over 40 too.  I know you just did the brakes and they have been fine until the puddle incident.  I don't feel any other clunking or vibration, and the car feels stable and steers fine without the brakes engaged'

You could also simply say 'It makes a grinding noise' and pay the mechanic to figure it out while you wait and pay and pay and wait.

The burrito scenario ( Yes, your mechanic will be grateful for a hearty snack- I like coffee and chocolatey stuff myself ) with the additional information yields much quicker results for diagnosis and repair. 

This scenario gives the mechanic several places to start with diagnostics and with a quick test drive can probably determine the problem.  That added description required nothing but simple observation skills on your part, no technical knowledge at all.  This procedure of observation is simply noticing when things change, what they changed to and any other connections that seem valid.  

To Tom & Ray Magliozzi; AKA Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers; who always kept it lively, taught me oodles about customer service and always got people to make the silliest sounds trying to describe the problems... 

Thanks guys, ya goofy buggers ya, lotsa laughs!!. 

And yes, we mechanics do get some harmless but entertaining chuckles at the expense of the lay persons using such funny noises to describe the problem their machines are experiencing.  We love it, it makes our day to hear it, thanks to you as well.  


Til the next round... MW out n zoomin...



Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Embracing the Clutch: Tips and Hints

Have you, do you currently, or do you want in the future to drive a standard, manual, stick shift transmission? If so, this one is for you.  

There are some distinct advantages to a manual transmissions, and a few minor drawbacks too.  Its no secret among my friends and clients that I really don't like automatic transmissions, but I do recognize they have their place in some applications.  I get great clutch life from my vehicles, and great performance on the street or off road.  I prefer my vehicle with a third pedal, thanks, and here are my basic rules to getting the most value from that third pedal.  

There are many benefits to owning and driving a manual transmission vehicle.  Being able to more quickly adapt to changing driving conditions with forethought instead of only reacting after things change as an automatic transmission does, more accurate and fine control of acceleration and deceleration, and a more fun and visceral connection to the road and machine are the primary reasons people choose to own a manual transmission equipped vehicle.  Not to mention the interaction of human and machine helps to relieve road weariness and prevent driver fatigue as quickly. 

Manual transmissions are simpler in many ways and have nowhere near the number of moving parts as an automatic.  Manual transmissions are generally tougher, longer lasting, easier to repair and change fluids, and also lighter weight. An automatic transmission wastes fuel through slippage unless it locks the torque converter between shifts whereas a manual transmission is locked to the engine when the clutch pedal is released, assuring that all the power from the engine goes to the wheels not wasted as heat from fluid shear.

The purpose of the clutch is to allow a smooth transition from stopped to moving by slipping slightly between the engine, spinning  many hundreds of RPM even at idle and the transmission shaft connected to the wheels on the ground, which are all completely stopped.  The clutch absorbs the difference in speed between the engine and transmission by slipping and wasting energy as heat.   Any time the clutch pedal is in the middle of its throw, neither fully in and released, free to spin; or out and completely locked together as one unit spinning together, the clutch is wearing out and being damaged by heat.

So, the first rule of a clutch pedal is get your foot off of it. Period.  No exceptions.  Either the clutch pedal is on its way in and held there, or on its way out, but it is not a foot rest. Keeping any additional, even slight and gentle, pressure on the clutch pedal results in faster release bearing wear, slippage of the clutch, and increased heat in the clutch housing.  

Next rule:  Keep the engine revved only the minimum needed to obtain smooth operation and no higher during initial engagement and startup in first gear.  Most automotive engines produce smooth power around 1000 RPM and this is generally an excellent engine speed to start off at.  A little more throttle may be necessary on a hill or accelerating hard into traffic, but overall, the lower the speed of the engine during startup, the better for clutch longevity and eliminating heat build up. 

The higher the engines speed during clutch release, the more energy is wasted as heat in the clutch housing due to slippage and friction.  This heat buildup can ruin engine and transmission seals from long term overheating and can drastically shorten the life of the clutch from glazing and polishing of the surfaces involved. 

The way I explain starting from a stop to rookie drivers of manual transmission is like this: I recommend getting your left foot off the clutch as quicky and smoothly as possible without over-revving the engine while eliminating bucking or lurching.  Thats it...

I teach newcomers to manual transmissions to start the vehicle nice and smooth on flat pavement with no accelerator pedal use at all.  Get the car up and rolling with the clutch pedal all the way out as quick as possible with no accelerator use whatsoever.  None, No go pedal.  Just pull your right foot up to the seat and use only your left foot to engage and release the clutch.  Get as smooth and fast as you can, and when you can do that fast and easy, then you can add a bit of throttle to make the transition faster yet.

When shifting gears, the rule is the same as starting out, smooth and fast.  Shifting should be a much faster transition of clutch pedal position than starting from a stop.  Clutch in; shift gears; clutch out- done.   That fast, that smooth.  No bucking or lurching or whiplash.  Smooth like velvet.  

The shock to the system from too rapid a release of the clutch can break parts in the drive systems, can ruin rubber or plastic mounts, tear tires or destroy shocks, struts, bearings or driveshafts.  Not to mention giving your passengers a lifetime of neck pain.  Again, the keyword is smooth.  

Over revving and under revving of the engine are another point worthy of touching on briefly.  Every engine has a powerband, a range of engine speeds that produce maximum peak horsepower.  The 'wider' the powerband, the greater the range of RPM that the engine can produce power most efficiently and thus the greatest acceleration.  Generally speaking, for engine longevity, most situations dictate keeping engine RPM in the bottom 1/3 of the powerband when not accelerating.  Each engine is different, but having 2/3 or more of the overall power the engine is capable of at the touch of the skinny pedal is wise in most conditions. 

Over-revving causes unnecessary and rapid engine wear and wastes fuel.  If an engine will produce the power to accelerate in a higher gear, upshift.  If you shift into a higher gear and lose speed immediately, downshift and accelerate rapidly to a higher speed to prevent speed loss again when you aupshift.  If need be, slow down and stay in a lower gear if the engine cannot make enough power in the higher gear.  Its a 'feel' thing.  Let the engine work where it is happiest.

If you need to accelerate, don't be afraid to use the higher RPM range of the engine, but if you are just cruising along, use the highest gear possible that allows the engine to run smoothly without chugging.  If you push the accelerator down and the engine speed does not increase immediately, you are in too high a gear for the speed and you need to downshift to a lower gear.  This is referred to as 'lugging' the engine and causes overheating of valves and pistons and rapid wear on the piston sides and skirts as well as added bearing damage.

Downshifting early before climbing or descending a hill is a wise tactic as opposed to letting the speed change significantly and then expending additional energy as fuel or wasted in the brakes to bring the vehicle back to desired speed.  If you upshift out of 3rd gear into 4th at 80kph (55mph)then you can downshift onto third gear at roughly that same speed.  Never downshift into a lower gear at a speed significantly higher than you would upshift out of that gear when accelerating.  This action can over-rev an engine and potentially cause severe damage.  

This article turned out longer than I thought it would be, but I think I covered all the important points.  I hope it clears up some misconceptions and increases the life and reliability of your clutch and other related parts.  Also, hopefully I converted a few drivers away from wasteful automatics back to simpler, cheaper, longer lasting manuals.  After operating a manual transmission for a few hours, most people are comfortable and capable and no longer need to think about the process.  So don't be afraid of that third pedal, make use of it and enjoy it.  Relish the ability to interact as a driver instead of being chained to a computer that tries to think for you, keeps you passively bored, and takes away your control and enjoyment of the driving experience.

Happy driving happy drivers...




Friday, July 25, 2014

Out of Time for Engines.

Timing, timing, timing.  Being in the right place at the right time can bring possibilities to reality, and can assure that things go according to plan.  Timing plays a huge part in all things life oriented, timing also comes into play with engines (electric motors too).  This article will be fairly short, but the info is crucial to the proper function of any engine.

Without proper timing in an engine, all sorts of issues can arise that include  loss of fuel efficiency and power, overheating and thus warping of metal parts, and even total catastrophic destruction of the engine.  

It is imperitive that all the parts in an engine operate in the correct sequence, at exactly the time they are supposed to.  We must assume that the engineers who designed the engine took into account how different engines require differing timing needs.  

A big, slow turning truck engine compared to a small, high revving motorcycle engine will have very different timing needs, but the basics remain the same. Creating an engine that can make alot of power instantly requires that combustion occurs precisely when the maximum energy can be delivered from the chemical form in fuel to mechanical energy out the wheels.  

In some engines, the timing system must keep the valves and pistons separated physically so that damage does not occur- this is referred to as 'interference'- literally the engine parts interfere with each other.  If a timing belt or chain breaks, the parts meet without any ability to move and thus bend and break.  This usually adds up to very expensive repair bills, or recycling a machine back to its constituent components.  

Combustion, or more commonly, ignition timing is a matter of when the fuel in an engine actually burns.  Igniting the fuel under pressure in the cylinders causes a huge pressure pulse or spike that actually makes the power to turn the wheels.  It is the pressure spike that drives the piston down comes after combustion.  

The burn time is remarkably short and must happen just as the piston comes up to 'TDC' or top dead center, so that the pressure pulse pushes the piston back down as it rolls over the top of the combustion stroke and into the power stroke.  

If that combustion happens too early, referred to as advanced timing, the internal parts in the engine are put under tremendous stress from the piston coming up and combustion pushing the piston down at the same time.  This causes 'ping' or 'knock' at best, engine destruction at its worst.  A tiny bit of ping is acceptable in most engines, but too much will drastically reduce engine life.  

The pinging sound is actually the slap of the piston against the cylinder wall as it cocks slightly sideways from added stress of pre-combustion.  This can seriously and quickly  wear out cylinder walls and piston skirts, or even snap the piston skirt completely off the bottom of the piston.  The loss of the piston skirt not only puts broken metal shrapnel into the engine, but will rapidly cause added wear from a piston that now fits loosely in the bore.  

If ignition happens too late in the process, called retarded timing, instead of too early, the combustion is rapidly quenched by the expansion of the gasses instead of accelerating combustion due to compressing the fuel and air together as ignition happens.  Overly retarded  timing results in engine overheating, burnt exhaust valves, and severe loss of power. 

A properly tuned engine will have the combustion happen at the precise moment when the pressure spike can deliver the most power output from that combustion.  Not a millisecond before or after.  Its very precise.  Generally, a slight advancement from stock settings will result in more power, lower temps, and improved fuel efficiency. 

A bit off topic here, but not by much. The tyrannical EPA and its nonsense emissions rules mean that engine builders retard ignition timing back from its optimal point in order to waste fuel and sacrifice engine life and performance just to keep emissions to dictated levels.  The EPA is run by, and these levels of emissions are set by ex-oil company executives and ex-car company CEOs and other execs.  It is in the interest of these corrupt jerks to get you to waste more fuel and throw away engines to increase the profits of the companies whose stocks they own  I say focus on fuel efficiency, the emissions will follow.  Make engines last as long as they can and the coal burning power plants that power our manufacturing base will save fuel as well.  I will go into emissions more later in another article.

I hope you now understand better what it means to the operation of an engine to have the mechanical and combustion timing perfectly set and maintained within a tiny window of acceptability.  Thanks for reading, and remember, if you have an engine with a timing belt, have it changed out before it can break or stretch and compromise engine performance or integrity.  Check back for more helpful info...

MW outta here and onto the next fix-er-up... 
'Til next time, love your machines!


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

More Magnets and Machinery...

In the last tech article on magnets and machines, I described how any piece of iron bearing metal can be made magnetic and can act just the same as any other magnet simply by wrapping that chunk of metal with insulated wire and applying an electric current to it.  Lets explore more of the capabilities of these wonderful devices, electromagnets, and what they can do for us.  

Alternators and generators are machines that transform mechanical energy into electrical energy.  They do this by spinning a magnet inside of multiple coils of wire. 

OK- time to backtrack?  Cool, back to basics. So one of the fundamentals of physics, and more specifically, electromagnetism, is that a moving magnet can induce an electric current in a wire.  When a magnet is passed over even a single strand of wire, the magnetic field knocks electrons loose from the atoms of the metal and pushes them into the next atom.  This bumping of electrons from one atom to the next one near it is the transference of energy from the magnet to the wire.  

Electrons move from one atomic cloud to the next and we call that electric current: the flow of electrons in a conductor.  That electronic flow is what we use to do various types of work in toasters and microwaves, electric tools and computers, cell phones and satellites. Creating that electron flow in a wire is now considered basic physics, but 150 years ago, it was unheard of and unknown to most people.  Experimenters like Maxwell, Faraday, Edison, Tesla and a myriad of others all contributed to our knowledge of how electric current could be created and utilized. 
Most of the electricity that powers our homes and businesses comes from the burning of coal or natural gas, or from nuclear plants, but they all do it the same way- heat water, boil it to steam under high pressure, then release the pressure and allow the steam to expand and cool as it moves through the turbine.  As the superheated steam passes through the turbine unit, it cools and transfers its energy to the turbine blades attached to the shaft, then to a generator/ alternator.  As the steam passes through the turbine,  most of the energy in the compressed superheated steam gets used to spin the turbine at very high speeds.  The turbine is connected via a common shaft to the generator or alternator head usually.

In a car, the alternator is spun at high speeds by a belt on a small pulley driven from the crankshaft pulley.  Usually these days a large, flat belt (serpentine belt) is responsible for turning the alternator in a car along with all the other accessories that need spun (A/C, power steering, water pump...) Regardless of how they are spun, an alternator is an interesting piece of equipment.   Inside an alternator, there is is the inner core (rotor) anchored directly to the spinning shaft.  This rotor is simply a coil of wire that is charged with a small electric current to become a magnet.  That magnetic coil in the rotor has ends and center made of iron, (steel) and thusly as current is applied to the coil in the rotor, the magnetic flux in the rotor core increases proportionally to the current flow.  These steel ends are brought around to the sides of the rotor to create a series of alternating North and South magnetic poles around the circumference of the rotor.  It is the constantly changing magnetic flux, switching rapidly from North to South that induces a current tin the stator coils. 

Controlling an alternator to put out specific voltage or current is simple in some ways.  A separate, or integrated voltage regulator controls output power by varying the small current that flows through the rotor.  Surrounding the rotor are the stator coils that are excited as the magnetic rotor spins inside them.  This creates a tremendous voltage and current in the stator with only a small current flowing through the rotor.  Its the input current that controls the output current.  For this reason, this design of alternator has become the standard for almost all equipment that must produce electrical power.  

So, again, heres to magnets and the ability to create all sorts of machines using them.  Magnets can be used to make speakers that spread sound through the room, or they can be used for detecting the position of something tiny and in need of perfect calibration.  Magnets are everywhere, and where they are not, we can make them using steel and wire to create electromagnets.  These electromagnets can be easily controlled with tiny amounts of power, thus the output of an alternator is also easy to adjust and control.  

Heres to long lived machines and healthy, happy people too,

             Again soon, MW

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Magnets, Motors and Machines

Most of us growing up as children played with magnets- and some of us as adults still do. Magnets carry a certain mystery, a certain romanticism and air of mysticism to them. We see how they interact in the world, with each other and with iron bearing metals and we wonder how.  For hundreds of years we humans have played with magnets, yet science still has a fairly minimal grasp on the why of what makes magnets behave as they do. Today we have stronger magnets than ever before and the amount of flux, or magnetic force in these magnets make them many times more powerful and sometimes dangerous than we have ever known magnets could be. The magnetic flux intensity in a tiny commercial or industrial magnet today can be thousands of times stronger than in magnets from just 20 years ago. 
  A magnet is a metal or ceramic object that has a natural and continuous magnetic field around it.  Any ordinary piece of iron containing metal can become a magnet though simply by winding that chunk of metal with insulated wire and passing electric current through the wire. This concept of the 'electromagnet' gives us wonderful machines and devices such as motors, generators, alternators, transformers, ignition coils and speakers that turn the electrical music signals from our MP3 player into vibrating air that we hear as sound.  Its motors that I want to focus on for the next few paragraphs here...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Nothings Shocking Now: An Electrical Primer (Part 3)

I get it, I have heard it for years.  Batteries, alternators, switches and wiring are intimidating.  Guess what: even for us in the know, its still tough, its still frustrating and annoying, its still brain- racking to find and diagnose electrical problems. 

 Its a complicated system we have created, but I truly think that everyone can get the basic concepts and at least help with diagnosis of electrical problems, if not fix them outright, without the need for special training or knowledge.  Together we will follow the basic flow of electricity thru a cars electrical system in a simplified way to analyze every aspect of it.  

The idea is to progress through electrical components of storage and generation, then go into loads; lights, fans, actuators, etc...  In the last article we went through some of the reasons that electrical diagnosis is so difficult.  Now lets start a journey of discovery back to how to do just that, difficult or not. 

Lets dive into a nice vat of sulfuric acid shall we?  No?  Well ok, but as a thought baby, lets do it in our minds.  That acid vat is the source of the power that we use in our cars (motorcycles, ATV's, Snowmobiles, watercraft, riding mowers...) to start the engine, run lights and accessories, and provide power when engine speed drops to idle where alternator output may not cover the needs of the system. 

The lead- acid battery has been around and storing energy for us for just over 150 years officially (Wikipedia link) and accounts for most of the battery tech used for automobiles, trucks, submarines and ships, and all manner of engine starting battery and backup power storage.  My homestead and many other off-grid homes and businesses, as well as computer, telecom, and communications backup systems store power in lead acid batteries, using massive banks of big heavy batteries to store hours or even days worth of power.

  A lead acid battery is full of metal plates stacked alternatively one then the other of pure lead in one plate and lead oxide in the other plate.  These plates are submerged in sulfuric acid contained in a tough plastic box.  A chemical reaction in the battery from one plate to the next and through the acid, releases hydrogen gas and electricity as it converts both plates to lead sulfate and the acid to water.  This reversible chemical reaction is known commonly as discharging and then recharging the battery.

A process called sulfation is the number one killer of lead acid batteries right after heat and cold temperatures.  Long term, all lead acid batteries will succumb to sulfation.  As the conversion of lead or lead oxide to lead sulfate happens, a small portion of that lead sulfate sticks and stays through the next recharge cycle to become a permanent crystalline layer built up inside the battery.  This layer of sulfate insulates the plates electrically and prevents the reaction from occurring at that location anymore.  Lead sulfate is 'dead' and cannot participate in any reactions that produce power- thus the term 'dead battery'.  

Anytime a battery is discharging it is creating sulfation naturally.  The longer a battery is allowed to remain in a sulfated, partly discharged state, the more permanent the sulfation becomes.  Sulfation causes a battery to lose holding capacity, drop voltage under load more quickly, and get hotter from use (waste more energy charging or discharging as heat).  Recharging a dead battery quickly reduces the amount of sulfation that stays behind after charging, but can never eliminate it completely.

 You can drastically increase the life of said batteries by never leaving them even partly discharged- recharge them fully as soon as possible. Another way to prevent early sulfation death is to never drain the battery below 75% capacity.  This simply means that less of the plate area is accessible to become sulfated, and therefore will likely last much longer that its over-discharged cousin.  

Once frozen, most lead acid batteries are in a world of hurt and bound for the recyclers.  In a fully charged battery, the acid prevents freezing until temperatures well below the freezing point of water.  As a battery discharges tho, and the acid is changed into water, the freezing point of the liquid electrolyte becomes higher and higher until it can freeze solid.  When water freezes, it expands with a force of over 40,000psi and compresses or crushes everything in its way.  In this case, the soft lead is crushed and cracked, mashed and ruined by the force of nature in a confined space.  

Corrosion is a major issue for lead acid batteries.  Corrosion stops power from entering or leaving the battery because of added resistance in the circuit.  This corrosion and its associated power loss can ruin the battery itself, the alternator, and a myriad of other components too.  The terminals will get coated with thick white, green, or sometimes black, fuzzy, crystalline, dusty, crust that must be removed.  A small wire brush will remove most of this from the outside of the terminal, but to get it all truly as clean as it can be, which is always best, a bit of disassembly is required.  Remove the terminal by loosening the bolt and then use the wire brush to clean the lead contact area, then the lead, copper or brass of the wire end terminals.  Clean all the small wire ends with the brush as well.  If the corrosion is really bad, use some baking soda mixed with a bit of water to neutralize any leftover acid on the metal terminals, then rinse well with water.  After the terminals are all dry again, use a good grease to seal the connections from moisture and acid fumes and reassemble

Thats all for the immediate battery thoughts, hope it helps some curious people out there.  Cheers to your machines, MW out. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Nothings Shocking Now: An Electrical Primer (Part 2)

This week, part 2 of the MW electrical primer series comes with real- life electrical frustrations from 4 different clients cars as well as electrical challenges of my own.  One clients repair was a simple fix with just an easy to find broken wire.   Another may have totalled the vehicle from a dash fire which resulted from a parking lot mishap and power mirror wiring damage. The third failure got a mother and children stranded in the middle of nowhere because simple, basic maintenance had not occurred on the battery connections.  As for the 4th problem child, it is still under investigation for very strange but isolated behavior in the power window circuit.  

Reliable electrical power generation, storage, and distribution in cars is fully necessary these days, but one small issue can lead to a range of failure modes resulting in all manner of results from minor frustrations to catastrophic large-scale system meltdowns, fires, and eye-poppingly painful repair bills or replacement costs. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence... from what?

First of all, Happy 4th of July to fellow Americans.

Since it is a holiday in the land of my birth, I am taking the easy way out and wishing you all a happy party time.  

On this persistent day of national pride, I am asking you to ponder a few things.

How did we get here (wherever here may be)?

Did I harm anyone to get where I am?

Am I as independent as I want to be?

If I believe I am a slave, have I become one by my own mindstate?

Can I change anything in the world for the better?

Can I make the world an easier place to live in?

Am I free to be who I am, who I want to be?

To all I say: follow your dreams, your truth, your unwavering, undying, unending vision of what might be and seek to make it reality while harming no one else.
Set yourself free of the ideas and repetitive phrases that program you to stay stuck where you are and prevent forward progress.

On this Independence day, find the freedom from limiting thoughts and behaviors, be bold, be fearless, be free to fail or succeed.  

Be free to be.  

Peace.  Truth.   

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Nothings Shocking Now: An Electrical Primer (Part 1)

Electricity seems to many people some great mystery who go through life  happily flipping switches and expecting the lights to come on, and feeling helpless when they do not, feeling betrayed by every ideal of technological persistence and reliability.  I promise it is neither mystery nor given right.  It is science, tried, tested, and true.  Electricity powers our lives- its good to have some basic knowledge about it. These basics, what electricity is, how to determine the type of fault, and what can be done about it, are all basic skills that I can pass in fairly directly over the course of a few articles.  

Friday, June 27, 2014

Trade some fuel for water...

     With the cost of fuel rising again, I have been fielding alot of questions recently about turbo- diesels, combustion, and improvements for them.  One of the oldest ways to improve TD performance is still one of the best, easiest and most reliable methods to add power and efficiency without extra heat or significant cost.  This old but useful system has been improved by modern technology, materials and control alogrithms.  This simple add on that adds so much for so little relies on some basic properties of one of our most abundant resources on this planet: water.  (distilled- not out of a faucet).

Friday, June 20, 2014

Engine Mods: It All Starts With Airflow- Part 2

In part one of we went into how an engine moves air, common ways to increase airflow, and why increasing airflow increases operating efficiency. At the end of the last article I mentioned compressors used to increase air charge into an engine and thus increase power and efficiency. Lets go into specifics of the two common types of compressors used and whats needed to make them function, the differences between them, and the benefits of either and why. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Engine Mods: It All Starts With Airflow- Part 1

Have you ever noticed the big blower sticking out of the hood of a hopped up hot-rod? Or how about the loud exhaust when the throttle is opened on a high horsepower monster machine? Have you ever wondered why the big intake system or loud exhaust on these powerplants? Its not all about chrome, looking cool and noise- no really, its not. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

You burn WHAT in there??

Diesels burn oil.  In fact Cummins Engine Co. used to advertise its diesels as 'oil engines'.  These days there is alot of info out there on biodiesel, but not much good info on what else can be used as fuel in diesel engines.  Alot of owners of diesel powered machines have asked me what else can be used as a fuel source for lower cost without resulting in extra time and money in repairs, sacrificing reliability, or causing any degradation in performance. So lets talk about some diesel fuel alternatives for a minute here.  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

An 80's 4x4 adventure: not like that tho... Part 2

Well, I finally made a plan for getting back over to my buddies old work truck. I loaded up my main tools with my diagnostic basket containing the compression tester, vacuum pump with attachments, spark tester, timing light, my electrical boxes (just in case), some spare extraneous parts from inventory and all the toothbrushes, rags, solvents and small parts washing containers I thought I would need.

Friday, June 6, 2014

An 80's 4x4 adventure- not like that tho... Part 1

Another adventure begins. A long-time friend and client called me up to check out his old work truck and give him a diagnosis and likely cost of repair to get it running again. He said it should be no big deal, should be quick and easy he said. I believed him...  Little did I know...

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

'Basics boy, Basics'- Part 2

The inspection had thus begun in the mystery of the smokey diesel. 
Here comes part 2.
  After dismantling the valve assembly, the first thing I noticed was heat damage on the intake side rocker arm assembly- discoloration of the metal and ground-down sharp edges on the rocker arm and the thrust washer that holds it on the shaft and no oily feel to the parts at all.  Eek, the rocker arm and its associated parts had not gotten any lube- not good.  

Friday, May 30, 2014

'Basics boy, basics'

'In diagnosis, always check the basics first'. I learned that little nugget of wisdom back when I was about 7 years old.  And another 'when something changes in terms of noises or performance, go looking for it, don't wait and see if it will fix itself'- I learned when I was about 10.  I guess occasionally I need to relearn my own lessons again and eat a fat helping of my own advise... mmmmm, humble pie... tasty.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Bad Wheel, No Bounce!

So there you are, driving along the road, and a pothole or bump jumps out in front of you too late to miss. After the bump, the shudder and wobble continues for a hundred feet after the bump. Or instead, you hit the brakes hard and swerve around the bump; the car nose- dives and sways, then bounces back and forth a few times afterward. Or, you glance under the car at the shocks and see they are coated in oily dust. Guess what?  

Friday, May 23, 2014

Compress This! A Diesel primer.

Ah, the poor, abused, maligned Diesel engine. Whether for the perception of being impossible to start and causing winter frustrations, or for the smokey, clattering, rattling, growling machines being perceived as being adequate only for big truck, trains and ships, diesels have somehow earned a bad name. All this is nonsense you must realize.  Diesels make fine automobile and smaller truck and equipment powerplants that can attain amazing fuel economy numbers.  Diesels can be smooth, quiet, and fun to drive since by design, they have very driver- friendly torque output.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Never Open When Hot...

   When was the last time you thought about the radiator cap on your cars cooling system? It took a few years of working with machines for me to appreciate what was going on with that simple device. On the surface, it would seem that a radiator cap is indeed a simple device to keep the coolant in, but on closer inspection it becomes a complex regulator of pressure and temperature required for proper engine operation. It took automotive engineers many iterations and many years of R&D to come up with the system we take for granted today. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

CR-V: Challenges and Lessons

So I recently swapped out the engine on a 2000 era Honda CR-V 4wd due to a broken timing belt and the internal damage already present inside the engine. First off, let me say this: Swapping CR-V engines is not a good first-time or learner project. As an experienced mechanic, I found myself flabbergasted and flummoxed at the outrageously high number of bolts, brackets, and extraneous seeming parts everywhere. Second- the replacement engine was guaranteed to have less than 50k miles on it but was imported used from Japan- this created challenges all its own. We won't discuss the freight damage that was evident once we opened it up... if its not one thing, its another.  

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Warm it Up, Cool it Down, Keep it Happy...

Turbochargers are a great way to add lots of fun and power to your vehicle, however, they also need some special care to last a reasonable amount of time and prove reliable over the long run.  Turbos need extra attention, but all machines can benefit from the same care that keeps a turbo unit happy. 
The other day I went to visit a good friend and as usual, I got to hear about all his latest mechanical woes. Apparently, my buddy’s mechanic says he needs a new turbocharger on his Subaru- AGAIN. This is the third turbo and second engine in 60,000 miles. My only question- since I know he runs a decent synthetic engine oil- was 'Do you religiously let it warm up and cool down for a few minutes every drive?' He looked at me curiously, and said, 'No I don't, thats a waste of fuel isn't it?'

Friday, May 9, 2014

Heat soak. Hint: its not a hot relaxing bath...

Names have been changed (repeatedly) to protect the guilty...  
 I have to use my good friend Sam as my example for this one. Its a guy thing, he gets it. Joe called me a few hours ago to ask what happened, what went wrong up at the trailhead. Now, John drives a small sedan- not a big truck- so even the fact that he got up to the trailhead is a testament to his driving skill.  

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Blow-by: not just how you pass someone...

Hey all, Machine Whisperer back again, this story is a bit sad, but its a short one too. Today, I had to do one of those things that I loathe doing: I had to tell a car owner that their engine was only going to go another 20,000 miles at most. Since the car already has 262,000 miles, I don't feel too bad about having to tell them- plus they have a year or more to decide what to do about it.  So how did I come to the conclusion that the engine will only last another 20k miles? I had a few clues to work with...

Friday, May 2, 2014

Motorcycle check-up 101: 7 tips every biker should know.

If you ride, you know that motorcycles are a lot of fun, get great fuel economy and are generally easy to work on. I love them and intend never to live without one again. Even if you don't ride, these tips can be applied to a multitude of other machines as well.

 Knock on wood: in 17 years as a rider, I have never had a serious wreck on a bike and I have never had a mechanical failure on a motorcycle ride. I never intend to. Here are 7 anytime tips to making sure your bike treats you like the safe, reliable, exciting and fun machine it was intended to be.  

Before I jump straight into the mechanics of motorcycles, I need to get a bit honest and brutal about this topic- better me than the pavement, the rocks, or other traffic. A bike only has half the wheels of a car, thus needs double the attention to make sure it is safe. 

 Unlike a car, you do not have extra tires and wheels, nor a safety cage around you for when something fails. If something fails or breaks on a motorcycle, your chance of survival is less than 25% of the same speed crash in a car. Any threats of death or dismemberment must be taken seriously- motorcycles can be dangerous. They can be wonderful liberating fun too. K, safety disclaimer done, on to the meaty bits. 

 Making sure your motorcycle is safe and ready to ride, whether its been parked all winter, or just since last week- means checking everything over thoroughly. This check-over operation is not just good for the bike, it allows you, the rider, to relax and just enjoy the ride knowing you have done all you can to make your machine as safe as it can be- and a relaxed rider is a safer rider. 
Proper adjustment and lubrication of mechanisms and controls are of utmost importance on all machines, but take on a whole new meaning when death or serious injury is the potential result of mechanical failure. A motorcycle cannot have a failure of any major system- tires, wheels, brakes, suspension, controls or engine without serious risk of bodily injury to the rider(s). Take the time before you ride to make sure you have a fun, safe bike experience.

  1) This first and most important check needs to become second nature and happen every time you approach the bike.  
Walk around the machine and check it over- does everything LOOK proper? Anything new? Any changes in appearance? Any fluid leaks on the ground or on the bike itself?  
Follow any leaks back to their source, identify it and monitor the leak. If the leak is oil from the front fork seals, they should be fixed immediately because the oil that leaks out there can ruin the front brakes. 
If your bike is chain drive, check chain tension and condition. A broken chain can kill, can shred a leg, destroy an engine, or at least ruin your ride- maintain it or replace it.  
A chain should never be tight, but never loose either- proper adjustment is critical with drivechains. I use the toe of my boot to check tension quick and easy like. Follow the manufacturers specs, but generally about 1 inch (25mm) of slop is about right for most bikes.  
The chain should always appear oily- if not, lube it. Dry, rusty chains are dangerous.  
Chains with side to side play between the sprockets of more than the width of the chain should be replaced.  
Sprocket teeth should be straight and tapered, not curved or pointy indicating serious wear.  
Change chain and sprockets BEFORE they can fail since failure can be so catastrophic.
 Generally, I lube my chains after I ride, when they are warm and dried out from riding.  
If your bike is belt drive, take an extra second to really carefully check your belt for frayed edges, cracks inside or out; looseness- again, check specs- not too tight; rock or sand damage; and check sprockets for damage or excessive polishing, pitting, cracks at the base of the teeth or out from the center.

  2) Tires, wheels, suspension: Grab the tires/ wheels at the top and push and pull against a firm hand holding the handlebars or frame. Do you feel any movement anywhere side to side?  
Do you feel or hear anything clunking or clicking indicating loose wheel bearings, suspension bushings or other worn parts?  
Are the tires firm and aired up? 
Standing over the seat of the bike and balancing it, hook your elbows under the handlebars and try to lift the bike. Again, do you feel any clicking or clunking indicating worn steering stem bearings or other possible damage in the steering mechanics.  
Do the tires have any bulges, cords showing or splits, cracks, or other signs of physical damage? 
 Are the tires getting bald and smooth?  
Inspecting the rims carefully, do you find any cracks or dents around the edges of the rim or between the spokes, or any loose spokes?  
Answering YES to ANY of these questions is an indication that something needs to be fixed before you ride. Do not ride this bike without repairing it. 
In normal operating situations, the answers to all these questions should be a resounding NO indicating all is well.  
I have seen numerous bikes that have not had recent swingarm bushing lubrication. Not only does this mean the bushings get ruined sooner, but disassembly and rebuilding are more difficult if they go unlubed for years. Check closely on your machine to see if there are grease zerks on the swingarm and suspension pivots and use a high quality grease for them if you find some.

   3) Fluids and engine: Brake fluid, engine oil, coolant if liquid cooled, and rear gearcase fluid if shaft drive are common critical fluids that need to be checked regularly and often. 
I change my engine oil at 2000 miles with high performance synthetics. 
Some bikes also have transmission fluid, two-cycle oil or hydraulic fluids to be checked. 
Know your bike, know your fluids. 
 Never assume fluid levels are safe. 
Since your life is on the line, just check the fluids often.  
Again and again I will say it: the cost of the fluids and the time to change them is nothing in comparison to a life.
Most bikes require high quality and high octane rating fuels. I have never owned a bike that did not specify fresh 91 or higher octane. Use some ethanol (not methanol) in the fuel to clean water out of the fuel tank occasionally.  
Using top quality lubricants- sometimes the manufacturers recommendations- will improve performance, lifespan, reliability, power and efficiency. Remember that the manufacturer is trying to sell machines, not help you maintain yours so you never need to buy another. 
Check the air filter and follow the manufacturers recommendations for cleaning or replacement if it is no longer useable as is.
 Brake fluid on motorcycles and ATV's should be completely flushed and refilled at the beginning of every riding season- once a year. Brake fluids are hydrophilic- meaning they like water and will draw it in from the atmosphere. Once contaminated with water, brake fluids cannot do their job properly and must be removed from service before it can corrode lines or cylinders or cause a situation of weakened braking force. No amount of water is safe in motorcycle brake systems.

   4) Controls: Make sure both brakes, clutch, shifter, choke, and all electric engine and electrical controls operate as expected and perform their task properly. Adjust and lubricate swivels, hinge points, cables, and levers to proper spec or your riding preference, whichever is safer. 
Check all of the lights and switches while the engine is warming up- better you find a blown bulb now than have a cop ruin your day with a defective vehicle ticket.  
When cable operated controls start to feel gummy or sticky when used- its time for a good cleaning. Cable cleaning can be done a number of ways- its a personal choice in some ways as to which method is best. 
I'll write a tech article soon about cable cleaning and relube. Until then you may want to pay a shop to perform that small task.

   5) When you start the engine, listen carefully for any new noises, vibrations, shimmies or rattles. 
 If it sounds or feels different from the last ride somehow, check it over carefully. Assuming everything is okay can be a deadly mistake. As you are riding, pay attention to changes in sound, feel and vibration.
 I have had bolts loosen and found them before they could fail or be lost because I felt a vibration and stopped on the side of the road and fixed it. 
 Also listen and feel closely for changes when you brake, hit rough sections of road or trail, make abrupt maneuvers, or just use the controls.

   6) Let the engine warm up. Until the engine is hot and combustion is happening efficiently, these machines will not operate properly. 
 Expecting a cold engine to run right is asking for trouble- opening the throttle to merge with traffic and having the engine hiccup can be a painful lesson. 
Allow the engine to warm slowly at high idle instead of rapidly heating of one area of the engine while others are still cold that happens from cold loading. 
Once the top of the engine (the cylinder head) is too hot to touch with bare hands, it is ready to ride. Ride gently until the entire engine is up to temp- usually a few miles. Once its warmed up and running smooth, ride it like ya stole it!! 

   7) Get good gear. Ride safe. OK, I admit, I have ridden waaaaay too fast with only shorts and shoes on hot summer days- no one can call me a hypocrite now. I have changed my views on this recently...  
Once again, whats the valuation on a life? A helmet and glasses, jacket, gloves and boots with heavy work pants still didn't stop me from making hamburger out of a section of my ass last week when I opened the throttle on my dirtbike too fast leaving a gravel intersection. I went down hard and slid 25 feet on my ass and hip. I have been walking funny, sleeping only on one side, and wincing when I put on pants in the morning. Guarantee I will wear my chaps from now on. 
The gear costs nothing compared to surgeries, disfigurement, dysfunction and inability to do what you love. The body is tender- take care of it. I have a back protector for trail rides that saved me $100,000 minimum in spinal surgery from a rock I had a hard landing on- pointy and the size of a large grapefruit- right on the lumbar spine. I might not be walking today had that rock made direct contact with my vertebrae. 
Tools are gear too- carry a basic tool kit. A couple common wrenches, a spark plug socket, tire gauge, screwdrivers, pliers, some extra parts like bulbs and fuses... you get the idea. Being stranded sucks.  
Don't forget about raingear and good glasses or goggles as well. Soggy, shivering and cold or trying to get a bug or rock out of your eye, either way, it can make a fun ride a bummer. 

  Heres hoping this helps make all your rides safer, more relaxing, and most importantly more fun for longer. I am all about having serious fun on motorcycles, but I am also all about having a safe reliable vehicle I can enjoy and know it will bring me back home after a ride. 
 Feel free to drop a comment or three if the urge strikes ya...