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Stage II

Stage II - The Initial “Tune Up”

Of course, before going too far, I needed to do a basic “tune up” on the vehicle.  It was clear that routine maintenance had not been a high priority of the previous owner(s).   The first thing I decided was that all the fluids would have to be replaced.  The first thing I did was change the oil and oil filter.  I don’t think maintaining the oil level was critical to the former owner.  I removed about three quarts of oil from the car.  The oil was old for sure but not burnt and showed no signs of metal.  That alone made me feel pretty good; these small block Chevy engines are pretty durable pieces provided they get a modicum of lubrication.  I replaced it with a Fram TG-30 “Tough Guard” filter and 5 quarts of Castrol High Mileage Semi-Synthetic 5W-30 oil.  The oil/filter ran me 19.99 for the oil and 3.99 for the filter at my local Auto Zone. 

I had forgotten what a pain it was to change the transmission fluid on a TH-700R4 transmission since for some reason that has always escaped me General Motors didn’t see fit to put a drain plug on the pan.  The transmission fluid was in poor condition and in bad need of changing (transmission fluid is red, isn’t it?).  Fortunately, while the General forgot a drain plug, they did remember to make these units pretty tough and quite tolerant of old fluid.  The O-ring on the filter stuck in the transmission body and was a bit of a challenge to extricate, but it eventually came out.  I put in a new filter, replaced the gasket and added five quarts of basic Dextron II compatible transmission fluid.  Again, everything was available at Auto Zone for 30.00.  Since just dropping the pan doesn’t get rid of all the fluid (there is a bunch in the torque converter), the plan was to run the car a couple hundred miles and do it all again.  When I change the fluid again, my plan was to get a new pan that comes with a drain plug from someplace like Summit Racing!

Normally I wouldn’t be too concerned about the rear end, but I was a little concerned about the presence of what appeared to be rear differential lube on the rear axle and torque arm.  I decided that I needed to change the rear end lube and put on a new gasket.  This is actually an easy job other than the smell of the fluid.  I got a new gasket at Auto Zone (FELPRO RDS55702 - 3.99) and used two quarts of Royal Purple 75W-90 full synthetic gear oil I had already in the inventory.  To be fair, if you had to go and buy the stuff it would have been 40.00.  Just as an aside, there are several high quality synthetic rear end lube that cost a lot less.

I was very pleased to find a K&N Filter Charger air cleaner.  It looked like it hadn’t been serviced in years however.  I have had very good experiences with K&N products and already had both K&N Filter Cleaner and K&N Filter Oil on the shelf.  I thoroughly cleaned, dried and oiled the filter and put it back in service.  I wouldn’t run out and buy an expensive piece like this right off the bat (the KN-1450 is about a 40 dollar part) but instead would use a standard Fram C327 (about 6 bucks).  I also replaced the breather element (Az BF-3303 - 3.09) and PCV (Az PCV-1225 2.49). 

The fuel filter was easy to get to.  On this model, the fuel filter is an inline filter located just forward of the rear axle on the driver’s side.  Of course, there was a decent amount of rust on the connections so I sprayed it down with penetrating oil to ease the removal.  One thing to be aware of is that there are small o-rings on the fuel lines where they attach to the filter.  I didn’t notice that one of these popped off while I was removing the filter.  Without the o-ring in place the outlet leaked badly.  It was a little frustrating but an easy fix to replace it.  Be prepared to get some gasoline on you for sure even if you do relieve the fuel system pressure.  I replaced it with a Fram G3727 (14.99 at Auto Zone).

I decided I need to change to coolant.  The coolant in the overfill tank looked horrible.  I needed two gallons of ethylene glycol based coolant (12.99/gallon at Auto Zone – 7.99 after a five dollar rebate).  The upper radiator hose appeared to be brand new (it still had the tag on it) but I had some concerns about the lower hose and decided to replace it with a DAYCO D71131 (12.99 at Auto Zone).  This is another job where simply draining the radiator doesn’t quite remove all the coolant.  Just like with the transmission, I will drive the car a couple hundred miles and repeat the process.  At the same time I also replaced the thermostat.  It turns out that a previous owner had a 170 degree thermostat installed.  The owner’s manual calls for a 195. 

The serpentine belt looked fairly new and showed no signs of excessive wear.  I decided that while I should replace it, there was no critical need to do it immediately.  This was probably a mistake since modern serpentine belts can look mighty good right up to the point where they fail.  Considering that this belt is driven by the crank and runs the water pump, power steering, alternator, air pump and air conditioner, it doesn’t take too much imagination to see what a critical piece it is.  I finally did replace the belt in April 2012 paying 27.99 for a Duralast PN 945K6.  Serpentine belts are often described by the length and number of ribs.  In this case the belt is 94.5 inches long and has 6 ribs.  Both my manuals incorrectly indicated how to change the belt.  Both said to use a breaker bar and the tensioner pulley bolt.  Of course all that did was loosen the pulley!  There is a ½ inch drive recess on the top section of the tensioner (where the spring is) that is used to relieve the tension and remove the belt.  Once installed, the tensioner worked beautifully.  Since the old belt looked ok, I put in it in the storage area in the back of the car just in case.  I suspect there is a better chance I will give it to another Camaro owner I find broke down on the side of the road before I use it myself.

Since I had no idea as to the age of the plugs, I replaced them with CR45TS A/C Delco plugs (8 @ 2.09).  The wires looked good so I saw no reason to change them out during the initial tune up.  Naturally changing the plugs was a challenge.  I decided to work down the left bank (1-3-5-7) first.  While there are some AIR system tubes in the way, it was relatively easy to change the number 1 and 3 plugs.  For 5 and 7 I saw no way to get to them except from under the car.  I jacked the left side up and put it on a jack stand and removed the tire.  For some reason I decided to do the number 7 plug first.  It was fairly easy to get at and change.  The wire came off very easily and for good reason; the end that attached to the plug had become elongated.  What that meant was that the wire was basically being held on my tension.  It also meant a trip back to Auto Zone for a new set of Bosch 09672 Wires (36.00).  The great thing about these wires is that they are “custom” for the application and all fit perfectly.  After returning from the store I changed the wires for plugs 1 and 3 and was able to reach plug 5 with only some minor contortion.  Much to my surprise it was quite easy to change the right bank.  Plugs 2 and 4 were easily reached from the top and after jacking up the right side plugs 6 and 8 were a snap.  Of course I had to remove the air cleaner assembly to reach the distributor.  I am glad I changed the old plugs as they all had some slight problem.  Most of the plugs had a gap that had grown to 0.042 – 0.045 (recommended is 0.035).  One plug had somehow closed to almost no gap.  The car sounded much better with the fresh wires and fresh correctly gapped plugs.

The windshield wipers were old and in need of replacement.  A pair of Duralast DL-18 blades set me back 18.00 at Auto Zone.  The wipers are extremely easy to change of this particular model.

As I said a little earlier, it was clear to me that the previous owner(s) of the vehicle wasn’t too concerned about routine service and maintenance of the vehicle.  My initial “tune up” can be summarized as:

Oil/Filter Service                      24.00
Transmission Service               30.00
Rear End Service                     44.00
Breather/PCV/Air Filter          12.00
Fuel Filter                                15.00
Radiator Hose/Coolant            29.00
Serpentine Belt                        28.00
Plugs/Wires                             53.00
Wipers                                     18.00

Total Stage II                       253.00

I’m not really sure this is a cost of restoring the car as it really all was routine maintenance.  Since I am keeping a total cost record, I will add this into the total.

I think it is critical to complete Stage II before going any further.  If you discover something really bad during this stage, you really haven’t put too much into the job.  Remember, you have no idea when the last time any of this "routine" service was done on the vehicle.  It's a shame you can't do all this before actually purchasing the vehicle but I seriously doubt you'd find too many sellers who would go along with something like that!
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