How To Clean A Mass Air Flow Sensor

Today’s sophisticated computer controlled fuel injected engines squeeze a significant amount of horse power out of each combustion chamber.  In order to achieve their maximum output, they need precise input.  That precision involves 14.7 parts air for every 1 part fuel or 14.7:1.

In order to know the correct amount of fuel to pump, the engine must know how much air is coming  in.  Air flow is not a constant. As the rig drives down the trail, through the hot and cold as well as humid or dry conditions air volumes change. Enter the Mass Air Flow (MAF ) sensor. The technical jargon behind the acronym MAF involves a constant voltage passed over two heated wires placed into the airflow.  As the air flows across the the wires, they cool down creating a positive temperature coefficient (PTC).  In other words by measuring the drop in temperature of the wires (or increase in current passing through them) the engine’s computer can calculate the airflow.  To ensure a correct reading the engine’s computer takes into account temperature and humidity as well.

Eventually, dirt and oily film can cook on the wire creating a thin insulating layer of muck.  Periodically, there’s a cleaning cycle where the wires are heated to a very high temperature to burn off deposits. If the deposits remain and engine’s computer sees an air mass value out of range, it sets an error code…  and the dash board lights up like a Christmas tree.

Manufacturers of MAF sensors recommend replacing the sensor, after all they are in the business of selling them.  If you have a few garage tools and about twenty minutes you can clean the MAF sensor, which may solve the issue, if the wires are mucky between cleaning cycles.

Removing the FJ Cruiser’s MAF sensor for a visual inspection and cleaning is a simple procedure.  The first step is to remove the plastic engine cover, by loosening the two nuts up front and lifting the cover off it’s hinge.

Once cover is removed, the MAF is exposed in the front of the secondary air flow box.  Carefully, unhook the wire harness connecting the MAF to the engine’s computer.  To remove the wire harness, depress the clip and give a snug pull on the sides of the connector.  Do not pull on the wires.  If the connector refuses to release its grip, try holding the clip down while sliding a screw driver between the connector and MAF, gently prying  the two apart, careful not to apply too much force (remember plastic exposed to heat, over time can become brittle).

With the harness disconnected, remove the two screws holding the MAF in place and lift the sensor out of the the air flow box.  You can cover the opening with a shop towel to prevent any dirt, bugs or stray bird poop from falling in while you clean the sensor.

With the MAF sensor removed inspect the hot wires for muck.  In order to clean the hot wires we picked up “contact cleaner” from Radio Shack and following the directions, really read the directions… sprayed the hot wires with cleaner.

The contact cleaner we used drys in about 10 minutes and does not leave a film.  After the cleaner has done it’s job, slide the MAF back into place.  You will hear a click as it seats past the O ring on the sensor’s collar.  Screw it into place, connect the wire harness and reattach the engine cover.  Your done.

If you have an Intelligent Tester, you can ensure the mass air flow sensor is operating within spec following the Toyota mass air flow check service bulletin.  We simply made sure the dash board lights didn’t go into hyper-drive when we started the rig and let it warm up.

Who Dosen’t Love A Christmas Letter

This time of year brings out the writer in everyone…  Although some should put their pen down and leave writing to Hallmark.  Well, all those annual Christmas letters inspired Hula Betty to throw down this year’s Christmas Letter.

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Greetings from the trailer park that is Kitsap County.

Another Christmas quickly approaches the Last Great Road Trip clan. This will be our most recent Christmas yet!

Dad continues on his mid-life crisis he calls the Last Great Road Trip. Dad has made a big move; relocating from his office to the family room!  The kids and Mom have been able to see his real job: publicizing his website for everyone and their Jewish grandmother to read.

Mom is still doing an adequate job at keeping things running smoothly. Between driving Boy everywhere his heart desires, to making macaroni and cheese for Hula Betty’s boyfriend (Dad still doesn’t acknowledge him), to putting up with the crazy shenanigans of Hula Betty’s friends, to listening to Hula Betty sing and dance, Mom still keeps the house looking good.

Boy is still having premature teenage rebellion. Boy doesn’t want an iPod and he doesn’t want an Xbox, Boy wants thousands of vinyl records from bands that no one’s ever heard of and all sound the same. You’ll most likely find Boy at a skate park or Value Village these days.

Last but certainly not in any way the least, Hula Betty has remained the golden child. Hula Betty now has a GPA of 3.9 and is starting to get interested in some colleges. Hula Betty’s favorite classes at school are AP Studio Art and Hip Hop 1, replacing PE and Lunch as favorites. Hula Betty’s AP Studio Art teacher said that Hula Betty is her favorite graphic designer and has the potential to make a lot of money doing that as a career, someone will have to keep Dad in gas money. Hip Hop 1 is a dance class after school where Hula Betty can release the inner black woman that is dying to be let out.

Aunt B. will be making her annually road trip up north, dodging bullets and junkies as she flees Granny’s holiday grip.  And if there isn’t enough sarcasm here already, Aunt J. may join the exodus and land on our doorstep with a beer in hear hand and a sharp dig flying off her tongue.

This will be the best  holiday season of this year and as the snow falls, Last Great Road Trip wishes you and your family a happy holiday and great new year.

Snowpocalypse Weather Watch

Knowing what you’re getting into on an off-road adventure and planning for the weather is a big part of finishing an off-road adventure safely.  Currently the Northwest is experiencing cold, snow and ice that is a little more than usual.  Before we go out on a trail run we usually check with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NOAA can tell you what to expect just about anywhere in the nation and have a number of good educational resources to go along with all their maps and data.  And when the weather gets really bad, they put out special reports to explain exactly what your in for.  NOAA’s NW region put out this December 20-21 weather advisory.

Snow and extreme weather can add to the fun of an off-road adventure creating an additional challenge to an otherwise easy trail.  It can also turn a fun trip into a ugly mess if you’re not prepared for what mother nature throws at you. Be prepared before you go out and check with NOAA and stay safe.

Everyone Was A Noob Once

Over the last couple of years I’ve had an opportunity to wheel with a number of experienced guys who have forgotten more than most will ever know.  And because of those opportunities my abilities have improved.  But I am still working on the basics.

When we started this off-road adventure idea I would read and talk to anyone who would take the time to chat, then go out on easy logging roads to test what I learned.  Luckily I found a number of folks willing to teach the new guy (the really great wheelers, are eager to help others).

Although the Toyota FJ Cruiser has a lot of technology such as Atrak and E-Lockers to help you out, it is important to get comfortable with the right approach to an obstacle in the first place and know which technology best fits the situation.  You will also want to learn the low tech items including building a sand anchor or safely operating a hi-lift jack.

When I looked through some the archives, I came across a few resources that stand out as belong on everyone’s reading list:

And when you’re ready for the complete manual on all things off-road adventure, be sure to read “Planning and Leading An Overland Expedition“.

If like me, you struggle with dyslexia and reading looses entertainment value, check out the videos from Bill Burke, Getting UNStuck and Getting PREpared.

This reading list will not substitute for practice, but it will provide you with a solid understanding and a strong foundation.  To really go further and get the most from your 4×4 experience, consider joining a local 4×4 organization such as the NW FJ Cruiser Club or Rising Sun Four Wheel Drive Club of Colorado. A club will provide an opportunity to wheel on trails where members can teach you the finer points of picking a line as well as demonstrate moving over, through and around obstacles on the trail.

We were all noobs once and every time I get together with experts to chat I’m reminded of just how much I still have to learn.  If you’re starting out, read everything you can, join a club, find a mentor and hang in there.  Before long a newbe will be knocking on your door asking for a little advice.

Long-term Report – K&N Cold Air Intake

We all get excited by our new mods and tell everyone we know how its the best (fill in product name here) on the market and we explain all the reason we choose product X. But over time does that glowing praise fad, or are you still pleased with your purchase? This report follows a year of use in all sorts of off-road adventure conditions, and reflects our real world experience with the K&N CAI for the the Toyota FJ Cruiser.

We replace the Toyota FJ Cruiser’s stock air intake with a K&N cold air intake (CAI) about 30,000 miles ago.  The decision to make this mod was based on the horse power gain claims and our desire to beat the dust and debris associated with the dirt and gravel roads of expedition travel.  We picked up the K&N model 63-9030 cold air intake for the Toyota 4.0L engine.

K&N states “our 63 Series Intake Kits or AirCharger® Intakes are built for many different vehicles and represent a dramatic improvement over a K&N O/E replacement filter alone. These intakes use only non-metallic rotationally molded tubes that can reduce intake air temperature and decrease intake sound over a metal tube. Restriction can exist BETWEEN an air filter and the engine reducing the benefit of a K&N Air Filter. The weakest link in the airflow ‘chain’ robs a vehicle of its natural horsepower. Often that weak point is the factory air path leading to the Engine. K&N Air Intake Kits virtually eliminate air path restriction by replacing the air filter and the entire air path to the engine. The aerodynamically engineered tube drives a massive amount of air into an engine, which translates into POWER.”

According to K&N we should have seen a horse power increase of 11.95hp @ 4785rpm (K&N intake kits dynojet research).  And while our rig was not put on a Dyno to validate the increase we felt a gain and certainly heard the throaty sound of air rushing in.

The installation is simple for anyone who has changed their own oil or replaced a stock air filter.  The kit came with all the parts and easy to follow instructions. The bigger, and I do mean bigger, air filter is washable and reusable allowing you to save money on filter replacements and increase air flow.

K&N states “All filters are constructed with ultra-strong molded pliable rubber flanges which absorb vibration and allow for secure attachment” and this is where we saw a major problem.  The weight of the air filter hanging off the intake mount combined with the vibration of the rig as we cruised over washboard back roads (200 to 500 miles a day of washboard gravel and dirt at speeds of 40 – 55 mph) caused the filter to rub against the rigs body. This rubbing caused the filter to wear a hole through its wire mess and polished off the rig’s paint and primer below.  At one point the filter vibrated completely off the intake tube despite a adjustable screw-down band clamp that came with the CAI.  We did manage to correct this problem with some zip ties that secure the intake tube to the heat shield, adding support for the filter and lowering the amount of vibration cause the heavy filter.

The other drawback we found is that although the K&N CAI comes with an air guard designed to shield it from the hot engine bay, it is less than an ideal fit.  Unlike TRD’s CAI which encloses the air filter and draw cool air from the outside, K&N’s is much more open with hot air flowing in from around, underneath and above the shield.

Bottom line, would we do it again…  No!  Although the K&N CAI works well enough, the lack of air control and the filters desire to jump off the intake tube led us to remove this K&N CAI.

All CAIs trade some filtration capability for more air flow and the oil sprayed onto this type of filter has been blamed for muck on the MAF (mass airflow) sensor.    For now we will go back to the original stock configuration.

Don’t Take My Word For It

If you read this website and well you must or you wouldn’t be here….  You know I believe the Toyota FJ Cruiser is a great rig for the type of off-road adventures we do.  We take the rig on off-road adventures, across Alaska tundra, through Baja desert, over tough Rubicon 4×4 trails and explore just about any two track that looks interesting. And while I will tell you it is a great rig, who am I!

Well don’t take my word on it, turns out we have some other opinions to share and it is not the thousands of other FJ Cruiser owners… We’re all biased.  No, this best rating comes from US News & World Report.  They just came out with their list of best truck, cars, hybrids, and toasters.  Ok I’m kidding about the toasters, I think the Hamilton Beach True Toaster is the best.  In the category of Midsize Crossovers/SUVs US News & World Reports picked the Toyota FJ Cruiser number one.  In their words “Despite the fact that it’s a bona fide truck-based SUV, the Toyota FJ Cruiser provides a surprisingly comfortable highway ride. Add to that a cool, retro-looking exterior and its ability to double as a rugged off-roader and daily driver, and you’ve got a good value — even if fuel economy isn’t the greatest.”  And the Toyota FJ Cruiser’s quirky looks, it gets a 9.2 (excellent) score for it’s Exterior from US News & World Reports.

If that is not enough, The Washington Times reports on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, finds that the FJ Cruiser earned a Good ratings and has become a Top Safety Pick.  This rating is of course on the new 2009 rig but you check Insurance Institute for Highway Safety web site for Top Safety Picks from earlier years.  I’ll save you the click through…  2007-2009 received a Good rating.  And for these guys a rating of Good, is as good as it gets.  While your looking around on the Insurance Institute’s site check out all the cool info on safety, crash test and status reports.

Mt. Baker Back Roads Run

When you grow up in Oklahoma it is hard not to eat, breath and sleep Sooner football.  This also means you dedicate Saturday’s to the gridiron and make sacrifices including pushing off family reunions, funerals, and off-road adventure opportunities.  Well with Oklahoma positioned for the national championship, it was time to celebrate with trip into the back woods.

I’ve long wanted to return to the Mt. Baker area and see the mountains as they take on that first coat of snow.  The cold weather usually keeps the crowds at bay when there is not quit enough of the white stuff to ski down.  And I knew there would be an old logging road or two to explore along the way. It was just a matter of getting a little Barbie Doll size coat for that Iconic dashboard copilot of mine, Hula Betty.

The morning started out as you would expect in November, dark and drizzly fog with a chance of rain and clouds the rest of the day (note to self: change the rubber on the windshield wipers they’re getting loud).  The first leg of most adventures for us is by ferry over to the east side of Puget Sound where the rest of the state of Washington begins.  The ferry boat ride is also great time to grab a cup of coffee, wake up and double check everything is where I thought it would be.  And as my wife will tell you I always forget something.  This time it was tire chains (more about what that cost me later).

Only thirty minutes later and we were driving back onto to dry land, heading north on I5, where in Bellingham we shoot east on 542 heading to Mt. Baker.  As soon as you get off I5 you start to feel the change in time as strip malls are replaced by little country stores and swap meets.  You also trade in the straight gray concrete for the winding tarmac that follows the bends of rivers with names like Nookshook, Iceberg lake or even Thompson creek.  And as we wound along these living, breathing, moving water ways the road began to feel like our own with only the occasional car passing the other way. The rest stops on the back roads have all the cool stuff, including one of the largest Western Red Ceder stumps.

Twin Lakes is a beautiful base camp area set just below Winchester and Mount Larrabee at around 5,200 feet  Having scrambled up these two in the past I knew the road up was a fairly well maintained logging road that can get washed out but usually remains passable.  As we turned off 542 and hit the dirt the drizzle stopped and day was looking up.  The road was as I remembered and we made good time for the first 4.5 miles or so as we passed the Tomyhoi Lake/Yellow Aster Butte trail head. The forest service describes the next section as “not maintained for passenger vehicles. Those persons with a 4-wheel drive high clearance vehicle may be able to continue the remaining 2 miles to Twin Lakes”.  It was here that we came out of the trees into the clearings and the wet damp turned into icy crust.  The snow that remained had clearly been thawed compacted and refrozen a couple of times forming crunchy ice that immediately slowed us down.

Motoring on through the white crunchy stuff we came to the switchbacks.  It was at this point we start to understand physics as the rig moved more sideways than forward.  Progress became, back up a few feet, drive forward ten feet and repeat.  Remember those chains I forgot… Hula Betty’s view from the dash gave her a clear sense of how steep the drop was as we would slide toward the down hill side of the trail.  I swear she quivered in fear a little.

With no chains, no other rigs around and the trail getting steeper we decided to call it.  But that meant backing down the steep trail to that last turn in the switchback in order to point the rig in the right direction. Oh those big beautiful mirrors.  We worked our way backwards to the turn, then facing correctly down hill, headed back following the tracks we laid coming up.

On the way down we had the good fortune to make some new friends. We met up with a family, who had come up to see the snow…  for the first time.  Mom and one of their sons recently arrived from the Philippines and this was a chance for the whole family to enjoy making snow men and pick out a Christmas tree.  They all seemed to really enjoy spending time together and I enjoyed hearing how they met had on the Internet and recently wed.

The rest of the ride down the trail went quickly with a few stops to enjoy a the sites and sounds of the woods.  Once off the trail it was on to the ski area of Mt. Baker.  The winding tarmac leading up the mountain was lined with poles set by the Department of Transportation to mark the edge when the heavy winter snows come.  Arriving at the top we were treated to amazing views of Mount Shuksan as I sat by the frozen lake (Hula Betty opted to say in the rig).  The bench by the lake provided a short moment of solitude to contemplate how similar we all are in our desires to raise a happy healthy family.  Staring up at a glacier covered rock the size of Manhattan, you can’t help but put life into perspective.

On the way up we spotted a little back road leading off to no where, so on the way down we added it to our list of places we would explore.  This little dirt road went on for a couple of miles with clearing offering views of Cascade peaks hidden from view previously.  And as a bonus, it ended in a place with a nice wall climb.  It wasn’t the climb that presented the challenge, it was the landing at the top, which was just large enough to almost hold a rig.  Once on top, it took a little maneuvering to point the rig back down without getting too off camber.  The little climb gave us back the machismo lost on the snow covered switchbacks.

Driving back to the ferry Hula Betty reminded me (I know she not real but it is better than talking to myself and she is stuck to the dash so she is not going anywhere) how lucky I am to have the opportunity to explore this area and meet others with diverse backgrounds and stories of their own.

Almost Famous

First of all THANK YOU to all y’all (y’all is singular)  who read our off-road adventure stories, watch our videos and of course click through a Google ad or two.  We just crossed the 100,000 visits mark for the year.  How do we know?  Is it through CIA Satellite spy cameras? Are we psychic employing mystical oil spot readings?  Have we asked your mother?

If you’re a Dad of a teenager you know what a big deal it is when I tell you that about a month ago my daughter saw the analysts, cracked a smile and showed her friends (translation: slightly impressed that so many (ok any) people follow her dad’s website).  She still thinks I’m a dork, just a more popular dork.

Turns out folks in Bahrain, Guam, Chile, Greece, all over the world have found the site.  Well 100,000 folks can’t be wrong so we will continue to share our stories.  OK we would put our stories out there even if no one read them…  but it feels good to think we are almost famous. And no matter how you found us, THANK YOU for following along. And don’t forget to click a Google Ad or two… We need the gas money.

The Lone Gunmen

Like so many brave whistle blowers before, we have to point out a government conspiracy that effects all our readers.  Mulder understood how government sponsored three letter agencies put together backroom deals with corporate giants who would agree to lean on the individual little guy in order to maintain control over their free spirit… That is clearly what is happening and explains why the Last Great Road Trip Rig showed up in Google’s new street level view feature.

Sure if you go with Occam’s razor, the simple explanation is that the rig’s appearance was the result of it being parked on the street when Google was out snapping their pictures  But we know there are no coincidences and this location is just blocks from Google’s office and the picture was discovered only days after our story mentioned President Elect Obama’s iPod. Clearly Apple, Google and a secret government agency are after us… Or Not!  I wonder if they caught us at any other address?  Let us know if you find our rig in other Google mapped locations.

And as complete proof of the conspiracy… The image of our rig has been removed since this was first published.  Coincident, I think not!