R-134a CONVERSION FROM R-12

Many Turbo Coupe owners who would think nothing of installing a new clutch assembly or a timing belt and its components balk at the task of servicing their air conditioning systems. Perhaps it has to do with the unfamiliar properties of A/C refrigerants and its inherent dangers. The good news is that with some common sense and careful preparation it should not be any more difficult—and in fact, far less so—than most other work.

This article will explain how to convert older R-12 systems to R-134a—what parts and supplies are needed and how it’s done. While it is true that R-134a might not provide the same level of cooling power of its predecessor (more on this later)—in the end result with my car, any such differences aren’t worth discussing.

My system has worked flawlessly since January 2015, which as of this writing has been more than 5 years. I live in Phoenix AZ, which regularly experiences summertime temperatures in the high 110s—even occasionally 120s. Despite this, there has not been a day when I had less than comfortable air conditioned cool air in my Turbo Coupe (although admittedly it might have taken a few minutes in that heat to cool the interior down enough to get there). On Monsoon days—the rainy season with unexpected thunderstorms we have here in July and August—the high humidity was not a factor. And, in fact, the A/C was much cooler in my car than either of the two cars my wife has owned—a 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser or her current vehicle, a 1997 Toyota 4Runner.

And in all of that time, I have never had to add ANY additional R-134a refrigerant. Some sources I read said that, because it has smaller molecules than R-12, the R-134a will eventually leak out—the solution is to add more refrigerant. I have not seen that to be true.

The procedures I will share with you are the same I used to achieve this performance. While I can’t guarantee that you’ll have the same experiences, it’s a great place to start.

In October 2014 my existing HR980 compressor seized, making it useless. Therefore, after years of struggling with air conditioning issues regarding repair and compressor replacement and paying someone else to fix it, I decided to take on the challenge of the conversion. R-12 is no longer legally available without a license, so it seemed like a great time to make the switch.

I did a lot of reading and research on the subject and sought the advice of several air conditioning professionals (see below). Much of the information I received, as well as my personal experiences, form the basis of this post.

I’d strongly advise finding at least one experienced professional to answer questions and provide information. Vaughn at Air Components in Mesa, AZ is one such person. His overall help was invaluable with this project. More on that company’s assistance later on.

This project ran from October 2014 to February 2015. Why did it take so long? There were several reasons: I had only a small amount of time available on the weekends to work on it; also, parts had to be researched and located—and there were a lot of dead ends. (In fact, the availability of parts that actually fit is probably going to be one of, if not the biggest issue you’re going to run up against.) And, the failure of a minor part during the vacuum-down operation slowed the progress considerably.

To be clear: the only parts you’ll need to make the conversion—unless you find something that is damaged—is the Accumulator, the Liquid Line (with Orifice Tube), and new green R-134a O-rings. Ford has said that the Tecumseh HR980 compressor is compatible with R-134a, and I can vouch for that, as mine has been running cold since 2015. Since my compressor had seized up, though, I obviously needed another one—the HR980 is not serviceable, other than a/c seals found within the unit’s “snout”. And, once the unit locks up, there is an excellent chance that the system will be filled with debris and contamination from the damaged compressor, and that has to be flushed out.

There was a split consensus online about replacing the Orifice Tube (within the Liquid Line) for a new one. My feeling is, why not? It costs less than $30, and it eliminates any guesswork. But—again, to be clear—if there is even the slightest chance of contamination in the system, it must be replaced.

Regardless if the compressor is seized or not, nearly every source I found had advised that the conversion to R-134a required the system to be flushed. One reason given was to remove all traces of the old oil, as it was found to be incompatible with R-134a.

(In a separate later post I will discuss the parts and tools required to service the seals and related components found in the HR980. While this compressor is basically a throw-away—and only used second-hand ones will likely be available as replacements—why not refurbish that one so it is as close to new in that regard as possible? I have two HR980s on my storage shelf—I have replaced the seals and related parts in both, vacuumed them out and sealed them up, vacuum intact, so the oil doesn’t oxidize and deteriorate.)

Here is a drawing that will help identify the various parts, and provide explanations:

I created this diagram as the one in Ford’s Shop Manual was too imprecise. Sometimes the best way to understand something is to draw it up yourself.

To understand how to convert to R-134a, it’s perhaps best to understand how an air conditioning (refrigerated) system inside a vehicle works. You can get a pretty good idea of that by studying the drawing above; here’s an quick explanation of a/c theory.

Refrigerants like R-134a or R-12 have a very low boiling point—i.e. when the liquid turns into a gas. It’s this characteristic that forms the basis of a refrigerated system—your car and home a/c, refrigerator or freezer. While there are important differences in those home appliances, basically in all systems a fan causes cold air to circulate in an enclosed area by blowing air over cold refrigerant lines. Having now changed from a liquid to a gas after giving up its cold and reaching its boiling point (for R-134a that’s -15 degrees Fahrenheit), the refrigerant is pumped through the system, eventually passing through coils (or, in the case of a vehicle, a Condenser or small radiator-like component), which cools down the refrigerant to a liquid…and the process repeats anew.

The following is a list of components, tools and supplies you will require for this project.

ACCUMULATOR. Also known as a Receiver/Drier. Filled with a special drying desiccant, its primary purpose is to remove moisture—condensation—from the R-134a. Water vapor works in a way that is contrary to the operation of the refrigerant, and can cause rust and oxidation to internal parts, so it is vital that as much as possible is removed.

The particular Accumulator model for Turbo Coupes (and Fox Body Thunderbirds in general) was discontinued long ago. There are many similar items that will require at least some degree of adaptation and/or modification. The replacement I discovered will be discussed later on.

The LIQUID LINE is an aluminum and neoprene piece of tubing that contains the Orifice Tube, whose purpose is to help convert the R-134a gas back into a liquid under pressure, by restricting the refrigerant as it passes through.

Remember that if the HR980 Compressor has failed in some way—most likely by seizing—the Orifice Tube MUST be replaced.

It is possible to purchase only the Orifice Tube—cutting the Liquid Line, replacing the Orifice Tube and then repairing the Line. There are kits sold for that purpose…but in my experience it’s just easier in the long run to get a complete Liquid Line with the Tube already enclosed than to muck around with all that. (The cost is about the same, by the time you buy the Kit and the new Orifice Tube.) Perhaps in the future we won’t have the Liquid Line available any more—only the Orifice Tube—and we’ll have to go ahead with that repair. For now I prefer the easy way.

O-RINGS: The existing O-rings have to be replaced, as they are not compatible with R-134a and it will cause them to deteriorate over time, I was told. New light green O-rings are inexpensive and readily available; I have a small stockpile I’ve collected over the years. And, consider getting some garter springs for the couplers as well, in case yours are rusted or contaminated by grease, oil and/or dirt. There is no difference between R-12 and R-134a springs.

I make a habit to replace the garter springs on my car every time service is performed—I also clean out the groove in the coupler’s channel with carb cleaner to make certain of a good seal.

NAPA’s part numbers for the various R-134a O-rings (there are 3 sizes) are 407006, 407008, 407010; there are 4 each. Get some extras just in case. The new Accumulator and new Liquid Line should already include suitable O-rings.

A/C MANIFOLD GAUGES. You can spend $200 and up for these. My advice: unless you have a repair shop and you service a lot of air conditioning problems on a regular basis, and you need an absolute guarantee of reliability, get the set from Harbor Freight for about $60. (For the $200 price of the professional set, you could purchase almost 4 from Harbor Freight.) I’ve had mine since December 2014 and have had no problems. I’ve diagnosed several cars with them, and my next-door neighbor has borrowed and used them as well. Simple and easy to use. In fact—maybe you should have these regardless.

Word of advice: read the instructions THOROUGHLY, handle and get to know them a bit before use. Attach the High- and Low-Side couplings to the ones on the hoses. Get used to the differences, in that the couplings for the fittings close COUNTERCLOCKWISE, while the manifold valves close CLOCKWISE. This is important.

VACUUM PUMP. Just under $100 at Harbor Freight. The one I got in December 2014 still runs as it should. Be sure to use the 20% online coupon at harborfreight.com; just visit that site on your phone and have them scan the barcode found there.

Whilst there you might want to consider a bottle of Air Tool/Compressor Oil. When vacuuming down the system, any moisture or leftover flushing material will quickly contaminate the Pump’s oil. (There is a sight glass and you can see the stuff running through it.) It’s a good idea to change it after such a session, as that oil is vital to the Pump’s operation. A bottle costs about $8.

R-134a CAN ADAPTER. This screws onto the can of R-134a; when ready to charge the system, simply turn down the valve, which pierces the can, and re-open. This valve is connected to the Yellow center hose of the gauges—to begin filling the system you just open the Yellow valve on the Manifold Gauges. More on this later. A bonus feature of this tool is it allows you to use just part of a can and store the rest. Should be available most anywhere that sells a/c parts.

Right to left: R-134a WITHOUT compressor oil, and the oil that you should use.

R-134A. WITHOUT compressor oil—better to measure and add your own (you’ll be draining the oil from the compressor, measuring it, and putting in that fresh amount).

COMPRESSOR OIL. This has to be SPECIFICALLY for R-134a AND ESTER-based. The oil shown in the above photo is what you want. The smaller bottle is about $10. Don’t buy too much at once as, like brake fluid, it reacts with air and will become oxidized.

SYSTEM FLUSH. You’re only flushing the Evaporator, Condenser and the High- and Low-pressure lines. DO NOT FLUSH THE HR-980 COMPRESSOR! You’re going to be replacing the Liquid Line and the Accumulator, no need to flush those. Two 17 oz cans is good, at least to start. This is what I used:

I’ve removed the cap so you can see the hose and nozzle, which is a HUGE help in getting the Flush into both the Condenser and the Evaporator. Much of what I read advised removing both to get adequate coverage—I removed only the Condenser. I used a blow-gun attachment on a tank of compressed air to move the stuff around.

ADAPTERS, R-12 to R-134a. The R-134a fittings are bigger than the R-12 ones and screw right on to them. BE WARNED that some are designed not to be removed once installed. This is to prevent you from going back to R-12, I guess.

I had—shall we say—an interesting adventure with one that I’ll share, so you won’t experience it.

SPRING LOCK COUPLING/DECOUPLING TOOLS. These are color-coded plastic sleeves that are spring-loaded and have a lip inside, which will allow the A/C coupling to be disconnected. They look like this:

From the website autobodytoolmart.com. These are the same design I’ve had for years. Match the tool to the line size—it fits over the A/C line coupling. One side has a lip on it (barely visible at the bottom of the white one) which fits against the spring lock. Press that side against the coupling with your left hand and pull on that line with your right—PRESTO, disconnected!

LARGE METAL COFFEE CAN. My experience has shown this to be an ideal container to drain the oil from the compressor into. Make sure it’s clean, then simply turn the compressor upside down on it. It will fit perfectly on top with no boards or paint sticks required to hold it upright.

LARGE SPAGHETTI SAUCE OR PICKLE JAR, with LID. This is to catch the Flush and junk that comes out of the Condenser and Evaporator.

SPRAY GUN FITTING. A metal fitting with a rubber tip—attach this to the flexible hose coming out of your air compressor or air tank. This is to “flush out the flush” from the Condenser and Evaporator.

GRADUATED CYLINDER. These are available online from Amazon and others for about $10 for a set of four. You could use a measuring cup, as long as it has 1 oz/1ml markings, to accurately measure the compressor oil.

STEEL DOG GROOMING COMB. Plastic ones won’t work. You don’t necessarily need a new one—check at secondhand stores and yard sales. Just be certain that its teeth are undamaged and straight, and none are missing. This is used to comb out the fins of the Condenser (and the Evaporator, if you’ve removed it).

LARGE PLASTIC BOWL. It should be big enough to hold warm water and the R-134a can. This helps keep the can’s contents warm, which will help the refrigerant flow better and faster into the system as you recharge it.

REMOVING COMPONENTS

Now that we have assembled all that we need to complete this project, let’s get started.

First, the obligatory warning: DO NOT DISCHARGE R-12 REFRIGERANT INTO THE ATMOSPHERE! Remember that R-12 will do serious damage to the upper atmosphere—even if you don’t believe in all that, IT IS ILLEGAL, and if you are caught, there is a HEFTY fine. Of course, in most cases if your system has failed, you probably don’t have any left anyway.

It is possible to hook up the Vacuum Pump in such a way that you could evacuate the system into a small metal compressed air tank. You’d then visit a local a/c shop and have that tank evacuated. Years ago before I possessed the required tools and knowledge I frequented a shop that would evacuate the system—I would purchase the replacement parts as needed and install them, and they would then vacuum out the system and recharge it with my recovered R12, plus whatever more I required. This service cost $250, as opposed to the $750 it would have cost to have them do all that.

The first thing you’ll want to do after evacuating the system is to get your coupling tools and begin the process of removing components. It’s likely been a while since these couplings have been apart. Be careful not to damage any nearby parts with your hands and arms (and yourself) if the coupling suddenly releases; that’s the nightmare of creating more repair work accidentally. Look at what’s nearby and cover any parts that might get struck with some padding, like old rags.

You will be able to feel the lip of the tool enter the spring cage. Once you feel that, start to pull the other line away.

Work carefully and be patient! If you don’t seem to be getting anywhere, consider using a medicine dropper and adding some of the Ester oil to the spring cages—allow a few minutes for that to work. If there’s still no luck, try spraying some PB Blaster in there—tap the compression joint LIGHTLY to set up vibration, that helps the ‘Blaster work. Just make sure to clean the fitting parts afterwards with Brake Cleaner to avoid contaminating the system.

Once you’ve gotten it all apart, study and evaluate everything to check for hidden or obvious damage. Carefully note areas near the couplings for oily black dirt—this is usually an indication of refrigerant leaking from the system and bringing with it some of its oil, which will attract dirt. While this in itself isn’t always bad news—I’ve had that same black dirt residue on my couplings for years, and have no noticeable loss of R-134a—it is worth noting. As with most repairs, it’s a very good idea to write down notes and take pictures as you go.

Be especially careful of removing the couplings from the Evaporator. Many times the tubes are not secured as well to the component as they should be, and if you pull one out of its housing it will, as the saying goes, spoil your day. (You’re now looking at pulling the dashboard out to get to the heater box and the damaged Evaporator. Ugh.)

Unbolt and remove the HR980 compressor and the Accumulator. Use care not to tip the Compressor downwards and allow oil to escape—you’ll need to measure it later on. Turn it upside-down on the Large Coffee Can and let it sit overnight. From time to time, turn the pulley to spin its innards (unless it has seized), this helps the old oil drain out. If it has seized—pick it up, turn it fittings-side up, and set it back upside-down, as an aid in draining the oil. Do this step as many times as it takes to get the oil out of there.

I chose to remove the Condenser—the smaller radiator-like component in front of the radiator—in order to better flush it out and later add the Ester oil…but mostly, to clean all the dead moths/bugs/leaves/etc. out of its cooling fins, and to comb them out. Doing that makes this arguably the most important item in the system that you have some control over. You can remove it without too much fuss by taking off the upper radiator supports and maneuvering the radiator a bit toward the engine.

Plug the entry and exit lines to prevent moisture from entering the system, then carefully spray the front and back of the Condenser with a garden hose to get all that old crap out of there. A soft toothbrush or similar item—and some dish detergent or mild degreaser—will help with the stubborn junk, but be careful with any wire brush activity. This is an aluminum component, and you don’t want to cause any damage to the softer metal.

When you’re satisfied with the results, use the Steel Dog Grooming Comb to work on the fins. Likely, many are bent, some very badly. Work slowly and carefully to get them back to acceptable condition. A small flat-bladed screwdriver—or, better yet, a SPUDGER (a black plastic tool that has a point on one end and a flat blade on the other) can be a big help (the plastic is less likely to damage anything). Be especially careful that you don’t accidentally pierce the refrigerant tube behind the fins, or you’ll be shopping for another Condenser. Remember that the more air you can get flowing through the fins and over the refrigerant tubes, the better cooling experience you’re going to have. When it’s done set it aside, preferably in a warm spot such as in sunlight to dry.

This is a SPUDGER. If you don’t already have one of these, you should. It’s made of soft black plastic and is INVALUABLE when working around metal that you don’t want to pierce or dent or scratch or otherwise damage. One end is pointed, the other has a flat tapered edge.

A note on cleaning in general: Because I think it’s unprofessional to re-install dirty parts, whenever possible I thoroughly clean all the parts, especially those that are going back on. Dirty parts usually can’t be cleaned as well after they’re installed; it’s also harder to spot damaged or worn areas on something that’s obscured by dirt. And, since the system’s oil attracts dirt, that gunk could be hiding a split or hole.

FLUSHING THE SYSTEM

Once everything has been cleaned and examined, it’s time to start the flushing process. The lines—the Suction, which is a 5/8” line; and the Discharge, which is a 1/2” line, will be easy—if you have a can of Flush like in the photo above, just press the hose’s pointed nozzle onto one of the ends, hold the other—pointed away from you—and press the top button. A few sprays should do it—DO NOT breathe in the mist or stuff that comes out. It WILL be nasty and smelly. It will probably only require a quarter of the first can of Flush, if that. Now, get the air line with the blow gun nozzle that you set up before and blow out the lines, to get all that junk out of there. When you vacuum the system what is left over will be pulled out, but it’s always better to get it as clean as possible before that.

Remember NOT to waste flushing agent by trying to flush out the Liquid Line, the Accumulator or the Compressor.

Put an old piece of hose on the Intake side of the Evaporator (see drawing above) and Condenser (ditto). Punch two holes in the metal lid of the Sauce or Pickle Jar (one big enough to stick the hose into), stretch a piece of thin material like part of an old t-shirt over the top. Screw the lid on the jar, punch a hole in the rag, and stick the other end of the hose through those holes. Put the rubber tip that’s on the end of the Flush hose against the open end of the component and spray liberally into it. Keep an eye on the stuff that’s going into the jar—it will, as the saying goes, mess you up. DON’T breathe it in—the rag is covering the jar so you’re not directly exposed to it. Remember that despite the overall size (especially of the Condenser), there is a connected network of small tubes inside, so you should be able to do a complete flush using about 1/2 to 3/4 of a can for the Condenser and 1/4 to 1/2 for the Evaporator. After a few applications, switch the hose to the Exhaust side and spray a couple more times. Now, remove the hose, turn the open ends away from you. Get the air line with the spray gun/rubber tip, hold it against one of those open ends and spray; then switch to the other open end. Flush out the components thoroughly, until clean air comes out.

Yeah, all that nasty junk was in there. Makes you wonder how it worked at all.

DO NOT USE WATER! We will be trying to get any water and water vapor OUT of the system later on, when we Vacuum it—so DON’T add more.

Remove all the old O-rings—a metal pick works well with for this. Group them by part, so you can easily compare the new ones for replacement.

Plug all the openings in the lines; if necessary put plastic wrap and rubber bands over the openings, if you don’t have suitable plugs. The goal is to keep moisture from the air out of the parts, now that they’ve been flushed.

Remove the compressor from the coffee can and pour the oil into the graduated cylinder. This will take a bit of doing, as the metal lip makes it difficult to pour the oil directly. Keep working with it until you’ve got as much of the oil as you can out of the can and into the cylinder. Write down the amount in your notes—you can then discard the oil.

Now that you know how much was in there, put some fresh oil back in and slosh it around, spin the compressor shaft/pulley to help spread it around. Since we can’t put Flush in there, we need to flush it out with fresh oil.

This step is particularly important if it’s a replacement for a seized one, because you don’t know how well the system it came from was maintained.

Try and get as much of the dirt and contaminants out of there as possible. This will take some time and effort. Drain it back into the coffee can by putting it back on top—after a few minutes pick it up, add some fresh oil, slosh it around, and put it back. Repeat until no more yellowish smelly oil and/or dirt comes out. (You might have to do this many times.) Plug these connectors as well when you’re done.

REASSEMBLY

I did not measure the oil in my Compressor—I figured that since it was seized, it might not be accurate. I now think that was a mistake—it would have been better to obtain those results, even if I later disregarded them. (You can’t utilize results you never bothered to get.) Doing some research, I found that the proper Ester oil distribution is: 4 oz to Compressor; 2 oz to Condenser; 2 oz to Evaporator, for a total of 8 oz. in the system. This is what I used and have had no issues.

The proper amount of oil is very important. Too much oil and it will pool in the lines and components, reducing the cooling capacity; too little and it could burn up the compressor. Since the system’s correct amount is 8 oz., if you had 5 oz in the Compressor, divide up the remaining 3 oz between the Condenser and the Evaporator. Ditto if you had 3 oz in there, divide up the remaining 5 oz.

Much of what I read discussed pouring the oil into the Condenser and Evaporator and tilting those components up, down and all around in such a way as to better distribute the oil in there. Since I did not remove the Evaporator, that was not an option. Instead, I put a hose on the end of a funnel, stuck the hose in one of the open tubes in each unit and just poured the measured amount in. Then, I plugged the open line and used the air line with spray gun in short light bursts to move the oil around a bit. I kept checking the plugged end and when I saw oil there, I stopped.

I did try and spread the oil evenly around in the Condenser before plugging the lines again and reinstalling it into the car.

When all the oil is in place and spread out reasonably well, it’s time to put it all back together. Start with the Suction and Discharge lines—smear some ester oil on the ends where the grooves for the O-rings are and carefully install the new green ones, matching them up size-wise with the older R-12 ones. Be careful not to twist or kink them as they’re installed. Get some oil on anything that already HAS O-rings, like the new Liquid Line and Accumulator.

If you purchased new garter springs, remove and discard the old and replace with the new.

Install the Compressor and Accumulator in their locations, and begin the process of connecting all the parts together. You should feel a satisfying CLICK when the connectors fit together and are seated.

My Accumulator, as I mentioned before, was not an exact replacement for the older one.

OEM accumulator (receiver/drier). Note the 180 degree turn on the Intake metal line—the O’Reilly’s part only has a 135 degree turn, requiring an adapter. Also note the vertical Discharge line—on most now-available units this line is angled 90 degrees, necessitating reorientation somehow of the Suction line to the HR980 compressor.

Vaughn informed me that the original part number for the Accumulator was 207-517, by a company called Frigette, and that it had since gone out of business. So I knew I was facing a likely uphill battle to replace it—from what I had researched online myself.

The accumulator I finally found and installed is part # 60-4520, by Murray Climate Control. Parts Counterperson Mari from an O’Reilly’s Auto Parts in Mesa AZ spent almost an hour searching through old parts manuals—and the store’s existing stock—for an accumulator that was very similar to the old OEM one that I brought in. (That’s great customer service.) What I got was the closest that was available.

But, it wasn’t the correct one, just the closest that they had. The Vapor Line (the 180 degree line shown in the above photo) was too short, so there was a gap between the Accumulator and the Condenser.

I had just been to Air Components hours before—they have a machine shop that is able to create or adapt parts. It occurred to me that I could ask them to fashion a metal adapter which would properly connect the Accumulator to the Evaporator core. Below is what it looks like, and my completed Accumulator setup.

This part (silver with the two line nuts) cost about $25 to make, from Air Components. It solved my Accumulator connection problems.

This fixed the Accumulator issue, and it offered the additional benefit of solving it for years to come, as long as this particular Accumulator is available (NOTE TO SELF: Buy another Accumulator while you still can).

I saw that the HR980 compressor I had kept in storage as a replacement had a cracked ceramic outer seal, and I did not trust it to hold up under the refrigerant’s high pressure. I had to find an inexpensive replacement. (The prices on these are outrageous for a 30-year-old used high-stressed part with no warranty—expect to pay upwards from $100 on an auction site like eBay.)

As it happened, miraculously I found one on eBay the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving in nearby Tempe for only $10! I met the seller on the morning of Black Friday and it was mine. As it turned out, I came to doubt its functionality due to another failed part (and due to no fault of its own, as I later learned). It didn’t look like it was doing its job properly in pulling the R-134a from the can during recharging, which was an incorrect assumption. I felt like I had no choice but to locate yet another. (The $10 one has been reconditioned and is in storage as a future replacement).

The final step in this Reassembly process is to install the R-134a Fittings. As mentioned, some have barbs in the threads to prevent removal. They just screw on to the R-12 ones—to be safe and if possible, I would use Teflon tape. The High side fitting, near the Compressor, is a bit larger than the Low side one, found on the Accumulator. Also, the High side’s protective cap is RED; the Low side cap is BLUE. This is a help in attaching the fittings from the Manifold Gauge Set. You cannot mix the two, mine were not physically interchangeable. It’s a good idea to examine them carefully first—you’ll see why later.

VACUUMING AND RECHARGING THE SYSTEM

Now comes the fun part. For this part, you really do little more than watch.

Hang your Manifold Gauges on the hood striker plate (the piece that extends downward into the hood release), or in one of the holes found on the hood’s inner surface. Recall that the arrangement of the attaching hoses include a Blue Low side hose, a Red High side hose, and a Yellow Vacuum/Charging hose. There are also Blue and Red hose Coupling fittings. Inspect the seals inside the threaded fittings to be certain they are present, in good condition and not damaged.

Next, using slip joint pliers, tighten all the hose fittings on the hoses where they attach to the Gauge Set. There’s no need to “white knuckle” them, just tighten so they are secure. There could be vacuum leaks in your system, but you don’t want to tear everything apart looking for a leak when—it’s in one of those connections.

My experience has shown that it’s probably best to attach the Hose Couplings to the R-134a fittings first, then screw on the hoses, again tightening them with slip joint pliers, and not too tight. Remember to CLOSE the Coupling valves by turning them COUNTER-CLOCKWISE. Likewise, be certain that the Gauge valves are also CLOSED by turning them CLOCKWISE.

Get your Vacuum Pump ready and plug it in. I elevated mine on old milk crates so I could easily see the Sight Glass—watching it will tell you much about what is going on, at least initially, in your system as you vacuum it down. Get yourself a chair or stool to observe the pump’s activity. Turn it on first and get used to how it sounds when it’s running—that sound is a HUGE indicator as to what is going on—good and bad—in this process. It will sound somewhat different when it is actually connected to the system and is pulling vacuum.

Connect the Yellow Vacuum/Charging hose to the fitting on the Vacuum Pump. There are two brass fittings on Harbor Freight’s Pittsburgh 2.5 CFM Vacuum Pump…it doesn’t matter which you use, whichever is more convenient (I used the Side one). Tighten that fitting as you did the others.

Do NOT start the car at ANY time during the vacuuming process. Open the Valves on the Hose Couplings (CLOCKWISE). Inspect all your connections, and turn the pump ON—now open the Gauge side valves (COUNTERCLOCKWISE). The first thing you are likely to see is a lot of whitish smoke coming out of the vacuum pump. This is why you started the pump beforehand—assuming there were no problems at that time with its operation, what you are seeing is water vapor boiling and being pulled out of the system.

WATCH the Sight Glass. You will probably see brownish gunk circulate past it; this is any leftover Flushing material. The pump’s idling likely will change somewhat in volume and rhythm. So far, this is all normal.

Observe the Low side gauge—very soon if not right away that reading should drop way to the left, about -30 on the scale. THAT is what you want to see! It should remain there with little to no movement, or else something in the system is not seating properly. If that’s the case, listen for a whistling or hissing sound, characteristic of a vacuum leak. You should also wiggle and gently shake the various connections to see if that improves the situation. If the reason is not obvious, stop the pump and examine the various parts for the possible problem. You might have to disassemble parts and look for causes like torn or dislocated O-rings.

There are rarely any problems at this point, if you’ve been careful in following instructions and using good common sense.

I must admit, I was fascinated with the concept that water boils at room temperature when a vacuum is applied. I had a chart at the time that I relied on, relating elevation to the vacuum measurement of inches of mercury (in/Hg), and with ambient temperature—that I now cannot find.

The point is: when you reduce the ambient pressure to -30 in/Hg—water boils away, for the most part, depending on elevation and ambient temperature. There should not be ANY water vapor in the system. The purpose of vacuuming is 1) to seat the O-rings and be certain the system has no leaks; and 2) to remove ALL of the water vapor.

Now, have a seat. The longer you vacuum the system, the better—but it should be for at least 2 hours. You don’t have to sit with it and watch it all that time, but it’s a good idea to check on it periodically. After two hours (or whatever time after that you feel comfortable with), shut off the pump and close the Red and Blue Gauge valves (keep the Yellow one OPEN). Take a picture of the Low gauge with your phone, to record the reading. Now, let it sit—overnight is good. The longer you allow it to sit, the better, not just to check the airtightness of the system but also to boil out any remaining water. If you come back in a few hours and the needle seems to have moved a bit, take another photo and don’t panic. If the needle stays at its new reading, something might have settled and the system is stable now. If it moves AGAIN, it might be time to jiggle and gently shake the connections, and watch the needle. If it’s now stable, I would run the vacuum pump again for a while, shut it off again and check the reading.

Don’t fudge on this, or settle for less than satisfactory results: “I vacuumed it for 10 minutes and let it sit for 5, I’m ready to start charging now.” This could be a HUGE mistake. If you haven’t gotten all the water out of the system it will operate poorly; if there are leaks you’ll slowly lose refrigerant as it escapes, and air gets in. Bad idea. Most everything I have read—and my personal experience—says you need to vacuum the system for AT LEAST 2 hours. If you have replaced EVERY component with its brand new counterpart, then yes, that length of time might not be necessary. But even in that unlikely scenario, why not vacuum it for that long regardless?

Once you are satisfied with the steady vacuum in the system, the next step is to begin the recharging process. Remember that we want as little outside air—only R-134a—in the system as possible. By carefully following these steps, you should have little trouble.

Close the Yellow, Red and Blue valves on the Manifold Gauge Manifold set (if you haven’t already). This disconnects the system from the Vacuum Pump. You can now unplug the Pump, disconnect the Yellow line to it and set it aside.

Turn the T-handle of the R-134a Can Adapter COUNTER-clockwise so the sharp point is no longer visible, and screw this end onto the Yellow hose of the Manifold Gauge Set.

Fill up the Large Plastic Bowl about halfway with warm water; the can of R-134a will go in there as you charge the system. Locate it someplace like the top of the air filter for now.

There’s no sense in being unsafe. R-134a is very cold, and contact with your skin—especially your eyes—will be unpleasant, to say the least. I wore gloves and safety glasses. You only have one pair of eyes!

Thread the first R-134a can onto the Can Adapter. I like to smear a little grease on the threads to make it easier to attach and remove. Be sure to tighten it securely by hand.

Recall that the system has been closed to outside air all this time. We know how important that is—the only stuff that’s supposed to be in the system are Ester oil (and not all that much), and R-134a. We closed the Manifold Gauges, so the system should remain pure. Well, once we disconnected the Yellow line from the Vacuum Pump, guess what happened? Yup, it’s now full of outside air…we have to purge that out so it doesn’t enter the system.

Have your slip-joint pliers at the ready; you’re going to follow these steps in this order: first, turn the T-handle CLOCKWISE so that the sharp point pierces the top of the can, then turn it back open. Now, SLOWLY loosen the Yellow threaded line on the Manifold Gauges connection with the pliers so that R-134a leaks out. You should hear a hissing sound and both the connection AND the can should start to feel cold. You only need to bleed out a small amount of R-134a! After a few seconds, tighten the Yellow threaded line connection again. Now open the Blue and Red valves of the Manifold Gauges. You’re now charging the system. After a couple of cans, you’ll be starting the car and having the compressor pull the R-134a out.

Let the system empty the can—this is a natural result of its vacuum. You shouldn’t need the can to be in the warm water bowl at this point. Once the first can feels empty (it will be obvious—shake it a little to be certain), close all the Manifold Gauge valves (and the one on the Can Adapter), SLOWLY unthread the can from the Can Adapter and remove it. (BE CAREFUL! There could be a little pressure still in there.)

Attach the second can as before, purging the Yellow line again—re-open the Gauge valves and continue the re-charging process.

Eventually the system will stop accepting the R-134a. When this happens it’s time to start the car. BUT FIRST….

CLOSE THE HIGH SIDE (RED) MANIFOLD GAUGE VALVE! The importance of this CANNOT be overstated.

The compressor will soon raise the High Side pressure above 100 psi. This is easily enough to explode the R-134a can! You don’t need the HIgh Side valve open to charge the system. From now on, all charging will be done through the LOW side only. (As a safety precaution I also closed the Coupling Valve at the High Side connector as well.)

Start the car, and set the A/C controls to MAX. For standard units, this means the temperature slider should be all the way to the right, fan on HIGH. For EATC (Auto Temperature) systems, lower the temperature to 60 and make sure the system is set on AUTO.

The compressor should be cycling on and off—this will happen less and less as the system accepts the charge, depending on the ambient air temperature. You should see readings on both gauges. Those won’t mean much until you get to the third can.

Generally speaking, the Blue gauge should read (well) below 100, and the Red one around 100-150, again depending on the outside air temperature. If yours don’t look like this, is there gradually cooler air coming out of the vents? Shut off the car, stop and listen for any hissing or other odd sounds.

There are two schools of thought regarding getting the refrigerant into the system. Some will instruct you to turn the can upside-down—this is called LIQUID CHARGING. Generally speaking, you probably should not be doing this. There is a chance that you’ll overload the system and could cause some damage. The compressor is designed to compress GAS, not liquid. The better and safer alternative, therefore, is GAS charging—this is somewhat slower, but soaking the can in the warm water helps a bit.

When you get to the third can (probably around 15-20 minutes or less), spray the Condenser—the part in front of the radiator—with your garden hose or a spray bottle. Drench it pretty good. Two things will likely happen when you do this—the air coming out of the vents will get a little warmer, and the gauges’ readings will drop a bit. This is a necessary step for the proper exchange of heat, so the system gets the optimum amount of refrigerant.

The system is likely going to take 3-4 cans; probably 3 1/2. This isn’t like filling your gas tank. The system will keep accepting R-134a likely until you, frankly, blow something up. Obviously this is not the desired result. Since there is no “Full” indicator, we use the gauge readings, and the temperature of the air coming out of the vents, to estimate how full the system is.

R-134a, as we said before, is different than R-12. You shouldn’t chase after vent temps that you might have had with R-12—that could prove dangerous the next time your local climate reaches its highest temperature. I put a meat thermometer in my center vent louver and stopped when it hit the mid-50s. Here’s a few words on how the outside—ambient—air temperature is going to affect how you proceed.

First off, here is a formula that should be used as a guide when recharging the system, as the HIGH SIDE PRESSURE BALLPARK PSI: Ambient (Outside) Air Temperature x any value ranging between 2.2 to 2.5. So, if your outside air is 80 when you are recharging, that would be 176 (80 x 2.2), or as high as 200 (80 times 2.5). That’s the range you should be seeing on your High gauge. The Low pressure side’s reading is of less importance—except that it should be much less than the High side, obviously.

It’s important to remember that the High pressure side’s PSI will likely hit the upper 200s—or even 300—in July or August, so it’s important that you not overcharge it when it is cooler. Much of what I have read advised that the HR980 is not the most efficient or resilient compressor, and doesn’t like high pressures. I’ve not had any issues with mine, and as I said before, as of this writing I haven’t had to add any more R-134a since I first recharged it in early 2015.

(Here’s a handy conversion from Fahrenheit to Celsius, should you ever need it: C x 1.8 + 32 = F .)

I mentioned several times before about an issue I had with my recharging efforts. It illustrates very well, I think, the philosophical concept known as Occam’s Razor—which states that the simplest explanation or solution is often the most correct.

I was into the Flushing stage in the process when I hit a snag. Having had limited experience with the “start to finish” of this operation—I had not flushed out a system before, but had recharged several different vehicles—I was unfamiliar with what to expect. I began vacuuming the system, but something wasn’t quite right. I ran the Vacuum Pump for about 4-5 hours, and finally decided that this part was done, let it sit for several hours to see if it would hold, and it did. I followed the procedure to the charging part, but the system would not accept the charge—I got about a half a can in. I tried for 30 minutes to an hour. I started the car, nothing worked. I shook and shook the can, it would not go in. I shut it down and tried vacuuming it again. It held the vacuum fine, but there was still something wrong. It wasn’t going the way I thought it should, certainly not the way it had before with other vehicles. I left it overnight to make sure it wasn’t a vacuum issue.

So I started looking for the problem. It wasn’t losing vacuum, so it wasn’t a bad connection with any of the components. I had purchased a set of R-134a adapters for the R-12 fittings, and fortunately they were removable. I found no problem with the High side one; but when I removed the Low side one on the Accumulator I saw the problem right away.

Here’s the problem: a damaged Schrader valve connector in the Adapter!

As you can see by the above photo, the Schrader valve connector was damaged and was not allowing its release. As it turned out, it was that simple. Fortunately I had two A/C hoses on the $10 Compressor I had purchased, both had R-134a adapters. I removed the Low side one and installed it.

When I connected the Vacuum Pump again and turned it on, the results were IMMEDIATE. The Pump spewed out white smoke (water vapor) and all kinds of nasty brown gunk flowed across the sight glass. FINALLY the system was being vacuumed out properly! I let it vacuum down for about 3 hours, then allowed it to sit undisturbed for an hour or so to be certain it still held vacuum. All was good.

It emptied the first R-134a can in about 3 minutes. The rest of the process went equally well. So, what took an elapsed time of a day and a half—over several days, actually—was done and over with in less than an hour. Moral of the story: sometime’s it’s an obvious answer—don’t overlook the obvious.

Run the A/C for a while just to make sure all is okay. Once you are satisfied with the results, you’re done. Disconnect everything, clean it up and put it away, and open a cold one! A job well done.

In a later post I’ll describe how to service the internal seals and parts of the HR-980 compressor. It’s a worthwhile exercise, in that by doing so you might be able to avoid doing this again soon.

REPLACING THE HEADLINER (and Refitting the Sun Visors)

One of the tasks I had on my list of upgrades for my 1987 Turbo Coupe was the replacement of its headliner. From what I could see inside the car and what little I was able to find on the Internet some years ago, it did not look like a very inviting task. So, in the fall of 2018—when I finally decided it was time—I devised and advanced a plan for it. Although it would not be until the spring of 2020 before I finally got it done, it turned out to not be anywhere close to as difficult as I thought, or you might believe.

There’s a lot of confusion out there regarding this whole process. What I am going to describe here are the facts—what I learned to be true about not only the process required, but also the supplies to purchase and the procedure to follow.

After searching the Internet, this and other sites, I found the best place to purchase both headliner material and cans of spray adhesive to be the retail outlet, Joann’s Fabrics. They sell several different colors that are actually designed to be exact replacements, as is the spray adhesive. It’s listed as High Temperature, which is important. No matter where you live, the sun will be beating down on the roof of your car when it’s exposed to the elements, and it can get pretty hot there. The last thing you’ll want is to come out to your vehicle and find your new headliner draped across the seat backs because the glue you used wasn’t designed for that.

This adhesive is a better choice than the similar 3M offering due to its higher temperature tolerance.

The individual at Joann’s told me she had used the same products to replace her headliner a few years ago. She was a big help in deciding how much adhesive to buy and gave several tips on the installation process.

The cans of adhesive aren’t cheap, averaging just under $25 a can, and you’ll need about four cans. Frustrated by the likely price markup associated with retail, I searched for less expensive outlets for the stuff. The usual suspects—Walmart and auto parts stores—don’t sell it. And although Amazon had the adhesive for about the same price as Joann’s, it would have taken several days to get here (there is no Prime Shipping for it), as opposed to just walking into that store and buying it.

The headliner is listed on Joann.com at $14.99 for 2 yards, which is the minimum. It’s 55 inches wide, which is ideal (the actual measurement of the fiber board—which is the headliner base—was 52” across in my car). I purchased extra, as I was also re-doing the visors. I got 2 1/2 yards; after recovering both visors I have enough left to do two more, which will come in handy as the first one did not turn out as well as I would have liked (more on that later).

The site no longer lists grey headliner material; only tan and black. The UPC code for the grey is 40003490644. The site offers a variety of coupon discounts—I saved 20% overall on my purchase that way, by displaying the coupon on my iPhone at the store.

https://www.joann.com/search?q=Headliner%20Fabric

The material resembles thinner cotton t-shirt material, with a foam backing about 1/4” thick. Lots of sites show professional installers cutting the stuff with razor blades without marking it first, but they do that all day every day. I have steady hands but still wouldn’t trust them to cut such sharp lines, where the slightest twitch could go off-course and ruin the installation. For the more precise work I used sharp scissors.

Now, let’s get to the confusion and misinformation. I found a YouTube video with an installer replacing headliner on a Ford F-150. In the video he shows how to remove the existing fabric; after he’s done the base material was hard fiberglass. He uses lacquer thinner and a plastic scraper to gently and gradually get the old stuff off. I recall thinking, “That’s easy! This is going to be a snap!”

Not so fast. My car doesn’t have anything like that, and yours probably doesn’t either. Instead, once I got the headliner out of the car, which was surprisingly easier than I expected, I found that the existing material is glued to a base surface that more than anything else resembles the fiberglass insulation found in older houses (the yellow stuff, not the pink cotton candy stuff they use now). Once I saw that, it was on with the safety goggles, face mask/paint respirator and rubber gloves. The stuff sure looked like fiberglass insulation to me, and I don’t want that stuff in my lungs or eyes. And like that old insulation it’s in layers, which makes removal much more difficult.

And sorry, I know some have recommended keeping the OEM stuff on there and just gluing over it. I was not going to do that, and you probably shouldn’t either. The old stuff is likely very fragile and dry rotted, and you’re going to stick new stuff TO that? What makes you think that’s going to hold, and for how long? As I was removing the old upper cloth layer from the base material, I was surprised how easily sections of the top layer just…pulled away. So no, that old stuff is coming off.

Here’s the basic steps to getting this done right. Most of this is self- explanatory, though:

1) Park the car in an open area of shade where you can freely open its large doors the whole way. Flatten the front seat backs for more room in maneuvering the headliner out of the car. Position a large table or work bench nearby, preferably out of doors (if this stuff is fiberglass you don’t want it near your children or pets).

2) Start by removing all the visible trim at the roof. This includes the plastic trim above each door and the rear window, the sun visors and the Dome Light assembly, in that order. Be especially careful once the dome light is removed, because the headliner is likely to drop down—altogether or in sections—at this point. To get the trim around the opera lights off, you’ll have to remove the seat belt shoulder anchor, which requires a T30 Torx bit.

3) Without bending it too much, remove it from the inside. Most instructions say you’ll need two people—I took the old one out and replaced it by myself, it wasn’t that difficult, as always YMMV. Because of the steering wheel you’ll find it’s best to bring it out the passenger side.

4) Place it on your work area and examine it carefully. Get some photos of how it looks before you start removing it. You’ll see that you’re not actually going to be removing just the old stuff from the backing, but a thin layer of the old material with some of the backing attached. It’s in layers, much (as I’ve pointed out) like old fiberglass insulation. Obviously you’ll want to remove as little of the backing as you can, and as evenly as you can. Like primer, it can be difficult to see how smooth the working surface is until you’ve got the finished product on (for example, the paint)—that’s when imperfections really show up. Were I to redo mine, I would be more careful to not create shallow gouges or dips in the base material—mine could have a smoother surface than it does. I suppose a flat metal scraper or putty knife could be used. You’ll probably be surprised, as well, just how easily it comes off. (I actually glued back on pieces of the layers that came off in chunks.)

The layers resemble old fiberglass insulation.
One side removed, except for that small section. It’s not quite what you might expect.
And, done! Ready for new headliner.

5) Once it’s all off, lay the new headliner over the base part and carefully trace your cut lines with a Sharpie. Give yourself at least an inch or two around the base section, noting the front and rear outer edges in particular—you’ll be folding the material over those edges, so two inches there is preferable. Remember that you can always cut more off later, but you can’t cut less, and you might need to reposition as you go.

If you want you can mark the holes for the visors, dome light and rear push pins now, as well as the two slots where the bolts for the seat belt shoulder anchors go.

6) The proper procedure to attach the headliner is to lay it, foam side down, on the board. Then, fold about half back on itself. At this point, if you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to test how the adhesive is going to come out of the can. (I was curious and tested it right away.) It has an adjustable nozzle; I set mine on “L” (which I guessed to be LOW).

The target area for the first application is right against the fold. Spray both the board and the headliner foam backing, about 6-8” out. Wait a few moments for the adhesive to get tacky, then pull on the edge closest to the application with one hand whilst smoothing the fabric down with the other. Repeat folding up the headliner as before, spray and smooth down. Continue until this half of the material is glued down; then spin the board around and do the remaining side.

Press firmly on the material as you smooth it down, also be certain to pull on the loose end to help prevent wrinkles. When you get to the visor areas, press back against the sloping part first before smoothing down the front section, to prevent making that cavity too shallow.

7) Once done with that, using a new VERY sharp single-edged razor blade, trim the excess headliner from the board. You’ll find that the edges have to be cut flush to have it fit back inside the car, but the front and back edges as noted have to be folded over. (Study the photos you made before, and you’ll see what I mean.) Test fold the material to see how much you’ll need to trim off. Then, spray the adhesive as before. With this part though you will have to wait until the glue gets very tacky to have the fold stay in place. Once done, mark (if not already done) and trim your holes—dome light, visor holes, seat belt bolt slots and push pin holes for the rear edge.

Headliner installed, holes cut. Slightly larger holes are a good thing and help with positioning.

This is what mine looked like when I was finished, and I had trimmed it and cut the holes. If you look carefully, you’ll see the problem I mentioned earlier—that you can’t necessarily see the imperfections in the surface until the material is applied. Were I to do this again, I would devise a way to fill in those imperfections. Overall, though, I am quite pleased with the results, considering how I thought it might turn out…and it looks much MUCH better than before.

8) Installation is more or less the reversal of removal, with the exception that proper alignment is essential. I installed the dome light first, as it was in the center and held up the assembled headliner fairly evenly. I did not snug down the mounting screws just yet, allowing for any adjustment—and there will be quite a bit of that.

I had almost all the trim screws in place above the doors and was about to start on the visors when I realized that the holes weren’t lining up properly, so I re-adjusted the headliner. Then, I saw a one-half- inch gap above the top edge of the driver’s door, so I had to AGAIN pivot the headliner counter-clockwise a few inches, spinning it around to the left using the dome light as a sort of hub. Test-fitting all the parts first—and re-testing—is key for proper alignment before tightening any screws.

9) Finally, time to button everything up. When you’re satisfied it all fits together properly, complete the installation. If you have lighted mirrors in your visors, be wary of the wire connectors. The ends are shielded with a plastic sleeve covering to prevent shorts. The left one had cracked and I did not realize what that meant—but after I had installed the visors and tested the lights for operation I kept blowing fuses. It turned out that the insulator had cracked enough to allow the “hot” wire from the roof to contact the car’s frame, so when I lowered the visor I was shorting the circuit.

I hope I made this process both informative and enjoyable. Enjoy your new headliner!

BONUS FEATURE: RE-COVERING THE VISORS

As complicated as this might sound, there really isn’t much to it. Certainly the rule of “measure twice cut once” applies. Sadly I erred in my trimming of the first one I did, the left-hand visor, which I will end up re-doing soon. So that won’t happen to you, I’ll share what I learned with this experience.

There’s a lot written on how you should not try and pry apart the visor halves, that some may crack apart across the visor and ruin it—perhaps sawing it apart is a better idea. My experience was that the glue is fairly weak (it’s the same as the adhesive used to attach the headliner). I got a plastic pry tool in there and slowly worked until I found an area that gave way, after that it became much easier.

Left visor, cut open and old material removed. Note the electronics for the lighted option.

Once you have pried apart the visor and removed the old material—more on that in a minute—this is what it looks like, above. Resist the urge to trace the holes and edges onto the new material—I did that with the first one, and that didn’t turn out as well as I would have hoped.

The old material.

This is the old material that I removed from the first—left— visor. It’s kind of ratty—that just visible blue tape at the top is actually painter’s tape, I was using that to hold together the old stuff.

Sadly I don’t have a picture of the right side’s material—it came off much better and it is what I used for that one, with much more satisfying results.

THIS is what you want to trace! Be mindful of the fact that the stuff has stretched and been pulled out of shape a bit as you go. In my car, the right visor wasn’t used nearly as much as the left one, as the passenger seat has been empty most of the time. You might want to start on that one, remove its material to trace and then flip it over for the left side, if it’s in better shape.

New material in place.

Give yourself a lot of excess around all the edges. I made the mistake of gluing the large flat part first, and I accidentally pulled it too far, causing misalignment for the open side where the mirror fits. As you can see, I actually have way too much material, which was the only thing that saved the installation.

Note the lines cut on the curved sections, to allow for that curvature.

I didn’t take a chance on spraying the material and the visor, as done with the headliner. Instead I used a 1/2” paintbrush to apply the adhesive to the material and the visor’s plastic surface. Again, it has to be very tacky to stay in place. Test fit and trim as necessary before gluing.

The left visor with material glued down. Note the hole made (by mistake, as it turns out) on the right where the dowel rod locates (and is visible in this photo).

In the center you’ll see a section where the dowel snaps into the plastic holder on the roof that holds the edge of the visor, as well as the spot where the hinge fits on the left (yellow rectangle). I made the mistake of cutting out both as holes, then re-gluing pieces of material in there after I realized my mistake. Just cut holes—as seen in the old material—and run the dowel through those holes. The hinge is simply covered over by fabric.

The fitting of the mirror part is straightforward. Again, making photos of the assembly first proves to be very valuable later on.

I used standard Gorilla Glue to glue the visor back together, hoping it would be strong enough. The bendable “flap” portion of the left side of the visor came loose and I had to re-glue it, I guess I did not use enough. I placed thick books on the visor to hold it together, as I feared that clamps would leave marks on the material.

TIP: There is a good chance you’re going to get some stray adhesive on the material. It won’t easily come off by itself. I found that GoJo Hand Cleaner—the stuff in the plastic tub—removes it with a few wipes as long as it hasn’t dried. To prevent staining, I then sprayed the affected area with water from an adjustable spray bottle and gently wiped at it until the GoJo was gone. At first it appears discolored, but will dry cleanly with no evidence.

The completed Right Side visor. It turned out better than the Left, which I attribute to a learning exercise, and I will re-do.

In the above photos the wrinkles on the innermost side—the edge to the left of the mirror on the first photo—could have been avoided by pulling the fabric straight away from the visor; also by cutting the perpendicular lines in the material just a bit more to allow it to follow the curve better.

FIXING THE UNRESPONSIVE AMMETER

(This fix is primarily for Ford’s Fox Body vehicles, 1984-88, but it could have other useful applications as well.)

(This article was first written on January 3, 2017.)

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(It’s fairly well known that the gauges on our cars are not the most accurate, to put it politely. And, while I would encourage anyone that really needs more exact, precise readings to install suitable gauges to obtain and provide that information, there is the issue of aesthetics. Since such gauges are not likely to fit within the existing housings, I would much prefer to have at the least the stock ones actually functional, no matter the accuracy, and perhaps supplement them with better versions.)

There have been times when the stock AMMETER on my 1987 Turbo Coupe has become slow or unresponsive. Some time ago it was discovered that, by “goosing” it with battery current in a certain way, normal operation could be restored.

After a period of time the ammeter’s electromagnets become “tired” and fail to correctly show charge and discharge; or most often, anything. The stationary needle has been a source of frustration for me over the years.

The problem has been determining an easy way to access the rear of the device where the electrical terminals are found. The only prior way was to remove the instrument panel, the ammeter being a part of that assembly.

One remedy implemented years ago was to attach a length of wire to each ammeter terminal and situating the ends at an easily accessible location, thus greatly simplifying the process. During a recent repair attempt I was unable to locate this wiring, leading me to wonder if I hadn’t removed it some time ago, perhaps for safety reasons.

This lack of responsiveness seems to manifest itself during the winter months. Even though it is relatively warm here in the winter, we generally don’t use air conditioning, preferring to open the windows for cooler air. Since the A/C causes a drain on the system, the ammeter needle is more active during its use. And, as the ammeter has again become completely unresponsive (it had been marginally so for some time), the search began for a better way to fix this condition, by discovering and then accessing the wiring leading to those terminals. This weblog entry is a partial record of what I’ve found.

1/27/17: I just found a self-made drawing on page 39 of Ford’s “Electrical and Troubleshooting Manual” detailing this connection. Here is a photo of that drawing:

Evernote Snapshot 20170127 181754.jpg

(UPDATE, February 4 2017: I solved my ammeter problem by doing the very thing I was trying to avoid–removing the dashboard instrument cluster and “shocking” the terminals. However, it now functions as intended, is very responsive and has good needle movement, so the trouble was worth it. Again, though, I used to know a better way, but I never wrote it down. The closest is the drawing, above, and I’m not certain that I ever actually tried that method.)

UPDATE: April 2020: Whilst installing a 140 mph modification kit on the speedometer, I “shocked” it again, as it had once again become unresponsive and the instrument cluster was already out of the car.

>>What follows is additional information from the initial version of this note.

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Here are two pages from Ford’s Wiring Schematic volume of the related areas:

Evernote Camera Roll 20170104 011228

Page 1, The ORIGINATING wiring. NOTE Fuse Link G on the Left side of the ammeter, and Fuse Links F, R and Y on the Right side.

Evernote Camera Roll 20170104 011415.jpg

Page 2, DESTINATION wiring. Note that connection from Fuse Link F (37Y) goes to Fuse #1.

Based on this, it would appear that connecting one lead to FUSE LINK G (Page 1) and another to the YELLOW wire at FUSE #1 (Page 2, above) should allow access to the ammeter terminals, just as before when connecting to each directly. Applying a small amount of current should then “shock” the ammeter’s internal magnets and restore operation.

This wiring diagram and drawing are intended ONLY AS A GUIDE. Additional research should be done before attempting to make any connections which could cause damage or serious personal injury.

ADAPTING FORD’S PREMIUM SOUND GRAPHIC EQUALIZER

(Editor’s note: this article was written in September 2017. Since then, a greater modification to the car stereo system has been performed, and is further documented on these pages. This entry is only included for any who might wish to attempt this sort of modification themselves.)

Recently the FM feature on my 1987 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe’s Premium Sound AM/FM cassette radio quit…well, more precisely, something bad happened when I swapped the non-working cassette drive mechanism from my radio with one from an identical eBay one. I’m no stranger to circuitry and electronics, been adapting/building/modifying devices for years; what happened this time remains a mystery. I spent hours trying to figure out what caused it to quit, retracing steps to be certain I did not cross a wire or short-circuit something (the AM and cassette functions were still working). Finally, I gave up.

I could not find a similar unit on eBay or, really, anywhere. I suppose most people trashed the OEM head units (radios) and went with aftermarket ones, so few survived the past 30 years. Fortunately there were a good many made, and even more fortunately not all were in Turbo Coupes, but also Broncos, F-150s and many other models. One day out of desperation I called some salvage yards looking for late 80s Ford vehicles–cars, trucks, vans, whatever. After some misinformation as to another yard’s actual inventory I ended up on West Broadway Avenue in Phoenix poking around in some very familiar places, most of which I had not visited for almost 20 years.

I paid my $3 and walked around a Pick-A-Part yard, not at all suitably attired in a good quality shirt and shorts and wearing flip-flops. After about 45 minutes in the 110+ degree heat, investigating the wrecks in various conditions of decay and finding lots of empty spaces where there used to be radios, I spotted gold inside a 1988 Bronco, almost what I was looking for: a Premium Sound AM/FM cassette in the same style as mine, but with one important difference. It had what I’ll call “rotating knobs” in the spot where mine had a “sliding balance control”–just below the cassette slot. Amongst other things, this meant this particular radio was not designed to be paired with a graphic equalizer. Thus, the knobs–Bass and Treble, and one whose control is found on the graphic equalizer, a Fader for the Front and Rear speakers. There was also a rotating Balance control.

This was a problem. Having neither the proper clothes nor tools to remove the radio, I left the yard, unsure as to whether or not to return. The electronics inside this radio would not be compatible with mine as it had different features, so a circuit board swap would not be feasible.

At this point you might be asking, “Why not just get a newer head unit and be done with it?” Such a move would also allow more modern amenities such as a CD player (now itself just about obsolete). Well, something weird happens when you’ve had something a really long time–you try and keep it as original as possible. Whether that makes sense or not, that’s my mindset, has been and will continue to be as long as possible. While the normal operation of the car might demand otherwise, when given a choice I’ll opt to keep it Stock.

(Funny thing is, I HATE most commercial radio. Too much advertising. I realize they have to pay the bills, but we have a station here in Phoenix that’s a great if unusual example. It’s a kind of labor of love, run by a former radio executive. There are NO ads. It plays all kind of classic rock, even some older Top 40 and country. There is music here that I either a) have not heard in years; or b) have NEVER heard. I like to consider myself a music aficionado–this last part is quite amazing. I’ve never even heard of some of these BANDS! So yeah, listening to this station makes all this work and effort worthwhile. Unfortunately, since there is no advertising there is no responsibility to anyone except the listeners, so occasionally the station will “go dark” sometimes for hours and days while hardware and software improvements are being made. SELFLESS PLUG: KCDX FM 103.1 .)

The next morning, after considerable thought, I revisited the Pick-A-Part armed with more suitable attire and some tools. As it happened, the only tool I needed was some wire cutters–the radio was just sitting inside its spot in the center dashboard console, unattached in any way. I pried off the plastic front trim piece (all that was stopping it from falling out) and cut the wiring harness so that I’d have spare (and proper) connectors. It actually took longer to walk to that vehicle that to remove it.

It cost me $10, and after the various taxes and salvage fees–and a $1 core charge–about $16. Here’s what I got for my money:

Rotating knob

The “rotating knob” stock JBL cassette stereo

Once I returned home, the next step involved cleaning. This turned out to not be as tough as it might first appear, as most of the dirt came off rather quickly. There was a lot of work with Q-tips and toothpicks–I’m pretty fussy about my stuff, and I wanted it to look as new as possible. The real problem involved the black finish on the face of the thing: it had sat in the sun for so long, most of the black was now whitish and the clear coat film had started to bubble. The solution was simple: lots of Mothers’ Back to Black, which is a finish restorer for black trim pieces and parts. I must have applied more than a dozen coats of this stuff to the finish on the radio with Q-tips…some areas readily accepted the product, other areas required application every few minutes. Eventually–as you’ll see in the end photo–it turned out very good. The bubble effect was greatly minimized and overall the finish was nearly flawless, I wish I had shot some Before and After pictures. (There are other manufacturers that make similar products, this is just what I happened to have on hand).

What follows next is the test to see if the thing even works (I actually started this whilst I was cleaning the unit). I had a old power supply with the same amperage and voltage as the radio required (I keep a few around for just this purpose), so I plugged it in and wired it up using the cut-off connector. I found a mini-phono plug socket and wired it up to the other cut-off connector, plugged in some headphones. VIOLA! It played! I tested the AM, FM and cassette deck. It worked FLAWLESSLY! The volume control worked a bit differently–my OEM radio had a push-on power switch which also worked as a volume control. This unit had an actual on/off switch–it rotated to the right to turn on–and when you pushed on the knob it switched to Clock mode. Now, I already have a clock, at the top of the center console tower. Other than the uncertainty of how to wire this unit into the existing harnesses, the clock was a mild drawback. With the restoration of the radio’s front finish, the only problem remained how to make it work with my existing setup.

I spent hours on the Internet trying to learn how to bypass the existing graphic equalizer, as this new radio clearly was not designed to work with one. I tried right off to connect the radio to the existing harnesses, and while it powered up and all the functions worked, there was no sound. One of the problems was the pinouts, as shown on this diagram:

Connectors, compared

Connectors for the “Sliding Balance Control” (w/GrEq) and “Rotating Knob” (without)

Note that on the connector shown at the top, Pin #7 is an Orange wire with a Light Blue stripe, commonly referred to as Orange/Light Blue. See also that it’s noted as the Gr. Eq. (or Graphics Equalizer) wire. Also note–and this is very important–there is NOT EVEN A CONNECTOR (or Pin) at the #7 position on the new radio. So, based on this missing pin, there is no power provided for the Equalizer on the new radio.

More Internet research followed, and more attempts to resuscitate the OEM radio, as I was still uncertain how to rewire the existing harnesses to accept this new part. Fortunately, I had a spare non-working Graphic Equalizer that I had cannibalized for parts some time ago…its connector goes to the OEM Amplifier harness. I set about drawing up plans for doing the wiring, using the new radio cut-off connectors and this Amp harness plug. This would effectively bypass the Graphic Equalizer and run directly from the radio to the Amplifier, located in the trunk.

(It’s important to note at this point that there are connectors (provided by Ford)–hidden near the existing harnesses behind the radio–that bypass the OEM amplifier. This is for owners that want to install a new aftermarket head unit which has its own built-in Amplifier that will certainly conflict with the existing installed OEM one…so Ford generously includes another harness that bypasses the OEM Amp and allows a connection directly to the existing speaker setup. This is NOT the same as bypassing the equalizer.)

I wanted to keep the existing Graphic Equalizer, but did not know how to do so. Then, some scientific experimentation provided the answers.

I measured the current at Pin#7 on this new radio; it was ~12.0 volts. OKAY. so let’s connect the Amp Wire to that terminal.

But I had done that before. Different result? No–nothing, still no sound. The multimeter now showed 4 volts. More tests, same result. While it might read that there are 12 volts available, once a load is connected that falls off somehow. I don’t pretend to understand all the principles and properties of electronics and electricity, but it was clear that this was not an option.

Why not power the amp by jumpering to an existing juiced wire? The radio has two: a constant 12V + line (labeled BAT in the drawing above) and a switched one, that is powered when the ignition/accessory switch is turned on (labeled IGN). I pulled the orange/light blue wire from the amplifier harness connector, stripped some insulation from the yellow/black IGN wire, and brought the two together, temporarily fastening with electrical tape. I turned the key to ACC and turned on the radio. STATIC, GLORIOUS STATIC! This was just because the radio was set to 600kHz, which has no station. Tuning just up the proverbial dial to an existing frequency provided music. I pushed the FM button and hit SEEK…much better! It sounded pretty good…I was VERY pleased.

As the old saying goes, just DON’T MESS WITH THE KNOBS! With the exception of the balance control, there should be no need to adjust the Bass, Treble (or the Fader control, which is already found on the Graphic Equalizer). The tonal control knobs are a ham-handed way to tune the sound; the equalizer provides a much finer and richer experience and result.

There is another issue, though…the equalizer’s power button hasn’t worked properly for years and won’t stay on (according to NATO, The North American TurboCoupe Organization online website forum, the proper fix for this is to “jam a toothpick in there [the switch button]”). I overcame this some time ago by disassembling the equalizer and removing the switch completely, jumpering the wires together. Now the equalizer always comes on when the radio is powered up, and this has not been an issue until now. Problem is, with the jumpered wire now connected, as soon as you operate the ignition switch the equalizer comes on and all six speakers POP. This can’t be good for already 30-year-old speakers. So, the solution seemed to be a switch–turn on the ignition/ACC and the radio, then turn on the graphic equalizer. But, where to put it?

I kept looking for a terminal on the connector that would get power when the radio was switched on, but there was none. I was going to have to connect an external switch, somewhere, and have it not look like a high school science project gone bad. It’s been my hope that at some point I can locate another radio like the OEM one with the sliding balance control, but until then this setup will have to do. Admittedly, I might be stuck with it, so why not do it correctly…even though it might temporary.

Whilst wrestling with where to put the switch I remembered that I had a spare dashboard center console trim piece with a broken mounting screw hole on the lower right (which is why it’s a spare, right?). I decided to mount the switch in that somewhere. Here’s that piece:

Trim piece

Spare dashboard trim piece

I had planned to mount the switch up on the right between the first (top) and second bays/openings, in the silver-ish “brushed aluminum finish” area. This later proved to be impractical, as I thought there was too great of a chance of screwing up the trim piece, and I was also hoping to have the switch be less visible.

The next step was a trip to the local Fry’s Electronics, which is just 1.4 miles away (!!). If you’ve ever been to one, this is the closest tech geeks and project DIYers have to nirvana. While they don’t offer as many of the small electronic components like resistors, capacitors, etc. as they did 20 years ago, there’s still a lot of good stuff here. I selected these two switches:

Switches

Rockers switches

The one on the left offers a green lamp when switched on and is rated at 15 amps; it proved to be too large for the trim piece. Instead I chose the smaller one on the right, rated at 10-12 amps. Less obtrusive and obvious.

Where to put it? It turned out that the switch fit just about perfectly in the little channel part that runs between the bays of the trim piece. So, that’s where it went:

Switch, mounted

The switch, neatly installed.

Sadly whilst shaping up the two holes that I drilled, the small razor knife slipped and cut the silver finish just above the switch. Oh well. (Good thing it was the spare!)

I drew this sketch up as I was formulating the plan for this project. I generally like to make lists and draw pictures of parts, planned work, etc., even if they are just regurgitations of another drawing or picture. I am very visually oriented, and this helps me “see” and understand it better. Here it is:

Rough draft drawing

Draft of proposed project’s wiring

Two things changed after this drawing. First, as mentioned, the position of the switch on the piece. Second, it was impractical to use heat shrink tubing on the solder joint because I didn’t want to pull the pin for the IGN wire out of the connector to slide the tubing onto it. I was afraid that if the small retainer broke off I’d have trouble keeping the wire inside the connector, especially since I was jumpering another wire to it. Instead, I soldered a long jumper wire to the IGN lead and then carefully wrapped the wires with several layers of electrical tape…this lead is then connected to one of the switch’s poles. Here’s the solder work:

jumpered wire

Soldered jumper from EQ to IGN switched wire

Also note the orange/light blue wire on the right side of the photo, connected by a butt splice to a length of white lead. I removed the corresponding pin from its connector and cut it off (carefully retaining it in case I restore the wiring for installation of another OEM style radio!), then made the splice from the now free end of the orange/light blue wire to the white lead, which is then connected to the remaining switch pole.

After the wires were attached to the switch with spade connectors and the trim piece was test-fit on the car, it looked like those connectors could contact the metal of the console’s mounting frame and short-circuit the whole project. I added heat shrink tubing over the connectors to avoid that possibility, as shown:

Heat shrink tubing on switch connectors

Heat shrink tubing to help prevent shorted wiring

Here’s what it looks like with the radio installed and all the wiring in place:

wiring to switch

Why all the extra wiring, you ask?

There is a lot of extra wire used in these leads, and with good reason. The slack allows the removal of the trim piece without requiring that the switch be pulled out of its mounting. The piece is unscrewed and then set off to the right side of the dash center console so that it rests on the floor. Note that you’ll have to run those wires UNDER the radio, as locating them above it causes them to hang over the radio face. The excess wire is loosely twist-tied together and stored on top of the EATC module, just below the radio.

Here’s what the completed project looks like:

Completed setup

The finished project.

 (In retrospect, I probably should have cleaned off those whitish-looking spots from the gearshift boot panel before I shot this picture. Oh well.)

UPDATE:

After a 64 mile drive today, both to recharge the battery and evaluate this unit, I learned the following. The Front/Rear Fader switch found on the Graphic Equalizer is now non-functional, as is the “rotating knob” fader–it turns both front and rear speakers up and down at the same time, in unison…there is no separation. The overall sound quality appears to be a bit less, but that could also be due to poor station signal, as some stations did sound okay, but not great when I increased the volume. Still, when I connect my iPod Classic to the stereo through the Sony cassette adapter that I’ve used for years, the sound is again rich and clear, and with no problems in increased volume. So I don’t get it.

Since I don’t plan on doing a lot of radio listening (I was reminded on this drive how mostly frustrating that is for me), this will do for the foreseeable future. I’ll be watching for and will likely jump at the first chance to procure another “sliding balance control” Premium Stereo unit to restore my OEM setup–hopefully a compatible one will become available. While it might not fix the radio’s broadcast sound, it will at least restore the Fader functionality. I find this feature very enjoyable when configured correctly.