Monday, March 31, 2008

The Lexus Lives!

or: A Tale of Two Alternators (okay, three, really, maybe four)

I spent the day working on the Lexus. I went to O'reilly Auto Parts where I first asked if they had an alternator for a 1994 Lexus LS400. Annie checked; they didn't have one, but another store did and they could get it to this store in about an hour. So I went ahead and placed the order, also picking up a thermostat and its associated O-ring (the thermostat wasn't bad, but I figured I'd go ahead & replace it since I was in there) as well as the O-ring for the PS reservoir - she picked the right diameter, although it looked a little thick - and some coolant and PS fluid. Then I went to breakfast with my lovely wife and we picked up some Goo-Gone (to clean some of the old, leaked PS fluid that was gunked up with dirt & stuff, making things a nice mess (isn't that an oxymoron?) under the hood). (Wait: maybe "oxymoron" is what dumb people breath... sorry, I can't help it). Oh, and we got some Publix diet sodas, too (they're sweetened with Splenda).

Anyway, I stopped by O'reilly on the way home, and they had the alternator in. On the way out the door I noticed that while everything else looked right, the plug on the alternator was circular, and the one I'd pulled off had an oval plug. Went back to the counter, and Annie was helping another customer, so Charlie compared the two, went online, called around, finally determined that the alternator I'd pulled off my 94 LS400 was a 95 model. The only thing I can figure is that the original owner (before my dad bought the car in 97) must have had an issue with the alternator, had it fixed under warrantee, and the Lexus place must have only had a 95 model alternator in stock, so they modified the connector to use the 95-style plug. (I could have adapted it if they'd had a plug in stock to fit the round connector, but I didn't bother mentioning that since they'd found a suitable model that could be at the store in another 1.5 hours.)

So I went home and started working on the stuff I did have, very quickly tearing the O-ring when trying to install the PS reservoir. I then took the new one (now torn) to Auto Zone and asked if they had one the same diameter but not quite as thick, which they did. I bought two, just in case (but I only had to use one). Installing the PS reservoir was much more frustrating and difficult than removing it was... I eventually even pulled off the radiator fan (the mechanical one; the LS400 is interesting: it has one large fan on the interior of the radiator that's mechanically driven as well as a pair of electric fans on the outside of the radiator) as well as loosening the PS pump in order to slide it forward to be able to get the reservoir back on, and even then it was still difficult. The thermostat was a breeze. After all that, I called O'reilly, and the manager didn't know what all had happened, but eventually figured it out, and, yes, they had the part in, and Charlie said it was the same as the core (old one) I'd left at the store. So I went and picked it up, and it was the right part.

I installed the alternator (that was relatively painless, too; then again, I did have the fan off as well as all the other stuff), put the PS pump pulley back on, reinstalled the serpentine belt (which was much easier with the fan off), reinstalled the fan, put fluids in everything (oh, I had already spent some time cleaning things with the Goo-Gone, using the entire bottle in the process), and attached the battery jumper and started the car. No "charging system" light on the dash, hooray! And no apparent leaks. Now, the LS400 has a strange coolant fill procedure, but I did follow it. Hopefully there isn't any air in the PS system, although I did get some bubbles in the reservoir at first.

After all that, I reinstalled the radiator shroud (complete with super-gluing the broken parts - I hope it stays!), reinstalled the underneath engine shield, reinstalled the air intake extension, and eventually even worked on the seat belt, which previously didn't like to tension itself (retract) - now it's better, perhaps even too tight, and while still not perfect (it would have been better to replace the retractor, but I didn't have a spare one handy), it's an improvement.

I just wish the car wasn't boring to drive. Oh well, at least we have two functional vehicles now! (And I have very sore fingers, a sore back from all the bending, dirty fingernails, sore arms...)

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