Lexus RX 350L Failure

| by Ken | in Automotive 1 Comment »

I had a chance to check out the new Lexus RX 350L at the recent local car show.  This is the new stretched variant of the very popular Lexus RX that will fit 3 rows of seats.  Since my parents have a regular length RX, I’m familiar with the interior and how relatively small it is so I’ve been really curious to see how Lexus would go about stretching it and making it fit three rows.  The reason for Lexus to do this is pretty clear: the 3-row non-truck-SUV or CUV (for crossover utility vehicle) segment is wildly popular with cars like the Audi Q7 and the Volvo XC90 and Acura MDX.  In fact, looking around the car show, Lexus and Subaru appear to be the last two major car brands to produce a vehicle to fit this slot.  (Subaru’s Ascent is arriving imminently.)  The Lexus RX 350 (without the “L”) is too small for three rows.  The next largest Lexus is the GX which is undeniably a truck (shares a platform with the 4Runner and is built body-on-frame) which excludes it from this category.  Therefore, Lexus has a hole and stretching their most popular model to fill the hole makes perfect sense.  How did they do?

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Over a year ago I needed to replace my 2001 Audi S4’s front speakers because the driver’s side had gone all kazoo on me.  You know that paper buzzing noise when a speaker dies.  It probably bothers me more than it bothers most people but it drives me bonkers.  Like a fly buzzing around my head.  And when I did that replacement, I discovered that the premium system original equipment Bose speakers were actually paper cone speakers with traditional construction.  And I discovered then that the speakers in this car were frequently failing in this way with a number of people complaining about them and finding ways to replace them.

So it wasn’t at all surprising when the rear door speakers started making the kazoo noise too.  Again, the time when it was most prevalent was on AM newsradio, not on what I would thought would be more challenging metal music.  But as I have come to learn, AM newsradio is actually pretty challenging because it’s all boomy lower midrange – exactly the sweet spot for the Bose speakers.  This time, however, I thought about just disconnecting the speaker and walking away.  Unlike the front door speakers which along with the small tweeter near the door handle are responsible for the sound for the front seat area, the back seat area has both the rear door speakers and the rear deck speakers.  And not only are the rear deck speakers bigger than the rear door speakers but the rear deck speakers fire up towards the glass with sound reflections filling the car whereas the rear door speakers fire at the rear passenger’s feet with seemingly little sound radiating out of the footwell area.

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Audi Instrument Cluster LCD Repair

| by Ken | in Automotive No Comments »

For years now I have been losing rows of pixels from my 2001 Audi S4 instrument cluster LCD display.  At first, probably 8 years ago, I lost a row in the winter and then it came back in the spring.  Then it went away again in the winter and so on.  But then it seemed to be permanently gone with other rows coming and going, either depending on the weather or who knows what else.  But before my repair, I had numerous rows permanently dead.  Here’s what the LCD looked like before the repair (you can see something like 17 rows of pixels are dead):


(Note that all images in this guide link to full size versions of the pictures in their own window.)

Actually, from my research I guess I’m not so bad off.  Many people had many more rows die and when their cars were much younger.  But still, mine has gotten bad enough that I can’t read the song title from the radio or the temperature outside.  So it’s time for a repair.

The challenge in this repair is that the LCD display is not an individual module intended to be replaced but merely a component on a circuit board.  And that circuit board contains smarts like the odometer reading and so forth which makes replacing the whole instrument cluster a real pain.  (Obviously, if it was easy to update the mileage, there’d be rampant abuse.)  In the end, it took a full day and it turned out to be one of the hardest repairs or hacks I’ve done.  Fortunately, there is some really good information out there but I got stuck in a couple of places so I thought I’d do my own write up with my own pictures to hopefully help out anyone else who is going to do this.

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Our 2001 Toyota Camry lit up the “Check Engine” light a few months ago.  We initially made an appointment for service but then I did some research and realized it might be something I could repair myself.

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2001 Toyota Camry Leaks, Part 2

| by Ken | in Automotive No Comments »

I had a wet floor in the 2001 Toyota Camry again.  Seems like every few years I need to do something about it.  But I couldn’t remember what exactly I had done before.  So I Googled “2001 Toyota Camry leaks” and found a very helpful post – that I had written in 2011!  Gotta love it when a Google search sends you to your own blog for info.  And after all, that is the point to a web log – to make public the appropriate parts of a journal.  And a nice perk is that it is easily searchable.

Anyway, what is it I said to do in that post from 4 years ago?  Oh yes, simply clear the drain holes at the sunroof.  The primary problem is that the little drain holes get clogged with debris.  And then all of the water that leaks in from around the sunroof, and there is a surprising amount that leaks in from around the seal, can’t get out the drain holes.  Instead, it fills up the sunroof gutter, which unbelievably is interior to the car and just above the headliner.  Therefore, when it overflows the gutter, the headliner becomes a conduit for water and it empties out at whatever happens to be the lowest point near the top of the windshield.  As I wrote in the original post, this is a design flaw.  A very stupid one, at that.

Okay, so I did what I had recommended then and cleaned out the debris in the drains.  After disassembling the stuff screwed into the roof of the car and peeling back the headliner as I instruct in that post, I cleaned out the drain holes.  I remember now that I had discovered before that the drain holes are hard to see from inside the sunroof hole when it is open.  It is much easier to clean out from the back side with the headliner peeled back and with the clear tube removed.  Then you can just jab in a coat hanger end and poke through the debris.

But this time, there didn’t seem to be that much needed to be cleaned.  I got one side unclogged but the other side was already clear.  And from what I can figure, the car was parked reasonably level at the time the floor filled up with water and if one drain was open, the water in the gutter should have drained into that open one, even if it wasn’t the one closest to where the water was coming in.  So I wondered if the tube was plugged lower down.  I decided to blow out the tube using compressed air.  That seemed to go fine – didn’t appear to be any plugging at all.  Hmmm…

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iPhone Mini Dock DIY

| by Ken | in Automotive, Technology 2 Comments »

I saw a number of so-called “mini-docks” listed on Amazon and eBay for the iPhone.  The problem is that they were too inexpensive!  Well, the real problem is that you can’t get a Apple certified lightning cable for as cheap as these mini-docks were running.  And that means that the lightning connector would not work with the Apple iOS without jailbreaking, etc..  In other words, the mini-docks wouldn’t be an easy charging solution.  And all I wanted was an easy charging solution for my car.

I’ve been using the Waze app more often now and I find that it really burns up the battery in the iPhone.  I can’t really fault it for doing that because it is using all the resources to save me time on my trip – i.e. more battery usage means less time in traffic.  So rather than turn off some of the phone’s features or not use Waze and end up spending more time in traffic, I’ve been hooking the phone in to my car’s lighter socket through a USB charger.  It charges successfully but it makes it harder to position the phone such that I can see the maps while driving.  Since the charging cable goes in the bottom, that means I have do landscape and the landscape mode puts the wire across where the shifter goes and makes it unstable resting in place.  I felt I could come up with a better and more stable solution.

I started off just looking for something to mount the phone to charge it but quickly became enamored with the idea of also getting audio output to my car stereo.  So basically, I wanted an iPhone mini-dock but one that worked with an Apple approved lightning cable.  I came up with a plan that uses basic parts and ends up with a decent looking homemade Apple dock that works with the iPhone’s case on.  And I also skipped using the visible lighter socket for a neater look.

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My 2001 Audi S4 isn’t new but I still love driving it.  And I’m holding off replacing it until a car comes along that meets my current needs.  (But that’s another post.)  For now, I’m happy to drive it and even improve on it.  As I wrote in another post, I’ve been needing to charge my phone in the car more frequently than before.  But I wanted the charging system to be a little nicer looking than the various wires draped across the console and connected to a lighter socket.  As you’ll read below, I was able to install an iPhone mini-dock in my car, and I think it looks pretty good here on the dashboard.


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For a while, I’ve been driving my 2001 Audi S4 with “Air Bag” lit up on the dashboard.  Obviously, it indicated some sort of problem but I wasn’t sure what it meant.  I assumed it involved big money so I figured I would postpone it for a bit and try to not crash in the mean time.

I had the car in for service for something else and asked them to check the codes for the “Air Bag” light.  The shop said that they got two codes – one for the driver’s air bag igniter and another for the control module.  They tried clearing the codes but got a response from the control module of “command not found”.  They said that they couldn’t tell if there really was a problem with the driver’s air bag because when the control module is faulty, sometimes it returns bogus problems.  So we’d need to start with replacing the control module.  Okay, how much?  I’m sorry, what?  $1100 for the module and hundreds more for labor?  Let’s hold off on that!

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I started hearing a bit of a hiss-buzz from the left front door speaker in the Audi S4 (B5). Uh-oh – I know this sound. But why are my speakers blowing now? And why on the AM newsradio station of all things? Well, I guess the medium band of AM makes things more boomy? And apparently, my speakers are just old enough for that to happen.

A little Googling, however, and I discovered that there were a number of people with the same issue.  And I enjoyed reading about the lousy original equipment speakers.  I’ve never been a fan of Bose, considering it always overpriced – sure they have some interesting technological developments, but generally others do it better and for less.  So it was interesting to disassemble the door panel and dig out the speaker to investigate it.  The magnet was huge and heavy which is good and especially impressive considering it is only a 4-inch speaker.  Also, there’s a really nice rubber surround that seals up the speaker to the door well.  But then the speaker itself had a paper cone which just seems like a really poor choice for a car door speaker on a high-end system.

I focused on two forum posts to do my speaker replacement.  I used both one at AudiForum and one at AudiZine.  In both cases, they went with Infinity replacement speakers because they are the only easily available aftermarket speaker that operates at an impedance lower than 4 Ohms.  And since the factory unit is expecting that kind of load, using a speaker that had a higher impedance would have resulted in too low a volume (and possibly wearing out the amplifier which is no spring chicken).  Also, the Infinity speakers are better quality and better sounding speaker than the original.  The only downside to the new Infinity speakers is that they are “2-way” speakers with a tweeter concentric in the bass driver whereas the original speaker was only the bass driver since the tweeter is up near the window.  Theoretically, I might end up with too much tweet compared to the boom but after some thought I decided that the additional tweet wouldn’t be a real problem.  So I didn’t bother modifying the new speaker to clip the tweeter or to remove the connection to the existing separate tweeter.

The AudiForum post recommended cutting up the original speakers and using the frames of the originals as a base for the new ones.  But the AudiZine post managed to do it without cutting up the speakers and I figured that would be both easier and less destructive.  And I was in a rush to get it done on the last nice weather day of the year.  (Snow in the forecast.)  My replacement went pretty well.  I probably should have put in more time to do some silicone sealing but I didn’t have the time (or the silicone).  I did want to reuse the speaker mounts and the rubber surrounds, though – that was of primary importance to getting the sound correct and not ending up with rattling.  So I managed to screw the new speakers into the old mount using the screw in the inner most (deepest) corner of the mount.  The original speakers were thicker so the screws didn’t need to go in as deep.  It takes a little extra effort to tighten the screw down in the original hole.  Then, I marked with a pencil where the flanges of the new speaker were too long to fit in the mount and used pliers to bend the metal there back and forth until it snapped on the line.  With the new speakers fitting in the mount and one screw hole lining up, I drilled a second screw hole in the mount on the only place where a new speaker flange still had enough hole and the mount had enough plastic.  I would have liked to get a third screw in but there just wasn’t space for it.  The mount screwing into the door with the rubber surround will have to be enough to hold it together.  The wire clips fit fine – the smaller one was a little loose so a slight squeeze on the pliers made it just tight enough to hold on.

I replaced only the broken speaker on the driver’s side first and then cranked up the stereo.  My test track was Anthrax’s “In The End”.  And I played it loud.  Woo hoo!  It sounded awesome.  Well, from the driver’s side.  The passenger side now sounded tinny and hollow.  Wait.  That means even before the driver’s speaker broke, it sounded tinny and hollow?  And I never realized it until I got a better speaker in there?  Wow!  I happily replaced the passenger door speaker the same way and repeated the test.  “In The End” sounded awesome.  Hooray!

2001 Toyota Camry Leaks

| by Ken | in Automotive 1 Comment »

The significant other’s Toyota Camry has had a number of leaks through the years.  It’s been really frustrating to get in the car and discover the floor splashes when you step on it.  It has happened periodically for years.  The following is what I did to figure out where the problems were and what I did to fix them.

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