Technobabble lead

Technobabble: Irvine Syndrome
How the Irvine company, the Emperor of Japan, and your bumpstop thumping street machine blew up my girlfriend’s Sil80.

by Dave Coleman

Irvine, California is a master-planned city. By skipping the traditional century-long evolution from cow path to foot path to wagon path to paved and gridlocked road network, the planners of this most modern of cities were able to plan, from scratch, a network of wide boulevards and median-split streets that prevent gridlock while simultaneously preventing you from ever getting where you want to go. Irvine is an impenetrable web of No-U-Turn, No-Left-Turn and No-Parking signs connected with a network of east/west arteries that spontaneously veer north/south and north/south boulevards that end up going east/west, all in an effort to throw you off the scent of your destination.

The dysfunctional design of this master-planned city used to baffle me. The cows that once wandered the Massachusetts fields that would one day become Boston had neither the cognitive ability nor the forth-dimensional flexibility to predict the future needs of commuters who would follow the roads they inadvertently surveyed with their hooves. But Irvine’s planners, presumably, were smart enough not to piss into and drink out of the same puddle simultaneously. They probably knew how to drive. They probably ate in restaurants, and got to those restaurants in automobiles. How could they have miscalculated so egregiously?

Then, 15 minutes into my attempt to park in a master-planned shopping center so I could dine during my appointed lunch hour, it all clicked. Irvine was planned and executed brilliantly and without flaw. The city works like clockwork and serves its function more perfectly than any city in the free world. My mistake, all these years, was in assuming its function was to make life easy for those who live and/or are unfortunate enough to work there.

 Technobabble tokyo sucks like irvine    
 Invade this, bitches!    

Tokyo, I have read, is also a master-planned city. I had always assumed Tokyo was an impenetrable maze simply because I was a baka gaijin, and couldn’t read anything. Because of my illiteracy, it wasn’t until about my eighth trip to Godzilla’s sandbox that I realized there were no street signs. Not only are there no two parallel streets in the entire city, but all except the largest and most traveled are completely anonymous.

The master plan for Tokyo is not convenient navigation for its 13 million inhabitants, but protection for the one inhabitant at its center. Tokyo’s maze was designed centuries ago specifically to be impenetrable to invaders and thus provide protection for the Emperor. Likewise, the undersized parking lots anywhere in Irvine where you might eat lunch were designed not for you and your growling stomach, and not for the businesses trying to profit from feeding you, but to maximize the profit of the Irvine company, which leases the space to those businesses. Twenty parking spaces take the same amount of space as a Color-Me-Mine franchise, and that lease pays the Irvine company far more money than twenty more customers at The Great Steak and Potato Company will.

There is a point coming, eventually, about blowing up an SR20 on the way to Laguna Seca, just be patient…

If you follow the dollars in the most shortsighted way possible, you’ll find the source of nearly any bad design. Why is it that you can never find a good performance suspension package with perfectly matched springs, dampers and anti-roll bars? Simple economics. Spring companies want to sell springs, and most of their customers want to spend $250 on springs now, and maybe spring for the $600 shocks later, and someday possibly get around to the $300 of bars. If you offer a $1200 package with all three, nobody will buy it.

The springs, then, have to be designed to work with the stock shocks, which makes them too soft. They also have to be designed to sit too low, with insufficient travel, or the mouth breathers will take their dollars to the guy selling the lowest springs.

The shocks could be designed to try and compensate for this poor spring design, but the shock company needs their shocks to work with stock springs too, since replacement parts are where the money is in the shock business.

Nothing ever works right because parts aren’t designed to work, they’re designed to sell.
And so it is that I ended up on the side of the freeway pouring water into my girlfriend’s dry Koyo radiator and watching it shoot back out in an angry column of steam.

Technobabble SR20 melted knock sensorThe car, an SR-powered S13, was converted to S14 SR power by the previous owner. He had followed, ironically, my own Project Silvia in Sport Compact Car, and had chosen the Koyo radiator and Flex-a-Lite fans based on my recommendation. He had them installed by a careless shop, though, and eventually the engine overheated so severely that the rings failed, the coils melted into the head, and the knock sensor liquefied and dripped down the side of the block.

After picking it up as a project, we found several reasons for the failure. For example, the Flex-a-Lite fan controller he used was designed to be triggered by a temperature probe jammed between the fins of the radiator. But the nimrods who installed it left the probe was sitting next to the radiator where it would never get hot enough to turn the fans on. There was also the cracked water line on the turbo that continually vented coolant and turned it to steam before a leak could be detected.

In the process of building and installing a new SR20, we found at least four causes for the failure, and in the 5,000 miles between firing the engine for the first time and its untimely demise on the road to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, it never hinted that there was a fifth. Well, ok, it hinted… Sarah said it “smelled hot,” but it never smelled like coolant, showed no signs of leaking, and never ran hot, as far as we could tell.

Shortsightedness and profitability were the cause once again.

We never saw it run hot because the temperature gauge never gives you any warning when things are about to get hot. Engine temperature normally fluctuates with load and weather conditions. Your average customer is too dimwitted to undersand this, though, and Nissan would lose countless millions diagnosing perfectly functional cooling systems and explaining the nature of water-cooled internal combustion engines to every nervous customer who saw the needle move. So they dumbed down all their temperature gauges so they don’t move between about 170 F and 230 F. 

Unfortunately, SR20 headgaskets pop at 231 F.


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Tuesday, December 08, 2009 2:53 AM
What was the actual root cause of the HG failure?
Dave Coleman
Dave Colemanlink
Monday, December 14, 2009 7:41 PM
Turns out the radiator cap neck on the Koyo Radiator was distorted. Its really thin and the top lip of the neck got stretched/tweaked. As a result, the radiator cap wasn't holding as much pressure (the relief valve spring wasn't pre-loaded as much) and the seal around the top of the cap wasn't very good, so when the pressure relief did blow, it would drool some water out the cap instead of going into the overflow tank.

Over a few weeks, this would slowly pump out coolant, but driving around town didn't load the engine enough for this problem to reveal itself. As soon as she headed up the grapevine with a half-full cooling system, though... Boom!

Ironically, about 1 year earlier, she did exactly the same thing with my SE-R, which had an undiagnosed damaged head gasket from a day of 100-degree flogging at Buttonwillow, and had been suriving around-town driving for a couple of weeks.

Both head gaskets failed within 5 miles of each other. Both times we were driving to a track day at Laguna Seca. Both failures would have been prevented if I had checked the coolant that week...
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 8:52 AM
So, the moral of the story is that SR20's suck ?

I think I lost the whole meaning of the story ?

Is it check your car before a road trip ? You could be like Dan, and have an 800 point checklist before you get in the car.
yo vanilla
yo vanillalink
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 9:34 AM
I think the moral of the story is that a master plan works best for the master of the plan. And beware when you buy someone else's master plan, er, modded car!
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 10:14 AM
"So they dumbed down all their temperature gauges so they don’t move between about 170 F and 230 F"

this is one thing i hate. i understand why they do it, and i totally agree with their motivations for doing that, but if people weren't so stupid maybe we could have accurate gauges. i had my jetta's engine pretty hot once, meaning steam comming from the edges of the hood, and the temp gauge was dead center in the normal. the only accurate temp gauges i've seen are on older cars, like pre 1990, and when i read the owners manual (because i was REALLY bored in a traffic jam) it said "it is normal for the temperature gauge to read at the top of the (huge) normal range during hot weather, your cooling system is functioning properly." why don't people read those things? *says the guy who owned this vehical for 6 years and didn't read the manual for the first 4*
Dave Coleman
Dave Colemanlink
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 10:28 AM
The moral of the story is that everything sucks for a reason, but its seldom the reason you think.

The latest trend in Japanese cars, by the way, is not to bother having a temperature gauge at all. Just a warning light. Really sucks if you have enough mechanical empathy to stay off boost on a cold engine...
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 12:46 PM
"Your average customer is too dimwitted to understand this..."

This remark pretty much sums up my life as a professional tech.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 3:49 PM
yeah my dad has owned/operated an appliance repair business for years, and growing up and i would hlep out and i don't know how many times he had to tell people "don't cram so much into this washer, it'll keep breaking" and they say "but the salesmen told me it could wash anything no problem" and he'd say something back like "and his paycheck is funded by people buying washers. mine is funded by you breaking stuff, and here i am."
teh E36 M3
teh E36 M3link
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 7:05 PM
Or, with all this higher knowledge you have, you could have purchased an operational temperature gauge instead of bitching about the company that designed an appliance, not a race car.

I do agree with you on all points, except that none of us are victims here. Yup, for 99.9% of drivers a temp gauge that shows N is perfect. If it moved, it would freak them out. Most of us know that the temp moves, and those who are smart, get auxiliary gauges to really get a grip on what is happening in their engine compartment. Those who are REALLY smart pay attention to them. That's not to say I haven't blatently ignored warning signs (go overheated 4age and drive another 25 miles!), but at least I recognized they were there and made an informed, stupid decision.
Dave Coleman
Dave Colemanlink
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 7:39 PM
Yea, its got a temperature gauge now! So, what do I have to purchase to fix Irvine?
Eric Hsu
Eric Hsulink
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 10:07 PM
BTW I think in imperial times Tokyo was planned, but in modern times it wasn't planned for shit. I remember my dad telling me in the 70's that Japanese engineers would come and visit Caltrans to learn highway planning, traffic control and earthquake proofing. If you asked me the Japanese fucked up and came to the wrong people (Caltrans) for traffic control. Maybe that's why Tokyo traffic is JACKED on the Shuto at 6pm.
teh E36 M3
teh E36 M3link
Wednesday, December 16, 2009 4:29 AM
A Cat D90.
Dave Coleman
Dave Colemanlink
Wednesday, December 16, 2009 11:55 AM
A D9 would fix it!

Eric, I'm guessing the roads are still layed out in largely their Imperial disorder, and I'm guessing the lack of street names is also an old, old tradition. I don't actually KNOW any of this, though. I do know Sapporro is layed out on a square grid with street names and all. Its practically Salt Lake City up there..
teh E36 M3
teh E36 M3link
Wednesday, December 16, 2009 3:40 PM
D9, right. I added the zero as a factor of ten. Might need a few to straighten Irvine out. Tokyo is a lost cause except for Chu Hi and mass transport. And backstreet Yakitori (sp?). Somehow it doesn't feel as gay drinking Smirnoff Ice equivalent in Japan.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009 5:02 PM
I think that a good aftermarket temp gauge with an adjustable, flashing warning light and beeping temp setting, should be standard equipment on all modified cars. That temp gauge shock has happened to me on long drives where you zone out on the road and forget to check while going up a 10 mile incline on a 100 degree day with the A/C blasting.

As far as Tokyo goes, I know why it's the way it is. They are suffering the effects of the transition from donkey to car. People have had their homes there for hundreds of years and as the population grew they made modernizations and adjustments incrementally. Tokyo's layout still resembles the original plans, unlike NY where the grid layout came early in the city's history. So unless Tokyo did the same early in its history, it would have become impossible after the the population grew substantial to change it into a grid. Where were all those people going to live while you demolish all their houses to lay down a grid? How would you compensate everyone? With the property prices in Tokyo the way they are, I don't see any big eminent domain projects in its future.

But I actually like the way Tokyo is. It would not have the same feeling if it was like NY, where you can see 50 blocks down a street. It would sort of lose it's charm. But that's probably because I only visit there and don't have to turn into a canned sardine twice a day.
Sunday, December 20, 2009 6:56 AM
"She did the same thing with my SE-R?" Hmm...with the Koyo and half water, half 50/50 mix and Water Wetter, the SE-R never sees temps much above 185 deg F even on the hottest summer days at the track with 60 minutes of 6000+ rpm flogging :)

Maybe it's not an SR20 problem ;)
Sunday, December 20, 2009 7:18 AM
Btw noticed the same thing with my Koyo - I'd take off the cap and see coolant had weeped into the area between the metal and gasket. I wasn't really losing any coolant that I could measure but I also didn't have a turbo in the picture.

I didn't like the way a stock (and very used) Nissan cap fit on the neck, it's thinner material compared to the plastic neck of the stock radiator, so I got another NISMO cap and put it on there - thicker gasket on the cap, besides being new. No leaks, but I can easily see how the original cap would have leaked slowly.

Irvine I can't help you other than to say go visit Portland, OR where I grew up. At least the City still follows the same grid it was laid down on, and I am pretty sure they had cows, too, maybe they just walked straighter... ;)

Btw her car looks really nice, it's come a long way (other than this small problem).
Dave Coleman
Dave Colemanlink
Sunday, December 20, 2009 7:33 AM
What, Steve, you think a stock, 150,000-mile radiator full of rusty water behind an A/C condenser isn't enough for a 108-degree track day?
Monday, December 21, 2009 5:50 AM
Well, maybe enough for ONE track day Dave :)

I can't really take the preventative maintenance high ground here either, I have terminal rod knock on my second B13 (black, '91) which I bought in July. Another rust-free CA car with very similar upgrades. Oil level and appearance was fine, I drove it about 500 miles in summer, and next time I checked the oil it looked like gray piss-water and was down a full quart. Lesson learned: change the oil right away when you buy a car. I changed it then, but the damage was done, now I have to replace the original motor with only 104k on it. Live and learn...or not, given how they wired up her fans!

Good news is following your advice your old SE-R, it hasn't had any cooling or oil temp issues, no problems at all despite some pretty long flogging on hot days, it's running better than ever today :D I did finally explode the last clutch for some reason (age most likely) and put a JWT/B15 setup in from GregV, but other than that the car has been incredibly reliable.

I partly blame that for my false sense of ease and getting burnt on the second one's motor, so in a sense it is the Emperor's, Irvine's, and your fault ;)
Saturday, December 26, 2009 7:54 PM
hey Dave, it's great to see that you are still writing. I miss sport compact car magazine, it was the best car mag out there. Great to see the rally beater and project silvia alive and kick'n (sorta). I always appreciated the honesty, criticism, and experiences you, and the others, shared with the readers in the pages of scc. All the best to you in all your endeavours in the new year.
Thursday, January 07, 2010 11:06 AM
Hey at least you didn't get some jerk (probably in a fart-canned Civic) kindly drain your oil for you and never refill the crankcase. My SR20 threw a rod through the block on my way to work because there was no oil in the engine (and no oil slick on the ground where it parked). Though between the leaking and worn out water pump, the non-shrouded electric fan, and the leaking turbo lines, I probably would have needed a headgasket too. So maybe the moral of the story is to not buy an SR20 S13 Sil-Eighty? Because your girlfriend's car is pretty much the same thing I bought for myself 2 years ago. I've since replaced most of the drivetrain. So much for a bargain huh?
Thursday, February 04, 2010 12:20 PM
moral of the story: SRs overeat. we knew this already. next mod should be an IC spraybar mounted to the radiator? simple dry kit to lower intake temps? time to start thinking out of the box. what about rigging an injector cooling fan that rarely switches on..... oh wait Nissan already failed at that. lol
Thursday, May 06, 2010 7:49 PM
Yep......I was living in South Texas in 2004 when i did my S13 SR Swap. At the time everybody was saying to use a Koyo with a Flex A Lite. Mine started overheating in 105 degree weather (with the AC off) and luckily my Defi gauges with a warning shift light were keeping me....warned.

I eventually got together with another fellow Mech Engr and Kevin from C&R radiators (now at Enjuku racing) and did a radiator and fan comparison test utilizing a multichannel thermocouple data acq system, a digital airflow meter, and an infared thermometer. We discoved the following:
1.) The FAL fans were poo poo becuase the shrouding just sucked on those things.
2.) Most aftermarket fan controllers are pretty unreliable. We did find an HKS one that worked great though although installing it was challenging with no engrish instructions.
3.) The best fan choices (measured CFM installed on the vehicle) were either the stock mech fan WITH THE STOCK SHROUD, or dual SPAL fans mounted behind the radiator that covered almost the entire thing.
4.) Koyo radiators have very weak cap necks (horribly weak ....as you discovered)
5.) Simple ducting goes a very long way! We rigged up cardboard radiator cooling panels and sealed the radiator really good for a HUGE difference in cooling efficiency.
6.) The best radiator we found was a custom C&R double pass. The second best was a cheapo brass radiator followed by aluminum Koyo followed by stock.

I eventually ran the C&R dual pass with the SPAL fans on my car and it was so good at cooling that in driving on the highway the fans would never come on regardless of how hot it got. The fans would only come on in gridlocked stop and go traffic on the hottest of days and even then would spend more time cycled off than on. Awesome setup! Nothing like Engineering to determine the real solution... I feel for ya Coleman!
Jimmy da Hatt
Jimmy da Hattlink
Thursday, December 16, 2010 5:16 PM
Actually, Tokyo [nee Edo] was built to protect the Shogun. The Emperor lived in Kyoto.
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