Category Archives: Handyman

Subaru Outback Emergency Rear Hatch Release

I’ve been looking at the idea of using our 2011 Outback as a quick overnight camping solution for times when I’m out on the road for dance calling gigs. With some minor rejiggering and construction, it is easy to put a twin mattress in the back of the car for short term camping.

As part of that investigation, I was looking into how one could get out of the rear hatch in an emergency. There is no inside door handle, button or similar in the rear of the Outback of this model year. Apparently, the rear is not subject to the same emergency release requirement (law?) that is now addressed in vehicles with an enclosed trunk, so there’s no emergency release handle or similar. Searching around on line found no information about a solution – so I worked on figuring it out myself and here’s my write up of how I enabled a tool-less emergency exit release.

There’s a small plastic cover on an approximately 1″ x 1″ hole at the bottom center of the interior hatch panel with a small slot or indentation where one can pry off that cover. But the slot is on the bottom, so would be impossible to access with the hatch closed – not the best engineering attention to detail! With the hatch open you can easily (but carefully to avoid damage) pry the cap off.

Click on any of these images to see larger ones with detail

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Access Hole Cover
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Access hole to hatch release

Inside the hole is the hatch mechanical release mechanism. In this close-up you can see a triangular-shaped white plastic part in a curved slot. This is the hatch release. Moving the part towards the metal bracket will release the hatch catch and allow you to push the door open. Great!

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Release mechanism detail

As I didn’t want to simply keep the cover removed, I came up with an easy way to remove the cover in an emergency. I drilled a small hole just over the diameter of a small cotter pin and put that through the cover hole, spreading and curling the tabs to secure it on the inside. The cotter pin’s head loop was just big enough to thread a keychain ring through to use as a pull. The result is quite unobtrusive but easy to use when needed.

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Cover with drilled hole and parts
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Cotter pin tabs spread out
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Cover with pull installed

I’ll feel much more safe knowing we can now easily open the back hatch from inside whenever needed.

BTW, an additional search while I was writing this up uncovered this thread which talked about the release but not how to access it without a tool, as I detail above.

Replacing Hood Release Cable on a 2003 Saturn Ion

Just a quick note on this one. We have an old Saturn with 155,000+ miles on it. Things are at the stage where lots of stuff is starting to break (exhaust, front brakes, starter) and need repairs, but it still is good basic transportation to keep around as a second car and gets better mileage than our Subaru Outback.

With all the recent repairs I’ve been doing, the fact that I’ve been using a coat hanger stub poking out of the grille to open the hood (after the release cable broke a couple of winters ago) started to get old. Looking around the web there was little info on how to actually do the repair but the parts were fairly cheap – I was able to get a “used” and “minor cosmetic issue” unit from Amazon’s Warehouse deals for under $16. So I decided to give it a go. (BTW, the cable ended up being brand new in original packaging when it arrived, yay!)

Should you be looking to do the same, I figured out an easy way to get the fix done.

Our cable had snapped (and the handle came off) from the end inside the car. The cable is routed from inside the kick panel next to the driver’s side, up behind a bunch of insulation/sound deadening stuff, through the firewall (passing through an integrated grommet) and into the engine compartment. From that point below the cowl area it travels along side the battery connection/fuse box frontwards and through a hole in the radiator support and turns toward the center hood release. There are two routing clips along that route through the engine compartment, one near the fuse box and one just through the radiator support.

It seems there was a factory technical service bulletin at one point due to the fairly common seizing and breaking of the hood release. Water was getting inside the cable sheath and freezing in cold weather or causing corrosion which ultimately jammed the cable. Cables were replaced while still under warranty and they changed the routing of the cable to pass over (instead of through) the radiator support to eliminate the dip in the cable which was trapping the water.

Looking at this situation, I was not looking forward to having to manually route this cable so I was looking for some way to get it done more easily. I ended up figuring out a really simple solution and had the cable done in less than 10 minutes once I started. Here’s what I did:

Inside the car, remove the trim alongside the driver seat/rocker panel area – lift the plastic at the seam/split and snap it off (4 clips, 3 on the rocker panel and one under the dash). This reveals the hood release lever mount and the cable end. While our lever was already broken off, you can take off the lever here and remove the cable end.

Under the hood, remove the cable end from the hood release lever (I also removed the grille assembly via the 3 small bolts to give me more working room as I was removing my prior coat hanger hack as well). Pull the ferrule towards the front of the car (firmly) to remove it from the bracket and then down to provide slack in the cable. Wiggle the cable end out of the release lever so the cable can come fully free. Trace the cable and release it from the two guide clips mentioned above.

Now that the cable is free of all but the firewall pass-through, go back to the driver’s footwell. There I used a plumber’s pipe cutter tool to cut the cable sheath several inches from the cable end and pulled the sheath off so that I had several inches of bare cable available (you may need to cut off the cable end ball). I then used a pair of vise grips to clamp on the sheath and pull about a foot of the cable assembly back into the footwell. This dragged along the integrated grommet on the cable, which I slipped off after removing the vise grips. Now there was a full length of smooth cable sheath I could pull back through the firewall to the engine compartment side.

Inside the car, I took the new cable assembly and attached the lever to the end of it. After wrapping several turns of the old cable around the front/latch end of the new cable (being careful not to kink the new cable), I wrapped a couple of turns of duct tape around it (staying clear of the new cable as much as possible in order to not gum it up). I was able to then go out to the engine compartment and simply pull the free end of the old cable and it dragged along the new cable, pulling it through the firewall (including seating the grommet) and along the existing routing to the radiator support. Once there I did the equivalent of the factory TSB and routed the cable over the radiator support and back down to the hood release to prevent the cable dip.

However, before installing the cable at that end, I lifted it to face vertically and squirted a whole bunch of white lithium grease in the cable end to lubricate it and inhibit moisture. I then proceeded to install the cable into the hood release as it was before, being sure to snap the ferrule in properly and tight. Snapped the cable back into the guide clips and installed the release lever onto the cable in the footwell. Slid the release lever assembly into the mounting bracket in the footwell and tested the release to be sure the hood opened (which it did smoothly/easily!) and then reinstalled the fascia panel from the kick panel and along the rocker panel.

Now that I knew the hood could be opened normally, I then reinstalled the grille assembly and made sure to align it with the hood (required some wiggling before tightening the bolts). Done – now we don’t have to explain to service personnel how to open the hood anymore!

DIY Crock Pot Sous Vide System

On a visit to some friends I became aware of the whole topic of Sous Vide “under vacuum” (SV) cooking, the concept of using a controlled water bath to cook food (particularly meats) at low(er) temperatures for more consistent and desirable results. High end restaurants have been doing this for a while. At the time, Sous Vide systems were quite expensive but some home cooks were doing ingenious hacks to simulate a professional SV cooker by using hot water in beer coolers, etc. In that discussion, I mentioned that I thought one of the small computers I was toying with for home automation (HA) could make a simple & cheap SV system with some other basic parts.

It took me some time to come back around to the whole SV idea myself. Not too long ago I came across a great deal on some London Broil at Market Basket and that served to get me going on setting up my own SV system using parts I had already at the house from my previous HA projects. While there are now some SV immersion systems on the market for under $200, I thought I had everything needed to make one on hand. I figured I could try it out and see what I thought of SV cooking without spending any more money. Here’s what I came up with.

DISCLAIMER: This post is just to document what I did. I’m a hobbyist and know almost nothing above my tinkering. I DO NOT MAKE ANY ASSURANCE THAT THIS IS APPROPRIATE FOR HEALTH OR SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN FOOD HEALTH DECISIONS AND FOR USING ELECTRICITY RESPONSIBLY. I WILL NOT BE HELD LIABLE FOR ANY ACTION YOU TAKE TO FOLLOW THIS SAME PATH AND ANY DAMAGE THAT MAY RESULT. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! But should you make some delicious food as a result please comment to let me know!

OK, with that out of the way, here’s a photo of my solution:

My DIY Sous Vide System

The major parts here are:

  • standard Crock Pot slow cooker
  • Programmable Power Controller, consisting of:
    • CAI WebControl PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) unit
    • DS18B20 1-wire temperature sensor, embedded in a stainless steel probe
    • AC to 9v DC power adapter
    • 5v “Arduino” relay board
    • Misc. breadboard wires, low voltage wires and a PC 12v fan connector
  • 110v home wiring components:
    • Light switch
    • Power outlet
    • Appliance power cable
    • Misc. wires and connectors

Update 5/29/2016:

I’ve now been using this set up successfully for nearly a full year. Today I’m doing a SV Leg of Lamb for later finishing on the BBQ grill. Other meals have included lots of chicken, pork and beef – each one has turned out really well (I’ve yet to do fish, but will try it soon). I’ve not posted my PLC code up to now because I was awaiting it becoming stable – which I think I can now consider it, as it’s pretty much worked unchanged since day1 – so here it is. A bit of explanation:

HEAT_ON is a subroutine to energize the power relay, HEAT_OFF does the opposite.
HEAT_MAIL informs me of changes in state of the power relay.

Using the WebControl PLC’s General Setup page, various values can be set to control the program:
UROM1 is the desired set point (degF *10), so 1360 is 136.0 deg
UROM2 is the lower offset (degF * 10), so 8 is 0.8 deg – this controls the amount of swing in the actual temperature and will need to be tweaked for a given crock pot. This determines the actual point at which the heat will be turned on.
UROM3 is to enable or disable the power relay. 1 enables.
UROM4 is to enable or disable the email notices. 1 enables.

START
SET VAR1 0
TSTEQ TS1 0
EMAIL EM1
SUB UROM1 UROM2 VAR1
TSTLE T1 VAR1
CALLSUB HEAT_ON
TSTGE T1 UROM1
CALLSUB HEAT_OFF
END

HEAT_ON:
TSTEQ OP2 0
SET VAR4 -1
TSTNE UROM3 1
SET OP2 0
TSTNE UROM3 1
RET

SET OP2 1
SET VAR2 T1
TSTEQ VAR4 -1
CALLSUB HEAT_MAIL
SET VAR4 0
RET

HEAT_OFF:
TSTEQ OP2 1
SET VAR4 1
SET OP2 0
SET VAR3 T1
TSTEQ VAR4 1
CALLSUB HEAT_MAIL
SET VAR4 0
RET

HEAT_MAIL:
TSTNE UROM4 1
RET

TSTEQ VAR4 -1
EMAIL EM2
TSTEQ VAR4 1
EMAIL EM3
RET

I’ve also set up a script on a Raspberry Pi on our network which I use for data logging of each batch. At 10 minute intervals it captures the relay state and current bath temperature into a .csv file via a URL get from the WebControl. I can use this data for tweaking the UROM2 value above and for modifying my recipes going forward.

I’m very pleased with the system now and may be extending it to control more than one bath. For instance, today I was wanting to do both a pork loin and the lamb leg at the same time. There’s not enough space in the crock pot for both, despite the temperatures being able to be the same (but duration differing). With some code changes and multiple probes & relays I could control several baths.

I may also be creating an internal web portal on the pi which could provide real-time graphing and settings management for the SV set up, so I don’t have to look up what UROM values mean what each time! 🙂 This will be more important if/when I extend it to multiple baths, as only the UROM values have a built-in web interface on the WebControl unit.

Better than a rooftop box, and roomier too!

I’m one half of a “new parents” team focused on our little daughter. Wow, kids require so much stuff!

So, we were planning an extended car trip and I knew we were not going to be able to comfortably fit all her stuff and support equipment into the car, with our own adult stuff, and still allow for us to feed her on the fly in her carseat in the rear. I knew this would mean external storage space but I hated the idea of one of those big rooftop boxes.

Why? Primarily two reasons:

  1. Gas mileage impact: sort of like dragging a rooftop sail down the road, this was going to cause some serious drag
  2. Access challenges: getting to the box on the roof and getting stuff into and out of it was going to be a pain. My back is not what it once was…

So I was thinking that a small enclosed rental trailer would be the ticket. Something like this one. Once I calculated the cost for our extended trip, I figured I could build one for the same or less money (than either the trailer rental or buying a good rooftop box) and we’d get to keep it for future needs. New project!

So I end up buying a Harbor Freight trailer frame kit. This ships-in-two-boxes kit comes pretty much complete but completely disassembled. They intend for you to add a make-your-own simple plywood platform and an optional stake side kit to complete it, which they supply basic plans for in the assembly directions. As I wanted to haul stuff in complete weather protection, I had to come up with a better solution.

My design ended up being a weather-tight wooden box made primarily from two sheets of 4′ x 8′ marine-grade plywood and a couple of 1″ x 4″ x 8′ poplar boards. It has a pretty simple but very effective gasket system, much like a refrigerator door (so effective, I find that opening it requires waiting for the resulting air lock to release!). Stainless hardware enables a swing open lid and good security. Upgrades include an LED trailer light kit (with the wiring harness expanded to include a dedicated ground wire throughout) and an interior LED light fixture to view the contents at night. Also a spare tire and mount (modified to go on the front surface of the box instead of on the frame tongue). I came up with a PVC pipe wiring channel to protect the wires underneath and keep the box weathertight.

The box is coated with West System marine epoxy currently and will eventually have a marine one-part polyurethane paint finish for better appearance and UV protection (have to wait for warm weather to apply it – all the assembly and coating to date was done in my residential basement due to sub-freezing weather!).

I’m really pleased with the result! The MA RMV had no issue in registering it. The trailer is barely noticeable in towing (~1500 miles so far), and seems to have little or no effect on our gas mileage. It swallows 4 large plastic storage bins and some additional bulky gear and is easily loaded and unloaded. The interior stays perfectly dry, even when using a power wash on it (I built in a boat drain plug just in case, but there is no need for it now). It is so light and well balanced that I can easily disconnect and wheel it around with one hand while still drinking a coffee with the other.

This photo make the trailer appear larger than it is - the top comes just about up to the bottom of the car's rear window and it is much narrower than it.

My only complaint is that it is so compact I can barely see it out of the rear of the car – which makes backing up a real challenge! Basically, once I see it on either side of the car while backing, it is too late – the trailer is at a significant angle already. I may need to add some lights or poles to show the corners of the box for backing up. But for now, I generally find it easier to just pop it off the car’s hitch and wheel it where I want to put it than try to back it up any distance.

Will update this post later, once the final painting is completed.

Update 12/14/13: I finally finished this project in early fall of this year with some other enhancements besides just painting, check it out!