Vectra-C swirl valves (more Vectra-C troubles)

Another few months go by, another thing gets broken. From all cars I’ve owned there has been none so troublesome as the Vectra-C, this time a swirl valve problem appeared. But first, how I came to diagnose this failure…
Some time ago I noticed that going high on revs and then setting the car in neutral gave me intake air leak fault messages. They disappeared again by their own after some minutes driving. Some time later this behavior no longer happened, but introducing new troubles: performance loss and lots of black smoke when tapping the gas. The performance loss could best be described as when you step down the gas pedal, the car would unevenly produce power, then hold back, then produce power again, then hold back again, etc…. and all this in the single event of going from 1500rpm tp 3500rpm. By opening the hood my eyes more or less by accident fell on the swirl valves control bar just laying loose, uncoupled from the swirl valves. Aha!

As I mentioned before, the intake manifold comes with swirl valves which allows to have more swirl in the intake air whenever there is a low amount of air entering the engine. Adding more swirl adds to improve burning the fuel and to lower the emissions. Whenever the engine load goes upwards there is however a higher need of air and then you want as much air inside the engine as needed. In this case there is no longer a need to add more swirl. Now take a look at how this effect is accomplished inside the Vectra-C intake manifold:


On the far right side intake air enters the intake manifold. This air is a combination of compressed air coming from the turbo and exhaust gas re-entering the engine through the EGR system. Both streams of air get mixed inside the intake manifold and is next distributed to each engine cylinder. On the picture above you may notice 8 instead of 4 exhaust holes, and this because we have 2 exhaust holes per cylinder. One of them describes a direct path to the engine cylinder, the other one a more indirect path which makes sure a certain amount of swirl is added to the intake air. The swirl valves are placed inside the more direct pathway and will either block air (when more swirled is needed at low engine load) or allow air to travel through (when a high airflow is needed at high engine load). Also seen in the picture is how each valve is connected to each other by a control bar, so moving only one valve will move all 4. Valve 3 starting from left (when you stand in front of the car facing the engine) is the one which actually is controlled by an actuator. The actuator on its turn is controlled by the ECU. A lot of good information can also be found here

As I said earlier, the control bar on my car had come loose, the ball joints had worn out. There was also a lot of carbon around some of the valve ball joints indicating that some carbon from the EGR system has also build up against the swirl valves.

2014-10-25 12.38.06

I checked the functioning of each valve by moving the ball joints with a screwdriver and there seem to be no issue with them. However, because I’m already at 230k+ km I wanted to have a look inside the manifold to check its state. Is there not too much carbon build up against the valves causing the valves to malfunction and trowing errors codes like the one I saw earlier? So I began working my way down to the point where I could eventually remove the intake manifold. However…! There is so much stuff placed around the intake manifold that you have to remove first: oil seperator, EGR valve, common rail, coolant pipes (yes you have to drain the engine coolant), vacuum lines, air hoses, vacuum box, fuel pump, … And is far as I could see, you also have to remove the toothed belt. That’s not really a trivial task if you ask me. Because I didn’t want to do anything wrong with removing the toothed belt I aborted the plan of removing the intake manifold. The toothed belt needs a replacement anyway in some months from now and so there is still a chance to replace the intake manifold. For now I replaced everything and just glued the ball joints to the control bar and so far it seem to function as expected:

Fingers crossed for how long it holds… Notice (I found it afterwards) that there is also a good description from Opel/Vauxhall TIS that leads you through the entire process of replacing the intake manifold: here.

Make a Raspbian SD card for Raspberry Pi under Ubuntu, the easy way

Fast & easy way to setup the Raspbian OS for Raspberry PI.

  1.  Get a 4Gb or higher SD card
  2. Download Raspbian: here
  3. Insert your SD card in your Ubuntu 14.04 system and open the Disks tools (“schijven” in Dutch)

    Schermafdruk van 2014-07-19 20:17:54

  4. Select your SD Card, next go to the upper right corner and click the ‘More Actions’ button. Next select the ‘Restore Disk Image…” menu option.

    Schermafdruk van 2014-07-19 20:20:10

  5. The menu underneath appears, now select your downloaded image file (unzip it first if it’s zipped):

    Schermafdruk van 2014-07-19 20:20:39

  6. You can ignore the message that tells you that your disk image is smaller than the target device, upon first usage you’ll get the menu option to adjust the disk to the total size of the SD card. Press ‘Start restoring…’ and wait for the process to finish.

That’s it, enjoy your Raspbian Pi  setup!

Vectra C, another tale of misfiring injector 3

My recent change of  job to a company nearby, on cycling distance, caused the Vectra to be a lot less used. But that did not hold back for causing more problems. First there was an ice storm (in the f****** middle of the summer!!!) destroying the roof, hood, front left light, and front window, and than 2 days later there was suddenly this problem with injector 3. The actually problem goes like this: the engine sound is different, you hear it doesn’t run like it should, and when you drive the car it shakes and stutters and it has no power at all. Almost like driving a tractor. I took it to the garage for a readout and there they told me “injector 3 problem”. Costs to fix it: approx. € 450 for a new injector not counting the administration costs and loan of the mechanic…

O Deus

Googling around however revealed that the injector problem is actually very common for the Vectra C. Actually, it’s always injector 3 that goes first! The tale goes that because of poor ventilation on injector 3 and the process of it heating up / cooling down causes the connector to not be so tight anymore which on its own turn causes a bad contact with the injector itself. And we all know what happens when you run current through connectors that do not connect so good anymore… Here is a picture that shows you the straight difference between connectors 2 and 3:

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As you can see, there is a lot more dirt around connector 3 which is on the right side (always start counting connectors/injectors from left to right). To fix it I removed the pink plastic cover surrounding the electric contacts of the connector and next take a screwdriver and press the contacts at both sides together so that they tighten again around the electric contacts inside the injector plug. Probable a short term solution as the problem will most probable return very soon already, but it’s a one minute job so it is okay to get you back on the road again. On Ebay you can find injector wiring remedy kits nowadays for £ 15, not so bad compared to the € 450+ that my car dealer first told me to pay for installing a new injector (which is not faulty at all). Vectra C injector fault remedy kit:


And this brings me again to the question: why is it so hard to display fault codes on the f****** display of the car? Reading out the car is € 25 for a 2 minute job, smells like easy money…

BIOS bypassing, yet again

Well, not so long ago I had to bypass a BIOS password on a government computer. Some google wizardness quickly revealed a lot of laptops actually have some kind of admin/master password which can reverse engineered or brute forced, any way you want. I already told you about the website which could help you for a great deal. If not, maybe Dogbert’s Blog is something for you. He has some nice tools for you to download, including the source code. Great job man!

Dell L502x Optimus support on Ubuntu 14.04

The Dell XPS L502x is a hybrid graphics portable from few years back (2011?). It came with Windows 7 by default and as we all know Optimus technology (switching between the low-end Intel HD3000 graphics engine and mid-end NVIDIA GeForce engine) is working more or less flawless on the Windows OS. On Linux however things have not been so great, users had to fiddle around with the Bumblebee package which eventually would or wouldn’t work, plus if you wanted to use the power profile one had to run the application by adding the ‘optirun’ command (ex: optirun glxspheres).

More recently NVIDIA has done some improvement on their behalf into supporting Optimus by deploying the nvidia-prime package. And as of Ubuntu 14.04 this is also available in the LTS release, however in my experience it was not working… Running the ‘nvidia-settings’ command gave me a “PRIME: is it supported? no”-message. So how did I fix it?

Well first open “Software & updates”, go to the last tab that is about hardware drivers and install the Nouveau display driver. Newt open a terminal and run following commands:

sudo apt-get purge bumblebee*
sudo apt-get purge nvidia-*

Now reboot. When you’re logged in again, open the same drivers tab of the “Software & updates” window you’ve opened previously, and now again install the NVIDIA binary driver (nvidia-331-updates). Afterwards check if all necessary packages have been uinstalled, so run following commands:

sudo apt-get install nvidia-settings
sudo apt-get install nvidia-prime

If all went well during the driver install running both these commands should not install any extra packages. Now reboot again. When logged again, run again ‘nvidia-settings’ in a terminal, now you should see the following message: “PRIME: is it supported? yes”.

Schermafdruk van 2014-04-30 12:21:30

Self Synchronizing Wifi Clock

In a previous serie of articles I showed you my progress in writing a Arduino Due driver for the Adafruit 16×32 LED matrix. Last few days I’ve focussed more on adding support for a simple font and displaying text characters, but actually during this implementation I discovered the solution behind 2 programming mistakes that were still left in the driver code. With this solved, I starting thinking about how to implement a font. After thinking of my own way of implementing this I also looked at how it was done in the original driver for Arduino Uno and actually some of the ideas matched. So I could really easy copy, adjust and implement the code for displaying characters, displaying ‘HELLO’ is now a matter of writing 6 lines of code!

After this I implemented code for reading a I2C compatible ADT7410 temperature sensor and use it for displaying the room temperature. Next I included and implemented code I’d already written before which allowed me to use the Adafruit C3300 (Wifi / SD) shield. The code connects the Arduino to the local WLAN and do NTP request to synchronize a software made clock with the internet. Furthermore it can also read and write data from/to an SD card. The SD card is used to hold the WLAN settings, it does this at boot time and it is only milliseconds later when it will use this data to configure and make the WiFi connection to you LAN. Voila, altogether there we have it: an Arduino based self synchronizing clock!

One year with Ubuntu Linux

If we define a year by it being 365 days long, “one year with Ubuntu Linux” might actually be a lot closer to “one and half years with Ubuntu Linux”, or even “two years with Ubuntu Linux”. The fact is that I can hardly remember when exactly I did my last disk format and re-partitioning. Neither is there something as an exact date at which I switched from Windows to Linux, it was more like a very smooth transition in which I slowly became more used to using Ubuntu and actually started using it for daily use. In the end I don’t regret starting to use Ubuntu, in fact I still use it as my daily operating system. But is it than so much better than Windows? Well, maybe not, I presume it depends on who asks the question. But let me first tell you how I came thus far.

In Windows 7 era I was using the Microsoft OS for daily work.  On the dual partitioned disk there was also a very small partition of my disk which had Ubuntu (12.04?) installed on it but I used it only to try to know Linux a little bit better. Enter Windows 8, after trying Win8 in a virtual machine I wanted to get used to it and changed it in for Windows 7. However, me, as many others, I didn’t like the new way of working in Win8. I remember the first time wanting to shut down the system but not finding the power off button, big mistake Microsoft. And so Ubuntu came to get installed on a bigger partition, and I noticed more or less from this point that Ubuntu had a lot more desktop feel than Win8 had in the beginning. So, I starting using Ubuntu a lot more from this point. The downside of moving to Linux is that a lot of popular software does not have Linux compatible binaries and so the search for replacement software started. In the beginning I had to sometimes plan my work I wanted to do: do some of the stuff on Linux, and for the software that works only on Windows reboot and boot into Win8. But as you move on you get to know the Linux alternatives for Windows software, although not always as good as the real deal in many situations you can perfectly move along. Moving further in time I’m now at a point where it can take weeks or even months before I find myself back in the Windows environment. I no longer depend on it. So you may ask, was it worth all the trouble?

Well, as I said before, Ubuntu really has a nice desktop feeling. Quick launch icons on the left, perfect for not using to much vertical space on wide screens. A kind of start button that after you use it you can just type the name of the application and launch it. The software center allows you to easily install new software. Also my password is being asked which means not everyone is able to install new software on my machine even if I’m already logged in. Dragging a window to the side of the screen will also make it full screen, or half screen depending on which side you dragged it. Oh yes, and it’s free. Although many of these handy features listed here can also be found in the Microsoft OS, this means Ubuntu is not really poorer on the “useful desktop tricks” side of things. Furthermore it is really stable when it comes down to resuming from sleep and also installing updates hardly ever requires a reboot. Updates or always installed while you’re using the machine, it is doing this in the background and so you hardly notice it happening. Remember how it works on Win8, updates often take a lot of time when shutting down or rebooting the machine because MS just can’t update some processes while they’re running.

But there are also some drawbacks. First of all: hardware support. Although 2014 looks to be a very good year for desktop Linux, hardware drivers are not always working as good as their Microsoft alternatives are. For example, on my portable there is no way I can get the seconds display output working. Secondly, software: although there are free alternatives for Photoshop and Autocad, they do not always work as good as the real deal does. Even though I use GIMP every now and then, I’m still a lot more productive in Photoshop than I would be in GIMP. Third: games. Linux and gaming have not the best relationship. It’s only since the efforts made by Valve that now more and more A titles are being ported to Linux. As I said, 2014 might be the year of change for Linux. Quatro: using the terminal. The terminal itself is not so bad, still I can not believe it sometimes that for running some binaries I still need to open a terminal and run the ./whatever command. Or, you need to install something but it involves copying some commands found on the internet into the terminal and execute them before you can actually proceed. Why is it not always just click-and-play as it is with Windows?  Although this can sometimes get really annoying, it’s often not a Ubuntu thing. What can Canonical do about AMD not wanting to support some of their hardware for Linux users? Why would Adobe want to bring Linux compatible binaries of Photoshop if 99% of their users will probable still be on Windows/MAC? Often the lack of support is a commercial thing, so for 2015 I guess we don’t need to expect any miracles to happen as far as Linux support goes. On the other hand, since I first tried Ubuntu I can see slow progress everywhere and knowing that Ubuntu is already a very decent replacement for Windows I think I’ll stay a the Ubuntu side for another year. Maybe two.