Saturday, August 18, 2012

How to Fix Loud Clicking Coming from the Center Console in Jeep Grand Cherokee

My 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee started making a loud clicking noise for about 10 seconds, shortly after starting the Jeep. Here's another guy on YouTube that is complaining about this noise.

I was pretty discouraged after calling the local parts shops and Googling around, but I decided to tear into the dash anyway.  They were telling me that parts weren't available, and it was probably related to a vacuum leak or some other engine-vacuum related problem.

The good news is that I was able to get the part from the dealership for a mere $33, and really it didn't take but a few hours to tear apart.

Here's the bad news...  It does take quite a bit of time to tear into, and it's not for the faint of heart.  You'll need a variety of tools including right-angle Phillips drivers, a Torx driver, and quite possibly a drill with bits.  That being said, there are several motors that can cause this problem, some of them being easier to access than others, and you may or may not get as lucky as I did.

Here is the inside of me Jeep at the height of the encounter.

Begin by removing the covers around the center console.  These all just snap in place, and there are no tools required.

From there you will see a maze of wires, and ducts that control the air flow to the various vents, and that blend the hot and cold air together.  Note, I just have a single, manual temperature control and none of the more advanced features such as being able to set a specific temperature, rear seat controls, etc.

By watching the inner workings while it is making noise, you should be able to identify which valve actuator is making the noise.  Here's a couple of tips:

  • The motor (actuator) is the piece that is making the noise.  See the photo below.
  • On the opposite side of the motor on the air duct, you can usually see the shaft that attaches to the motor.  By watching which ones are moving, it will help you identify the culprit.
  • If you put your finger on the motor, you should be able to feel the vibrations from the clicking.  Again, this is to verify that you're replacing the correct motor.
  • You may need to pull the gear shift back in order to see inside of the console.  The Jeep will start in the Neutral gear position, but BE SURE TO ENGAGE YOUR EMERGENCY BREAK, AND USE COMMON SENSE.

This is a photo of an actuator.  This is what you're looking for.  There are two wires coming off of the bottom, and mine bolted to the duct with two Torx screws.

I'm considering myself fairly lucky, in that my actuator was front and center.  There was a wide, flat duct that carried the air to the rear vents, and the actuator was just right of the center console.  The bad news was that I had to peal back my entire lower dash to access the motor.

Taking the dash off involves pulling the end cap on the far right side of the dash, next to where the  door butts up against the dash.  There is one screw near the front that holds the dash in place.

Then pull the bottom kick plate with the two screws under the glove box.

Remove the glove box by disconnecting the dampener arm at the right.  Open the glove box fully downward and pull up on the hinges to pop it loose.

At this point, lay on your back in the passenger side floor board and look up.  There are about a half-dozen screws that attaches the plastic dash to the underlying frame.  Remove every screw from the dash that you can find.

Next you will need a right-angle phillips screw driver.  It must be shorter than about 1 inch, and if you have a ratcheting one, that would be a big help here.

There are four screws that connect the bottom part of the plastic dash to the top half.  Reaching up through the glove box area, remove the four screws to release the dash.  Also, disconnect the glove box light while you're under there to prevent ripping the wires out.

Once all of the screws are out, the right half of the lower dash board should peal away from the metal frame.  Around the center console, there are some plastic pegs and a couple more screws that need to be tweaked to gain access to the center console's inner workings.

There was a small piece of duct-work that provided the floor vent on the passenger side that had to come out.  There was one screw that (of course) was partially obstructed, but I was able to maneuver the screw driver close enough to take it out.

As I said before, I counted myself lucky that my actuator in question was easy to get to.  However, I did not have a right-angled Torx screw driver that was small enough to unbolt the actuator.  What I did was drill a hole (actually two because I was too far off with the first - oops!) to slip a screw-driver through to unbolt the actuator from the actual duct valve.

Once you remove the two screws,  the actuator motor will slip right out, and you can disconnect the wires.

Take the old actuator to the local Jeep dealership and compare, because there seems to be a lot of confusion regarding this part.  Like I eluded to early on, when I first started calling around town, several stores consistently told me that this whole system was vacuum driven off of the engine.  Granted, I didn't tear in deeper than I absolutely had to, but I saw NO signs of any vacuum systems in here.

Once the new part is in hand, bolt it back into place, and thoroughly test all the settings of the climate control system.

Once you are satisfied that the operation was a success, re-assembly is the reverse of the dis-assembly.

From what I can tell, this exercise saved me 2-4 hours of shop labor, plus the mark-up on the parts.  You can do the math with your own shop rates. 

I was also talking with someone locally who was having the same symptoms, but with a different motor.  He apparently went in through the drivers side under the steering column, and was able to replace the part without pulling the dash.  There appear to be at least 3-4 motors in even the simplest of environmental systems, and I suspect that any of them are equally likely to be the culprit.

Good luck!

Replacing the HVAC Blower Motor in 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee

The Grand Cherokees seem to have a chronic problem with the blower motor in the heating and air conditioning system, where the bearings slowly go out and start making noises.

I've owned my 2005 Grand Cherokee for about four years now, and I've had to replace the blower three times now.  It usually starts with a little bit of squeaking, and eventually develops into more of a growl or grinding that varies with the speed of the vent air.

The blower motor can be found online for about $50 from places such as, and it's a simple fix to replace it.

The motor is located behind the glove box on the passenger side.  Begin by removing two screws from the kick plate above the passenger size floor board.  The plate will come out with a bit of tugging.

Now is the hardest part - you need to scoot the passenger seat all the way back.  Then, laying on your back on the floor, look up and you will see the blower motor behind the glove box.

There are three Torx-head screws that hold the motor in place (only one is visible in the photo above).  Remove those screws and the old motor will come loose.  Use the quick disconnect plug on the cable, and remove the old motor.

The new motor is installed, by following the instructions in the reverse order.  The whole process takes less than 20 minutes.

My Jeep came with a motor that was going out after 50,000 miles, although I'm not sure if it had ever been replaced nor do I know how the prior owner treated the vehicle.  My first replacement lasted a couple of years before it started making noise.  The third motor was only in the vehicle for a couple of months, however it started squeaking after some heavy-duty back roading in Colorado.  My gut is telling me that either the motor shaft is being bent, or the bearings are damaged by rough roads.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD Stuck During Startup

Recently, I had been using Movie Studio off and on for a couple of days on a project, and then for no immediately obvious reason, it wouldn’t start up.  The splash screen would come up, and it would get to the step “Initializing external monitoring…” and would freeze.
(Note: I didn’t get a screenshot of my PC doing this, so I borrowed the above shot from another forum that was having problem with the same issue, hence the version 8)
Task manager would cause the splash screen to go away, but the process would never die, short of a full reboot.  Subsequent tries at launching the software would yield slightly different results, but in the end, it would never launch.
I began by trying all of the obvious fixes
  • Uninstalled some recently installed software.
  • Uninstalled and re-installed the Vegas software.
  • Deleted the software keys from the registry in HKLM and HKCU.
  • "Plugged a USB headset that had recently been removed back in.
  • I tried to do a system rollback to a restore point, but found that my periodic backups hadn’t been happening (a topic for another day).
  • Stopped the real-time anti-virus scanning.
None of these alleviated the problem.  Many others were reporting the problems on the forums, but no one had any fixes.

Using the SysInternals Process Monitor, I was able to determine that just before it locked up, the software seemed to be loading or enumerating “Media Interfaces”.  That got me to thinking about a problem that I had a few months ago with my sound card.
I had already tried with and without my USB headphones plugged in.  The next step was to disable my SigmaTel High Definition Audio CODEC from Device Manager.  (Open Device Manager, find the sound card in the list, right-click on it, and select Disable).
A few months ago, I had a similar issue with another piece of software, whereby the software wouldn’t run correctly, because the SigmaTel wasn’t registering that the microphone had been plugged in early enough in the boot process.  This made sense as it’s well documented that many people are having problem’s with their Dell-installed SigmaTel audio cards after end-users have upgraded their PC’s to Windows 7 (apparently not a manufacturer-supported configuration). 
I rebooted, held my breath, and alas, it got stuck again…
As a last-ditch effort, I left the SigmaTel disabled, unplugged the USB headset, and ALSO my Logitech webcam (which has a built-in microphone).  Essentially, every single audio-device on my system was either un-plugged or disabled.  Another reboot and voilĂ , IT WORKED!

I’ve since plugged the USB headset back in, and Vegas is still working.  The webcam seemed to be the culprit, although after all of the problems that I’ve had with SigmaTel drivers, I plan on leaving it disabled and installing a Creative Labs sound board.

I hope that helps someone!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Open Source Spotlight – FreeFileSync

In our household, we currently use five PC’s for various activities.  One drives the television, one for the kids, a desktop that I do work on, and two laptops.  Historically, keeping the files up-to-date has been a major drag.

In years past, I’ve tried various strategies to keep our documents, photos, music, and video current.  Certainly one good solution is to keep a centralized server, and connect the client PC’s to that server.  In this scenario, there is one master set of files, and everyone always has the most current available to them.  Microsoft now makes the Home Server, which is designed for this task.  I’ve also used various flavors of Linux such as Ubuntu to run a home-based server from.

For us though, that didn’t work.  First of all, I’m kind of a backup freak, and having all of my documents stored on a single moving platter doesn’t set well.  Sure I could implement a RAID array,  but then we start talking about more money and complexity.  Secondly, I was beginning to do quite a bit of travel, and back in the day of slow, expensive Internet service, there was just no good way to get to the files remotely.  The final blow was when I started measuring the power consumption on various devices, and how much they were costing me to run – that was the deciding factor that I didn’t “need” a dedicated file server running 24x7.

Another strategy that I’ve tinkered with is using an online data hosting service.  In the past, these seemed to be more work than they were worth – they had crude interfaces, limited storage, and I still had the issue of relatively slow Internet connectivity.  Today, seems to have a viable option that I may pursue, whereby the files get stored on my local computer, but they get replicated out to the web.


But for the time being, I use a more direct approach file management – FreeFileSync.  FreeFileSync is an open-source program that lets you very quickly compare two folders, identify the differences, and synchronize them.

The program has some options to let you customize the general behavior, but usually the default options are acceptable.  For me, I point the left pane at my local C:\ drive data directory, and the right pane at my Desktop PC, using a UNC path.  Clicking the Compare button will initiate the file comparison, which on modern hardware over a LAN network, takes about 20 seconds for my 15,000 files.  A sample of the results can be seen here.


The blue and green arrows in between the left and right pane shows which direction the software has determined that the files should be updated.  The software has a fairly sophisticated algorithm to determine the correct action, based on file timestamps, as well as an internal database of past synchronizations.  This internal database is how FreeFileSync knows when a file has been deleted, and the corresponding file on the opposite side of the sync should also be deleted.

Any of these default actions can be overridden by clicking in the center column before the synchronization takes place.  Once you’ve reviewed the actions, clicking the Synchronize button at the right puts the changes into effect.  This usually takes only a few seconds unless I have large amounts of data that has changed.  Then the time is dependent on bandwidth of your LAN connection and the speed of your hardware.

In all, I usually synchronize each of the laptops to the desktop about once a week.  It generally takes less than  two minutes to complete.  When I’m done, I have local access to any of my files from each of the PC’s, plus I have three separate copies of my irreplaceable photos and data.


I give FreeFileSync five out of five stars.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Repairs to a DRE-4000 Aviation Headset

Since getting my ticket back in 2004, I’ve been using a pair of DRE headsets in the local FBO’s Skyhawk.  The headsets have worked quite well considering the $150 entry price.
A little over a year ago, I noticed that the cord was beginning to fray.  At that point, there were no usability problems, just cosmetic, but it was obvious that it wouldn’t last forever.
Sure enough, one spring afternoon I loaded up the plane, and one the lucky passenger had no Mic audio.  He could hear, but not talk.
I priced around a little bit, and I can buy a replacement cord for about $35.  Add shipping to that, and you’re not too far away from a down payment on a brand new headset.  Instead I decided to dig in and see if a repair was possible.
One of the things that I do like about the DRE’s is that the cord is replaceable with two thumb screws.  I pulled the plug, which allowed me remove the cover over the wires.
Obviously the yellow wire has a problem.  It’s impossible to visually inspect if any of the other wires have issues since they’ve been potted in some sort of resin.  The bad part about this type of design is vibration and movement of the of the potting material can cause the solder joints to break or become intermittent deep inside where they can’t be inspected or repaired.
Begin by taking a pair of pliers and break up the resin that’s encasing the existing wires.  Don’t break the connector itself, but the wires will all have to be re-soldered, so don’t worry about them.
When making a repair like this, it’s best to cut the top couple of inches off of the cable and start fresh.  Begin by putting the outer shell of the connector back on the wire (near my thumb).  Strip the outer insulation back about an inch to expose the wires.  Cut the braid off flush with the outer insulation.  (Notice the “key” shown here on the shell of the connector.  This keeps the connector from only being inserted in one direction, and is critical in later steps.)
Separate the wires, and strip back about 1/8” of insulation on each.  Tin them with solder.  Also prepare the connector (at right) by tinning the pins and removing any old wire that may have been left.
Before final assembly, notice that there are two sides to the connectors, and that it will only fit into the headset one direction.  The order shown here is with the “key” at the back (not visible) of the photo.
DISCLAIMER: Fortunately, I had a second identical headset that I was able to ring the wires and connectors to determine the proper sequence of colors.  There’s no guarantees that these colors are the same for any other DRE-4000 headset, but they probably are.  If in doubt, consult your avionics shop.
The order (from left to right, with the key in the back) is Red, White, Brown, Green, Black.   Solder the wires to the pins, making sure that the shell has already been placed over the cable and is ready to be slid into position.
Like I said earlier, I really don’t like the potted connector/strain-relief solutions, but unfortunately there aren’t many options with this particular design.  Once you are comfortable with your solder work, mix up some 5-minute epoxy and drizzle it into the connector shell.  This epoxy is the only thing keeping the wires from being ripped out, so use plenty.
Finish pulling the shell down over the connector and then apply gentle pressure to the sides (I used clothes pins) to keep everything tight while it cures.  The hole in the headset that this connector fits into is fairly tight, so keeping pressure on it during the curing process is essential.
That’s it.  Once it has cured, re-insert the plug into the headset, and replace the thumb screws.  If the wiring was correct, you should be good to go for a couple more years.  If it wasn’t correct, I’m sorry to tell you that you probably won’t be able to fix it.  The plastic used on my plug was just barely strong enough to survive one reconstructive surgery, and I don’t expect it to make it through a second.
Happy Flying!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Replacing the Battery in your Uninterruptable Power Supply

I decided several years ago (after a brief power outage) that I had better things to worry about than if I had saved my open files recently enough when the power flickers.  So I picked up an APC Back-UPS 650VA power supply to keep my computer running through a power outage.


Fast-forward about four years, and I’m sitting at my PC working, when my UPS beeps and the screen goes black – exactly what I had been trying to avoid.


The most common cause of UPS problems is a failing battery.  The first step in diagnosing the problem is to open up the case to reveal the battery.  Usually the batteries are quite easy to get to – either the front of the box will pull off, revealing a couple of screws, or there will be a couple of obvious screws on the bottom of the unit.  For my Back-UPS 650, it’s the latter.


Pull the battery and disconnect the positive and negative battery leads.  These are normally just spade connectors on the smaller UPS’s, and no tools are required.  This is your first chance to inspect the physical condition of the battery.  Many of the batteries that I’ve had go bad actually produced enough heat internally to cause the sides to bulge.  If the battery has been deformed, it must be replaced.  Sometimes, the battery will actually start leaking, and you’ll see a white powder crusted around the chassis or battery.  This is also a dead-giveaway that your battery is shot.

A standard DC volt meter is often enough to diagnose a battery beyond simple physical symptoms.  Normally, a battery that is actively being charged will read about 13.8V.  Once you disconnect the charger, you should still see about 12.5V.  If you read anything less than about 12.0V, then you are missing a cell (or more) in the battery and it must be replaced.

Once in a while, a battery will hold its voltage when it’s sitting idle, but as soon as a load is placed on it, it will drop.  For a test load, I’d recommend something that will load it down with about 1 amp, such as a 10 ohm, 20W resistor.  Another option would be 12V car brake or dome light if you happen to have one handy.  Measure the voltage before you attach the load across the positive and negative lead, and again while you have the load attached.  It’s normal to see a drop of a couple tenths of a volt, but if the battery drops below 12.0V, it’s probably shot


While it’s possible for other parts of the UPS to fail or become damaged, 95% of the UPS’s I’ve worked on are because of an aged and/or abused battery.  The easiest way to find a replacement is to measure the physical dimensions and look for a replacement on a site such as  (I say that this is the easiest, because usually the original battery that comes from APC does not have any kind of Amp-Hour rating on it – they do that to discourage you from buying your own replacements…)

Search for “Sealed Lead Acid batteries”, and begin comparing the physical dimensions of the batteries.  Normally, you will be looking for a 12V battery, usually in the 7AH to 28AH range.  The physical dimensions are pretty well standardized across the industry, just be sure that it will fit inside the chassis of your UPS, and that the battery posts are compatible with the leads on the UPS.


Once you receive the new battery, installation is exactly opposite from the disassembly.  Often times there is a small spark when you attach the second lead to the battery.  Don’t be alarmed, this is normal.

Put the screws back in, and the UPS is again ready for operation.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Opinions of Windows 7

I’ve been running ‘7 for four months now, and to summarize, I think that Microsoft has a solid, viable operating system that’s ready for prime-time.  It’s time that both businesses and individuals accept that change happens and learn to deal with it.

My personal take was that Vista was simply ahead of its time – it required new, fast hardware that just wasn’t widely deployed.  On top of that, Vista changed many of the driver models which broke support for many older devices.  And that’s not to mention an almost complete lack of support for 64-bit drivers.

The industry has largely caught up, and Windows 7 capitalizes on that.  Unless you’re still running the same PC that was considered old three years ago when Vista came out, you’re probably in pretty good shape to run 7.  The video card is the most significant hardware requirement in 7 that I’ve run into problems with, but can usually be resolved for about $45 and 30 minutes of your time.

For those coming from Windows XP, the learning curve is going to be steep, but not insurmountable, even for the least-tech-savvy users.  It just takes patience, and maybe some coaching from someone who has made the jump.  Many (although not all) of the XP machines will need to have hardware updated or replaced in order to make the jump.

For people like me who updated the hardware and had jumped to Vista already, your curve to move to Windows 7 is pretty much a non-event.  Your hardware should be capable, and there aren’t any new major changes like there were in Vista.  My opinion is that if you liked Vista, you’ll love Windows 7.


What’s so great about it?

First of all, I really like the licensing change that Microsoft did for home users.  If you’re a household like mine, you have multiple PC’s, and the thought of spending $125+ each on an upgrade to the latest and greatest just isn’t going to happen.  For that, Microsoft came up with the Windows 7 Home Premium Family Pack.  For $150, you get three licenses of ‘7 that you can put on your home PC’s.  And contrary to to the uber-helpful Best Buy employee’s training, yes it is valid to upgrade your Windows XP machines with this 3-pack license.  The only caveat with XP is you have to install fresh, which means formatting your hard drive and starting over from scratch.

Additionally, there’s basically one “Home” license that most people will need for their home PC’s.  It’s just the Home Premium version.  The only other option would be Windows 7 Starter, but that’s only available for Netbooks.  For businesses, you basically only need Professional or Enterprise, depending on whether or not you’re involved with the Microsoft Volume Licensing and Software Assurance.

Performance is good.  Some will legitimately argue that ‘7 uses smoke and mirrors to provide the illusion that it’s running faster.  Yes, ‘7 does cause some non-essential services to delay before starting at boot-time, and switches off other services by default.  In this case though, perception is reality, and boot times do seem faster than Vista, and probably on par with XP.

There are some subtle GUI changes that are really great.  For example, I am almost always working on dual monitors either at home or work.  Before, if I had a window maximized on the right monitor and wanted to move it to the left monitor, I would have to 1) restore the window 2) drag the window to the left monitor 3) maximize the window.  Now, you can grab the title bar of the maximized window, drag it to the other monitor, and release the mouse while at the top of the screen, and it will automatically maximize it again.  Sure, there are 3rd party utilities that could do that for you, but it’s nice to have a standardized feature built-in to the core OS.

You can also drag a window to the far left or right of a screen, and it will stretch the window to the full height, but will only take up half of the screen (either the right or left half). 

There are also a keyboard keystrokes that stick windows to the right or left of the monitor.  Hold down the Windows Key, and press the right or left arrow keys.  If you have dual monitors, you can move a window between the monitors by just hitting the left or right arrows a couple of times.  Finally, you can maximize or restore a window by using Windows Key and the Up/Down arrows.

The Shutdown option is easier to use than in Vista.  It now defaults to Shutdown (instead of Sleep).  If you don’t want to shutdown, you can hover the mouse over the arrow right beside the Shutdown option for about half of a second, and a menu will fly-out giving you all of your Restart, Logoff, Sleep, etc options.


If you want to take a quick peak at a calendar, you can simply click on the clock in the task-bar, and a calendar will pop up.  You used to be able to do this back in the XP days by double-clicking on the clock, but you had to be careful because that’s how you changed the date/time too.  Now, you single-click it, and you have a calendar that you can thumb through the months and years, but don’t have to worry about accidentally altering the system time.


There are several new programs included with the OS that I find helpful.  I won’t go into details of what they do exactly, but make it a point of trying out the Snipping Tool for taking screenshots and the Problems Steps Recorder when you’re trying to communicate a problem with Tech Support.  The Calculator program has been updated, and has different modes called Scientific, Programmer, and Statistics. 


It’s not exactly a program per se, but you can now burn ISO images directly to a CD-ROM or DVD by just right-clicking on the ISO file.  No more trying to remember if you installed Roxio or Nero on this particular computer, and where you stuck the shortcut in the Start Menu.

Outstanding Issues

I do have a couple of issues with my installations that I wish I could figure out.  At work, I have a Dell Optiplex 755 that used to have a dual-head ATI card in it (sorry, I’ve forgotten the model).  The card worked fine on Vista, but after upgrading to ‘7, the fan on the video card began to randomly cycle on and off as if it was hot.  Usually a reboot would make it stop doing that, but one day it was driving me up the wall and I wound up cutting the cord to the fan.  It solved the issue, and ran fine (which further leads me to believe it wasn’t actually a heat issue, but instead a driver problem).  I finally replaced it the other day with an nVidia card out of precaution.

That same Optiplex also has problems shutting the NIC down when it goes into sleep, which was never a problem on Vista.  I’ve tried some different settings with no change.  I recently flashed my BIOS to the latest A16 version, but since then I’ve had it lock up tighter than a drum twice and needed to be powered down.

Sleep modes are also an issue on my Dell XPS 420 at home.  It tries to go to sleep, but randomly wakes up for no apparent reason.  Again, I’ve tried changing some of the wake-on-USB and wake-on-NIC settings, but no joy, yet.

I will say that I’ve had more lockup’s and blue-screens on Windows 7 in the last four months, than I had on Vista and XP over the last four years, but most of them can be attributed to getting the sleep work correctly, as well as some new CAD software that I’ve been testing.



I hated to end this on a sour note.  Yes, I’ve had some stability issues that are new to this OS, but keep in mind that both of these PC’s are operating on hardware that was not “designed” for ‘7.  I’ve also been diving into designing printed circuit boards at home using a whole slew of new CAD programs, some of which I’m finding aren’t the most stable works in the industry.

Beyond that, I love the OS, and have quickly become spoiled to some of its features.  To me, XP is beginning to look very dated and archaic. 

The migration to Windows 7 does require a person to step outside of their comfort zone and embrace change, but in the end, it’s a good thing.