DSM or: How Ruining My Life Was The Best Decision That I ever Made, Part 2: No Symptoms Yet

I am the most photogenic person on the planet.

If you missed out on Part 1, you can check it out here. In it, I bought a car sight-unseen and drove it 1100 miles home before I had even gotten a driver’s license. In this thrilling installment, things actually seem to go pretty well! Until they don’t.

I thought the car was doing well when I got home. I was wrong. The car was down on power. There were several engine codes covering misfires, oxygen sensors, solenoids, and others that I have since forgotten. After trying to clean it up with a can of Seafoam I discovered that the exhaust manifold was cracked and leaking in numerous places. The lifter tick was really bad and an oil change hadn’t helped. The tires (Futura 2000) were an unknown brand and were completely bald. I replaced both oxygen sensors, spark plugs, air filter, and plug wires; replaced the tires with the best all-seasons that I could find; and ordered a new fuel pressure regulator solenoid from the dealership. The dealership sent me a fuel pressure regulator instead, but everything else had worked to bump fuel economy up from 19 highway to 27 city.

Advertisement

I thoroughly cleaned the car, inside and out, and found some remnants from the previous owner. Her name was Marianne. She had owned the car since new. She liked hard candies, particularly those ones whose wrapper is colored like a strawberry. I also found her obituary under the rear seats. For an old lady who only drove this car to church and back, she sure put a lot of miles on it. But it had cleaned up well and I was finally happy with it. The only two things left on my list, lifter tick and fuel pressure solenoid, would be taken care of in short order. I left for the summer to work at a camp in Kentucky so I asked my mom to take my car to the dealership to have the solenoid addressed. When I came back I was greeted by a $550 bill. Instead of telling them to fix the solenoid, she told them to “just fix it,” and handed them my credit card. And I am sure that that service technician’s eyes lit up because he replaced my brand new plug wires, plugs, air filter, oil, and oil filter, and also “cleaned the fuel injectors” and conveniently ignored the CEL and FPS. And also spilled oil all over my engine bay and paint. With my wallet $550 lighter and my spare keys permanently removed from my mother’s possession, I focused on the lifter tick.

The internet says that you just remove the lifters, drain them of the old oil, clean them out, and then reinstall them. Easy enough. The valve cover came off easily and the lifters came out without much effort, but the friend that was helping me with the job managed to break the plastic diverter valve while wrestling with one of the rockers and so it began. If I’m going to replace then I might as well upgrade. I still hadn’t addressed the exhaust manifold, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity for some modest modifications. I bought an exhaust manifold from an EVO III to replace my cracked stock one. I ordered new black leather seat covers to replace the worn and ripped grey stock ones. After finding a metal diverter valve from the 1st generation Eclipse in a local junkyard I ordered an aluminum charge pipe kit that had the appropriate flange. Power was back up to stock levels and my engine bay was a little shinier. Success, I guess.

I thought I was hot shit.

This uncovered a new problem, however. Now that I was back up to the full 210hp, the clutch started slipping. Having little experience with other vehicles, though, I didn’t correctly diagnose the problem. I thought that I was just driving it incorrectly and tried to be even less aggressive with the throttle during shifts. While at work one day, however, it got much worse. The timing was really inconvenient because it was the day before move in day at college. I needed to drive the car to Indiana in the morning in preparation for freshman year. When I got off work I took it to the mechanic across the street right before he closed and asked him to take a look at it. I described the problem and the urgency to him and he understood. He immediately acquired a clutch kit and called in a friend to work through the night to get it installed by morning.

Advertisement

I showed up the next morning expecting to find it still in pieces, but the car was completely back together. The mechanic showed me how there wasn’t any friction material left in the old clutch and how the old pressure plate had deep scoring in it from the exposed rivets in what was left of the pressure plate. He had been able to salvage the old flywheel and get everything installed, so I was good to go. Except that during the removal of the engine he had accidentally sheared the speed sensor off of the transmission. A new one was on the way (at his expense) but it would be a few days. So I loaded up my Eclipse and headed toward Terre Haute with no speedo.

People who say that convertibles are impractical have clearly never owned a convertible.
Advertisement

College was a wild time, but it also triggered a transition from the positive, reliable DSM experience of my high school years into a nightmare that still pains me six years later. And it only took two months to show.

Freshman year. The auto club was going to an autocross and I was very excited to participate. The venue was 90 minutes away and we were all going to caravan there. I filled up my tank and took my place right in the middle of the pack as we drove out of the parking lot. Thirty minutes later I was taking a left to turn onto the highway and was met with nothing. In fourth gear with my foot on the floor, the car was only maintaining speed downhill. It sounded like my intake had come off. I pulled over and popped the hood. No visible damage. No leaking fluids. Nothing was out of place. Keep calm and carry on, then. Except that the engine wouldn’t start without applying pretty significant throttle, and it wouldn’t stay running unless I held the engine above 3000RPM. I was less calm, but I was still carrying on. The other club members had left me behind but the guy driving the trailer full of team cars had stopped to check on me. I assured him that my car was perfectly fine and perfect and that I was going to win the autocross today. We set off again.

Advertisement

Drafting closely behind the trailer with my foot all the way to the floor, the car could maintain 65 mph. Which was enough to keep up, but if the trailer switched lanes and I started to fall behind, my top speed dropped below 60 mph. In this manner I was able to make it to the autocross but had consumed an entire tank of gas during the 95 mile trip. While everyone else was having their cars inspected, I was messing around under the hood of mine. I found that unplugging the spark wires from the left coil pack had no effect but doing the same from the right coil pack would kill the engine. So I had lost a coil and was running on two cylinders for most of that drive. At least I knew the problem, but the solution wasn’t clear since I didn’t have any gas, my car didn’t really run, and the nearest auto parts store that had the coil in stock was 25 minutes away. I meekly asked all of the other club members if I could borrow one of their cars for a “quick” trip into town but was met with a lot of blank stares. I had been a member for three weeks at this point and didn’t know any of their names. They certainly didn’t know me. Even so, I managed to acquire the keys to a BMW and went on my way.

After much frustration and a lot of burns all over my arms, I got the coil replaced just as the racing was coming to an end. I thanked the friendly Corvette driver for letting me use his tools and drove home with a smile, surprised at the success of my first autocross.

Advertisement

The engine held together for less than two months before the turbo died. It’s sort of impressive, really. The original turbo had managed to survive 12 years and 130,000 miles before exhibiting the telltale shaft play and oil leaks, but that didn’t change the fact that I needed to purchase a new one. And again, if I’m going to replace it, I might as well upgrade. For no logical reason whatsoever, I took the more expensive route and bought a Forced Performance Big T28 over the more common, cheaper, and more powerful EVO III 16G. It was a parking lot turbo swap in a snowstorm in December and I may have permanently lost some feeling in my fingers.

After that was a bad ball joint that required the assistance of the not-so-friendly neighborhood 426lb classmate. Two surprisingly soft pickle forks later, the suspension was good to go. I then bought ECMLink and a wideband so that I could tune the car for this new turbo but found the stock injectors significantly lacking. I acquired some new ones and installed them the week before the first autocross in the spring, but in my haste managed to mess things up. I overtorqued the PCV valve and cracked the valve cover in half. $90 later, I had a shiny red valve cover from a 1G DSM. A few small mishaps later and it was summer again.

Advertisement

And if you’re reading this and thinking, why is he telling us this? This is about the most tame DSM story ever, then you will be delighted to know that this is where the story starts getting interesting. The car was still burning a small amount of oil. I could have gotten by continuing to ignore it, but it was summer. I had the time and a job to pay for the parts, so why not tackle this issue? How hard could it be? Assuming that the oil was coming from either the piston rings or the valve stem seals, I decided to tackle the piston rings first. I placed an order at the beginning of the summer with a company called TheDSMGraveyard for ARP head studs and rod bolts, bearings, a complete gasket set, piston rings, an oil pump, a timing belt, and everything else needed for a full tune up on this car. The rod bolts were on backorder and will be in by the end of the week. No big deal. Fast forward two months.I had been calling them every single day. The parts are in the mail from ARP and we will have them tomorrow, they would say. We have your order together and it will ship out in the morning. I heard that for weeks on end until one day I heard a different response. “It looks like we aren’t going to be getting your main bolts in any time soon. Would you like us to go ahead and ship everything else?” I didn’t order main bolts. The crankshaft isn’t coming out of the block because the block isn’t coming out of the car. I have been waiting for two months for the rod bolts that I will have to replace when I remove the pistons. The guy on the phone was very confused. They had never, at any point that entire calendar year, been out of rod bolts. The good news is that they could ship out immediately. The bad news is that I was now a week away from needing to return to Terre Haute for college. They would overnight the parts for free and gave me a decent discount on my next order. Sure. Fine. Whatever.

I had three days to disassemble the engine, hone the cylinders (you’re a bit young to be renting a hone tool, the Autozone guy had said), install the new parts, and get the car running again. Long story short, that didn’t happen. The friend that was traveling with me showed up at my house right as I tried turning the engine over for the first time. Lots of cranking but no firing. No compression. We left for Terre Haute, disappointed, in his car.

Advertisement
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t but DSM together again.

It turns out that DSM cam gears each have two timing marks, so simply aligning the marks on each gear only has a 50% chance of being correct. It took several days of frustration to realize this, but not long after my return from Terre Haute my Eclipse was running again. Poorly, because timing was still off by one tooth, but it ran! Time to seat the piston rings with a friendly autocross competition with my dad.

Advertisement

I covered that parking lot in thick billowing clouds of smoke. Also my shifter cable snapped during my first run, so I had to pop the hood, fiddle with the transmission to put it in second gear, and sacrifice my launches a bit for the remainder of my runs. Also on the way home the oil pressure light would turn on at idle, but it would turn off once I started driving. I remembered that, in my haste to reassemble the engine, I had left the oil pickup tube bolts hand-tight and the oil pump must be ingesting air. A quick fix, but one that I had to do ASAP.

I fixed the oil pickup tube but found that the oil consumption issue remained, so I went forward with a head swap. Using my comparatively small credit from TheDSMGraveyard, I ordered a rebuilt head. When it arrived, however, I was less than enthused. Several of the valve cover threads were stripped. There was still used oil in places from the head’s previous life. The whole thing was completely covered in sand. I called to complain to TheDSMGraveyard, but they told me to go pound the pile of sand that had accumulated on my workbench. I cleaned it as best I could with the aerosol solvents at my disposal, installed my original cams, and put it in the car with no drama. I shipped off my OE head to recoup the significant CORE charge that had been levied against the new head, at least satisfied that the oil consumption issue had been resolved.

Advertisement

Unfortunately for me, in the three months between the parts order and the head order, TheDSMGraveyard decided to stop honoring all responsibilities as a business. Their BBB rating had dropped from a B to an F. They happily sold my head as-is to another unsuspecting customer and stopped answering the phones in order to avoid having to address the mountain of complaints against them. I filed grievances against the company but was never able to secure the money that they owed me. As this coincided with a significant medical bill, I had to take a break from having a well-maintained car for, well, the rest of the life of the car.

Next time, you’ll get to hear about two parking lot engine swaps, two blown transmissions, and exactly how DSM is too big for dumpster.

Advertisement
Not my DSM, although I did reenact this image unintentionally later...

Share This Story