And a short chronicle of his recent years
(A quick note to those who aren’t in the know, Irbe is my ’92 4Runner that I’ve had since 2006. I love him.)
Let’s start at the beginning. A trip to The Pinnacles outside of Ridgecrest, CA in Dec. 2010 led to some amazing photo opportunities, but also was the start of a slow decline in Irbe’s health. A problem that was equally saddening and terrifying because of the distance I was from home. The drive out to The Pinnacles is at best three hours, and when your 4Runner is creating strange exhaust tones and power is completely absent over 2800 RPM, it takes a lot longer. These aforementioned issues would eventually lead to multiple trips to Toyota of Pasadena, but never a permanent and reliable diagnosis. One issue would get resolved, another would pop up, a new symptom would be ignored, and then a resolved issue would come back. None of these would ever be enough to make me consider another car, and never enough to knock Irbe down permanently. Always just little problems, adding up to what I was sure would eventually be a devastating breakdown.
The next year Irbe supplied the transportation for trips through California and Nevada, including Yosemite, CA, Bodie, NV, Virgina City, NV and up to his hometown (and mine) of Reno, NV. All the while, his small little quirks gnawed at the back of my mind, reminding me again and again that there was a large chance that his internal mechanics were failing. But he always pushed through, always got us home safe, always left us smiling at his character and reliability.
The later part of 2011 and the first bit of 2012 seemed to be a lull in Irbe’s issues. Not too much happened, and I silently told myself over and over again that if I ignored his issues they’d just heal themselves. Cause he’s just that fucking bad ass. “GO IRBE!”, I’d yell, cheering him on as he continued to haul me to Disneyland over and over again, up and down Angeles Crest Highway just for photos and hikes, and every day he’d get me to NWE as reliably as he had the last four years before that. (And Roadway a year before that!)
The Deathly Yosemite Gamble
On Feb. 18, 2012 my buddy and I decided to make a road trip out of a long weekend and drive through Death Valley, CA, up to Reno, NV, down around Lake Tahoe, into Yosemite. After the trip was over, I got back home and imported my photos from the trip into Aperture, naming the trip “The Deathly Yosemite Gamble”; mainly as a play on the names of the destinations we hit, but also because it was a huge gamble on my part. I knew that the trip was a hard one to make, even if it wasn’t for the incredible distance Irbe would end up traveling.
Irbe would end up traveling thousands of miles, a great majority of those miles up steep grades, slippery surfaces, and through every kind of weather you can imagine. He even raced a pair of incredibly quick Boy Scouts on bikes through Titus Canyon and into “scout legend”. And although he was able to do all of this and bring us home safely, it was obvious to me from the second that we left Death Valley and the remainder of the trip through the Sierras and into Yosemite that he had hit a point that these trips were no longer possible. He had broken something, and it wasn’t something that I would be able to ignore any longer. . .
I say that. . . but. . .
I did ignore it.
And in an act of defiance against the universe that was obviously the cause of all of Irbe’s woes, I decided to rush away for my birthday with my two adventuring buddies to tackle yet another Yosemite trip. I pushed Irbe another thousand miles, and as luck would have it, he performed better than he had in years. I think he was just feeling generous and gave me that bit of luck as a birthday present. He’s just so nice!
And with the last great trip of Irbe over, we come to 2013. The next three trips were performed with either rental cars or friends rides. Great trips all of them, but with Irbe not in the picture it just wasn’t the same. Irbe’s been confined to only the work commute and one or two emergency trips to Disneyland and a single trip to LAX that was required to see off one of my adventuring buddies. Every time I open my garage door I die a little inside, because I know that there is a check engine light now waiting for me when ever I start up Irbe on cold mornings. A little silent orange reminder that there is something critically wrong with my beloved 4Runner. And the feeling of helplessness is nearly impossible to cope with. It stops me in my tracks when I see his headlights, when I turn the ignition key, when I hear his V6 throbbing arrhythmically. And while I don’t believe I’m MacGyver by any stretch I do believe that I have a bit of a talent for fixing things. I always wonder how people that have zero affinity towards DIY projects feel when something they love or rely upon is broken or in decline.
But that’s just the thing. I DO have an affinity towards DIY projects. And even if Toyota refused to troubleshoot (Toyota just told me to replace the entire engine. $8,000. Yup. Not my style, Toyota. Not my style.), why couldn’t I? Well... besides the proper tools and space to do it, I definitely have the drive and motivation! And I have amazing friends too. So I went to my coworker and friend Paul. And after weeks of planning, prepping, and procrastination, we had a loose plan as to what to do with Irbe.
The Toyota 3VZ・E Engine - My Biggest Fear Since 2002
Two By Two, Hands of Blue
Repairs on Irbe started in mid-February almost a year to the day (367 days later in fact) since Irbe took us to Death Valley. The removal of engine parts is surprisingly easy. It’s the labeling and the categorizing that takes time. But it’s sooo worth it in the end. First to come off is the fan and the air intake body. After the oil and coolant are drained of course... Also, don’t ever work on anything with PT without gloves. He’s a stickler for gloves.
But even if removing parts is easy, the diagnosis sometimes isn’t. See, the only thing that we could point our finger at as to why Irbe’s performance was slowly bleeding away was no compression in the first cylinder. Unfortunately we found that there was 5 pounds of pressure in cylinders one AND six. Two through five? 170 pounds. This is a big issue. Also... we couldn’t test the piston rings because we found the valves were so burnt out that they leaked too! Thankfully, Paul was ingenious enough to homebrew a solution for that utilizing the original head bolts, a stainless steel slab of metal, and a tap & die set up. It turned that all the pistons rings were in good condition! ONWARD WITH THE VALVE JOB!!!
And if anybody else is in the market for a great valve job, I can not suggest Sun Valley Auto Parts any higher. The owner is incredibly knowledgable and more than willing to make sure that everyone understands what is happening and how it happens. Also, the end cost was half the price as other machine shops I called for quotes. The job was done in a couple of days, and they did an amazing job!
Sun Valley Auto Parts and Machine Shop
8212 Sunland Blvd.
Sun Valley, Ca 91352
I mean, c’mon. Just look at those heads. . . mmm. . . I get a semi just looking at those. . .
Cleanliness overcomes. I think we wasted hours and hours and hours of just cleaning. And it’s so worth it. I think I probably shaved twenty pounds of grease and gunk off of Irbe just by spraying him down with degreaser and scraping his chassis with a screwdriver.
And now it’s time to put Irbe back together. This of course also means it’s time to clean off every single part of Irbe that I could before PT rips me away from the cleaning agents. Available time vs. cleanliness... available time vs. cleanliness...
And reassembly begins. . .
Another point that I feel I must bring up: I thought I knew a good bit about internal combustion engines. After taking apart Irbe’s engine and beginning the reassembly I realized that I knew NOTHING. I can honestly say that this was one of the biggest learning experiences since I learned to drive manual in 2002 or when I switched from PC to Mac in 2006. My eyes have been opened!
And although I now know that I knew nothing before, PT and I were able to reassemble Irbe to working condition over the last few weeks without issue! . . .
Then there were a few issues with timing and idle speeds that needed to be worked out, but really it was almost uneventful in terms of reassembly. We did have a horrible moment where Irbe would instantly overheat if you started driving him anywhere, but that turned out to be a slightly stuck thermostat, and air bubbles. Which may sound like an odd issue, but here’s a great explanation about what the hell I’m on about:
But with all of those small issues out of the way, the end result was this:
None of this could have happened without my friends, Paul and Jim and Chris. Or without the assistance I received when I worked on Irbe from Steve Ruggeri at Toyota of Pasadena. Or the emotional support that kept me going through the darker times of this journey. Thank you all, and most of all. . .