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Old 05-15-2011, 12:10 PM   #1
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Worked on steering column

My Buick's tilt steering column was wobbly so I took it apart to tighten the screws that had backed out.

I put it back together and started the car, and now I think it's running worse. First it was hard to start and backfired through the intake badly, making a ton of smoke. Then it had a louder BLATBLATBLATBLAT sound from the intake than normal. After a few minutes I don't know if I got used to it or it warmed up and went away. It's idling even higher than usual. At first vacuum was low but it came up after a few minutes.

I test-drove it and, apart from the high idle, it seemed pretty consistent with what I expect.

Even after I removed the vacuum advance it idled higher than expected.

It could be a coincidence. It might just have randomly hard-started and I gave it too much gas, causing the backfire (seems unlikely). On Thursday I broke some spark plug wires and replaced them with some old ones. The weather has been dry and sunny since then. It's been raining since mid-morning today. I could have some misfiring from those plug wires (or maybe I had it with the other wires and it's gone from the replacements). However, disconnecting them at idle (including the ones that survived Thursday), they all produce the same result - barely perceptible difference.

Any idea what's going on? I'd hate to drive it to work tomorrow and find out that I'm destroying the engine due to a broken wire in the steering column.

The ignition switch isn't in the steering column. The key cylinder is but there's a mechanical linkage to the ignition switch under the dash. I don't think a wire from the ignition switch is messed up, and I don't think it's possible to put the linkage together wrong so the ignition switch is operated incorrectly (nor do I know how that would cause these symptoms).
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Old 05-15-2011, 12:23 PM   #2
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Re: HELP! Worked on steering column, now running worse

Another thought: This might be the first time I've driven it in rain since I put in high-octane gas.
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Old 05-15-2011, 12:43 PM   #3
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Re: HELP! Worked on steering column, now running worse

HC-
Have you had the car in pitch dark running with the hood open? Spray the plug wires with a water bottle filled with water and watch for arching. Just because you pulled a plug wire to see how much different doesn't mean they were working well. If each individual wire didn't have much effect (or the same as others) on idle that doesn't mean the conductivity was that good to start with. A lot of your symptoms could be from bad plug wires. Skipping, bucking, missing, etc. It would be random too. A plug wire makes contact after a few bumps, etc.
Rain would dramatically effect how it runs (as I'm sure you know) but would improve as the engine got warm enough to "dry out."
You could also check the status of your spark strenth; use a ground wire with a stripped end. Start the car, pull a wire (one at a time if you like) and use a short length of the same wire stuffed into the end of the plug wire. Hold the two lead together then slowly bring them apart until they wont arch anymore. Weak spark would be 1/8th inch or less, good spark would be 1/2 inch or better. My honda has 5/8" or so gap when I do this. I think you might find at least some of your problem there.
Worth a shot!
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Old 05-15-2011, 12:59 PM   #4
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Re: HELP! Worked on steering column, now running worse

Perhaps you just flooded it a bit when you first started it- that will make lots of dark gray smoke and it will run rough for a little bit.

Rainy weather and bad plug wires are a bad combination. Many times, an engine will idle OK, but then misfire under load due to arcing.

Misting your wires with a windex bottle and water would be a good test of them.

Side note- When you pulled the plug wires one at a time while it was idling, did you happen to have your vac gauge hooked up to manifold vacuum? It would be nice for you to be able to have the experience of seeing a regular misfire as movement on the vac gauge so if one pops up again while you are driving you can immediately verify it on the gauge while you are driving.

Edit- I see that Benfrogg just beat me to the rainy weather/arcing idea
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Old 05-15-2011, 02:28 PM   #5
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Re: HELP! Worked on steering column, now running worse

I think I was just panicking and everything I experienced was just the Buick being its inconsistent self. I don't think it's related to the work I did and I don't think I need to worry that I'll destroy the engine by driving it to work.

I was so panicked at the unexpected behavior that I couldn't even think straight...the blatblat sound coming from the intake was of course from the exhaust connection to the Thermac and was probably just louder because the engine was stone cold and running at 2000+ RPM.

I do think it's time to invest in some high quality wires, distributor cap, etc...I know I've said that recently but I'm even more sure now.

Maybe I'll go out when it gets dark and spray the wires while it idles. I'll definitely have to remember to look at the vacuum gauge while I unplug a wire so I can get familiar with a steady single cylinder misfire. I'll also have to add the spark strength test to my to-do list too.

Nevermind this thread, I'll resume failing in the spark plug thread.
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Old 05-15-2011, 07:46 PM   #6
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Re: HELP! Worked on steering column, now running worse

Yeah, those older GM tilt columns will get wobbly with age, and you gotta get in there and tighten it. You are right in that there's a mechanical linkage to the ignition switch, nothing that you did would effect the running of the engine.
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Old 05-16-2011, 06:05 AM   #7
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Re: HELP! Worked on steering column, now running worse

Not knowing how it's made, I was concerned about it failing while I drive, especially since I EOC and put a lot more force through the steering on this side of the power steering pump. I now understand how it goes together and see that I didn't need to worry about that.

However, it sure is nice to have the tilt working right. Also, my left turn signal wasn't latching; now it does. My key cylinder or ignition switch works better now too - before, it felt tough to turn (though I didn't know it until now), and it wouldn't stay in the ACC position well.

It was the most aggravating job I've done since stabbing the transmission to the engine, or maybe since trying to mount the clutch pedal. I got stuck at a variety of different challenges, and every time I thought I was all clear of my troubles I got stuck again. I'm still not 100% sure I have the steeering wheel on straight.
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Old 05-16-2011, 08:10 AM   #8
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Re: HELP! Worked on steering column, now running worse

I've done that job many times over the years, on my 1980 Bonneville, my 1981 Regal, and my 1986 C-10. The first time I ever did one, I think it took me all afternoon to do it. Now, I can have one opened up, tightened, and back together in about 30 mins.

If your wheel isn't straight, its not that big of a deal to pull the wheel and straighten it out. Not like you're getting into the heart of the column again.
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Old 05-16-2011, 08:48 AM   #9
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Re: Worked on steering column

I knew 3 people that had similar issues while in college. The car either wouldn't start or ran like poo when it was damp outside. On each of them, the distributor cap or distributor seal was damaged, allowing moisture to get inside. If it continues to run poorly, I'd pull the cap off and spray it with electrical contact cleaner and re-install it. Or just replace it. They're dirt cheap.
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