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Exploratory Surgery

by Tyler

None of us are deterred by the fact that we have no idea what we're doing. Today, we're going to tear apart the Suzuki Swift's tiny three cylinder engine. Maybe, just maybe we can repair it, or find the parts we need to get it running. If not, at least we'll get to see what the damage looks like. Using the parking lot behind our hotel as a workshop, we dive in:

Suzuki Swift Teardown Working on the Swift

Flying by the seat of our pants, we wind up disassembling numerous parts of the engine that don't need to be disturbed. Here we are, taking the camshaft cover off. This is totally unnecessary to accomplish our goal of removing the bent connecting rods, but we haven't realized that yet:

Suzuki Swift Teardown

Though we replace the cover right away, even momentarily getting to seeing the part of the engine that opens and closes the valves is fascinating. The Swift has two valves per cylinder. The first lets in fuel and air, while the second lets out the hot exhaust resulting from the explosion created by the spark plug. The teardrop-looking shapes covered in oil near the back are the lobes that push the valves open in an alternating pattern as the camshaft turns:

Suzuki Swift Camshaft

Everyone is hanging out to offer moral support, even if they aren't getting their hands dirty working on the Swift. It's funny how we all have nice clean rooms inside and yet we're all congregated outside. We should just set up the tents!


Richie and Freddie are going above and beyond the call of duty, providing steak sandwiches for the entire team. Richie tends to the stove, cooking up thick, rich cuts of meat for everyone, while Freddie peels and slices a huge bag of potatoes for homemade chips.

Chips & Steak Richie Frying up Steak

They've even scrounged up some spicy English mustard to smear on top of freshly baked bread. Sprinkled with salt and ground peppercorn, the meal is mouthwateringly delicious.

Tara's Steak & Chips Dinner

Tim, ever the culinary odd-man-out, sticks to his "veg" by creating what looks to be a sensational carrot and glass-noodles dish.

Tim's Veggie Dinner

Back by the cars, we're using our WhisperLite for another non-cooking application: heating the crankshaft bolt at the bottom of the engine so we can remove it. Normally, this little gear is connected to the camshaft up top by a timing belt.

The crankshaft does something slightly similar to the camshaft: it converts the alternating up and down motion of the pistons, which are attached to it via the connecting rods, into rotational force for the transmission and wheels. Since the two shafts are connected, the valves open and close (letting in fuel/air, letting out exhaust) in time with the pistons going up and down.

Heating Crankshaft Bolt

At this point, we're still operating under the assumption that we can just drop the crankshaft out of the bottom of the engine. We do manage to break the bolt free, but quickly learn that this both unnecessary and impossible without further disassembly. The pistons only come out from the top of the engine block, after you've detached the connecting rods from the crankshaft.

Suzuki G10 Top End

I have a very complete theoretical picture of how an internal combustion engine works, but actually taking one apart is awesome! I've had plenty of opportunities to do stuff like this back home, but I've never pursued any of them. Right about now, I'm kicking myself; there really is no substitute for first-hand experience.

Unsticking a Piston Tyler with Oil in Beard

We're all getting a huge dose of it. Here is Charlie under the Swift, pushing the pistons out of the cylinders from below.

Charlie Under the Car

Soon, we've succeeded in removing them for inspection:

Tom Inspecting Piston

The big top bit is the piston head. The slightly bent piece of metal underneath is the connecting rod which attaches it to the crankshaft. It is supposed to be perfectly straight.

Slightly Bent Connecting Rod

So, two of the conrods are bent, but one of them is significantly worse off. Here is Matt, holding the guts of his rally car. This is what happens when an engine fills with water and there is no room for the pistons to move up and down. Liquid can't be compressed (incidentally, that is how brakes work), so the metal just bends. The prognosis isn't good. :(

Matt's Bent Connecting Rods Suzuki Swift Teardown

Well, we're covered in oil and grease, and we've done pretty much all we can do today. The results, while fascinating, aren't particularly helpful. Tom and Matt are going to go in search of parts tomorrow, and possibly try to find a mechanic who can bend the connecting rods if they don't have any luck.

Tyler & Tom

For now, we're calling it a night. Time to head inside for another evening of cards and beer.

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By the way, see my post on Going Slowly's tribute to the analog car (and cooking):
Posted by Jean on October 21st, 2010 at 5:38 PM
First of all a big thank you for taking time to update this most interesting and inspiring blog. In my family, it is the first thing we check right after our emails each morning to see if there is a new entry. While we read, it's mostly WOW! , Oh My God!, Oh No! exclamations and plenty of laughter and sighs of relief. I think your adventures could make a very good movie. Lol.
P.S. I love the links you provide throughout your posts. Not a big deal, but i thought you might want to know that "how an internal combustion engine works" link directs to this page...
... Aloha from Big Island.
Posted by Ana on October 21st, 2010 at 8:26 PM
Interesting article! I think hybrid cars are even more fascinating than their older counterparts. Don't discount your ability to wrench on them just because they are computerized, there are lots of DIY communities out there doing cool stuff with them.

You're more than welcome! Tara and I were thrilled to hear that you and your family read our journal together. Also, thanks for the heads up on the link, all fixed now.
Posted by Tyler on October 26th, 2010 at 7:34 PM