Sunday, March 6, 2005

Apparently, there are a number of very disappointed people who've come here looking for "Galveston Mardi Gras flashers." I know this because Louise is tracking web statistics on the blog, and she reports that some people have clicked-through after that expression found us on some search engine in the #43 position. I think it's because we 1. had our flashers on, 2. stayed at the "Mardi Gras" campground and 3. went to Galveston, all in the same "page" (as Blogger indexes them). I'm guessing this paragraph will increase the hit rate, or move us up above #43.

I haven't posted an update here for a while, mostly because we're not moving. We are still parked at the San Jose Elks Lodge, running various errands and visiting friends and family around the bay area.

Actually, I have spent waaay more time working on the "wheel and tire" problem than visiting anyone at all. Not that you asked, but let me explain:

We have always wanted to put aluminum wheels on Odyssey. We have steel wheels at present, with a set of hub caps that are uniquely "Neoplan." I actually like the way the hub caps look, and they are aerodynamic (however much difference that can make on a vehicle with the aerodynamic profile of a brick), however, we have some good reasons for wanting to switch:

1. The hub caps prevent us from easily checking tire pressures, inspecting lug nuts, or feeling the hubs for excess heat. Removing each hub cap requires prying out a plastic insert, then removing two nuts, all of which needs to be reversed to reinstall the cap. Multiply by six, which is how many hub caps we have. So checking any of these items, which really should be done at every major stop, is enough of a pain in the butt that we seldom do it. This is bad.

2. The steel wheel and hub cap combination weighs about 110 lbs (without tires), whereas an aluminum wheel and matching "hub cover" (which just covers the center part, where the wheel is open) weighs about 60lbs. So replacing the six outer steel wheels will save 300 lbs in unsprung weight. Moreover, manhandling a wheel around will be easier, especially considering the tire itself already weighs 150lbs.

3. As nice as the Neoplan hub caps look, aluminum wheels look even nicer, and have a "higher end" appearance.

4. Our current wheels are 8.25" wide, and we would like to have 9" wide wheels, which can accept a wider variety of tires, particularly ones with higher load ratings.

So I have been working, on and off, for the past two years to identify exactly what parts we would need to put 9" aluminum wheels on the coach, and how to proceed. This has been exceedingly difficult, because of our weird German-spec running gear. Our hubs (axles) are Mercedes-Benz units that are not sold in the US, and few people know anything about them and/or are willing to commit to specifics on exactly what we have to do to retrofit aluminum wheels. Progress has thus been slow, but the problem has not been urgent.

Until now. The urgency comes from the fact that we need, essentially, a full set of new tires. Two of the tires on the drive axle are completely worn out, with no tread remaining at all -- a situation owing to the fact that we blew out a drive tire in Pittsburgh, and the used tire we had put on to replace it wore out quickly and also caused the tire dualed with it to wear out. One of the tag axle tires was punctured and is running on a repair patch. And all of the tires are within a year of the end of their "shelf life" (7 years). Rather than just throw two more tires on the drive axle to keep us going, we decided to use our three weeks of downtime here in San Jose to replace all eight tires.

Of course, the ideal time to replace wheels is when you are replacing tires, so the "problem" of how to install aluminum wheels moved to the top of the stack.

I am happy to report that , after expending a few dozen more hours on the problem here, I believe I know how to replace the wheels, and we have ordered most of the required parts. Six shiny aluminum wheels are coming from Florida (yeah, yeah, I know -- we were just there), sixty new lug nuts are coming from southern California, because these wheels require different nuts, and hub center covers are coming from Tenessee. The only issue that remains is we also need two steel wheels for the inner duals. The ones we have now are 8.25" and we want 9", and we can't use an aluminum wheel on the inner because the "hub pilots" or "lands" which center the wheel on the hub and support the coach are not long enough to reach past an inner aluminum wheel and still engage enough of the outer wheel to be safe (aluminum wheels are about twice as thick, where they mount, as steel ones). We've also ordered eight new tires at a tire dealer in Livermore, CA.

I am hoping to resolve the inner steel wheel issue on Monday. With any luck, the lug nuts will be here next week, and the six aluminum wheels will be delivered to the tire dealer by the 14th, and we will try to have the whole thing done on the 15th.

We are also having the tire dealer install a pressure/temperature monitoring system for the tires. This is a device that clamps inside the wheel on a circular steel band, sort of like a giant hose clamp, and transmits pressure and temperature information to a dashboard readout. After two blowouts and a flat, we've decided this is cheap insurance.

Lastly, I will mention that we are putting traction-type tires on the drive axle, as opposed to the high-mileage "rib" type we had before. These will be a bit noisier, and may decrease our fuel mileage by a small bit, but should be a big help in the mud, rain, snow, and off-road conditions. We will still use rib tires on the other two axles.

As I said, not that you asked...

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