Alternator

Replacing the alternator on the Kia Rio is probably one of the most difficult work I have done, which is a strange thing to say because I have done far more complex tasks on this vehicle. Even though it is relatively easy to disconnect the belts and remove all the retaining bolts, there is simply no room to extricate the alternator out of the engine.

At the top, the path is blocked by the AC lines and the power steering lines.

At the bottom, the the mounting block obstructs the path.

After checking many sources of information, the only apparent way to get it out was by lifting and moving the engine. This clearly seems like a poor design and unnecessarily complicated.

Therefore, passenger-side engine mount was removed, letting the engine hang from the other mount points. Then a hydraulic jack was placed under the oil pan to lift the engine block. This procedure moved the engine by about an inch, and allowed the alternator to just barely squeeze out of the bottom with nothing to spare.

Door lock

Door lock problems may appear minor, but fixing them is not easy, especially if the door is stuck in the locked position. Getting in and out of the car from the passenger side is a major pain in the rear.

With the door closed, it is not possible to remove the panel to examine the problem. So, the first task is to try to unlock the door by inserting various long tools, coat hangers, welding rods etc.. through the window crack. To make matters worse anti-tampering devices will make this process very difficult.

Thanks to a youtuber, I was able to zoom in on the problem area and jostle the mechanism to unlock it. The problem was a broken spring, which was trivial to replace once everything was open and accessible.

Inside door panel before removal

After removing panel

 

 

Brake Lines

Brake lines and corrosion seem to go hand-in-hand. Corroded brake lines will leak, which should be immediately apparent by a complete loss of hydraulic braking power, which is exactly what happened to me (luckily in a parking lot).  Replacing these lines can be problematic, mostly because they can be in difficult-to-reach locations, and the fittings are also most likely frozen by corrosion.

Here is how the brakes work: The brake pedal pushes a piston through the firewall. This motion is assisted by engine vacuum by the brake booster (which looks like a large cylindrical object on the firewall). The hydraulic pump (or master cylinder) is mounted directly on the brake booster, and also contains a reservoir for the brake fluid.

Brake booster and master cylinder

Two lines from the master cylinder connect to the hydraulic control unit.  This is also mounted on the firewall, and is responsible for distributing the hydraulic pressure to each wheel. Four lines come out of the control unit and each one goes to a wheel. Under normal braking conditions, all four wheels will receive equal pressure. Under heavy braking, the front wheels receive a higher pressure. The lines to the two front wheels are  fairly short and are sheltered by the engine compartment, so they are not likely to corrode. The rear lines run the entire length of the vehicle underneath, and are exposed to road salt and water. This is where most of the corrosion can be found.

Replacing brakes lines is not a difficult task by itself, but replacing the full length of a brake line can be cumbersome because they involve a lot of bends and turns. Therefore, most people only replace the corroded sections by splicing in a new line. Brake line are made of rigid stainless steel, and can be easily cut with a rotating pipe cutter. A new connection requires a union. Before connecting a union, the lines have to be fitted with male fitting and the ends of the tubes have to be flared. The shape of the flare is important because it forms a perfect metal-to-metal seal with the female end of the union. Most importantly, the flare prevents the tube from separating from the fitting under high hydraulic pressures. Double-inverted flare is the most common flare shape, and it is the type used in the Kia Rio (this information is hard to find, but the Kia Technical manual clearly states this). The fitting threads are M10 x 1 (metric). The best and most economical tool I have found for creating tube flares is the Eastwood on-car flaring tool for 3/16 brake lines. It is easy to use, and compact and works on the Kia. Although pre-flared brake lines are cheap to buy, the exact length needed may not match up with standard lengths sold in stores. I had to cut off one end of the fitting and redo the flare for the correct length.

Eastwood on-car flaring tool

Double inverted flare with a new male fitting

 

With the union connected

The problem was not solved even after splicing in the new lines. I was unable to bleed the brakes because all four bleed valves were completely frozen. These are small 8 mm screws, so they are very easy to round off.

Attempting to remove one of them resulted in a broken screw, so it had to be drilled out. That ended up damaging the threads in the caliper, so the whole caliper had to be replaced.  Also, both of the rear bleed valves were completely stuck and it was much easier to replace the entire brake cylinder rather than try to remove them. Even then, I ended up having to replace the brake lines leading to the cylinders because the connectors were complete frozen, and I had to cut the line to extricate the cylinder. While I was at it, it was also prudent to replace the rear brake drum, shoes, bearings and hub nut. All in all, a majority of the brake system was completely overhauled.

New brake line between the brake hose and the cylinder

Brake shoes, hardware and cylinder.

The hub nuts that hold the rear drum have to be replaced every time. These are not available at regular parts stores, and has to be ordered online. Instead of the cotter pin, these nuts are crushed to align with the slot in the axle (known as staking). This is best done with an air hammer and an axle nut punch tool.

Staked axle nut

Axle nut punch tool and air hammer

The final step is bleeding the brakes, to remove all air in the newly installed lines. Since the entire system was empty, first the master cylinder has to be filled and bled. This is done by removing the two outgoing lines from the cylinder, and using plastic tubes to run the line back into the reservoir. Then pump the pedals to purge out air from the cylinder.

Bleeding the master cylinder

Bleeding the wheels requires a vacuum suction to pull the fluid through the lines.  This is best done with the Pneumatic Brake Fluid Bleeder with Auto-Refill Kit. Connect a compressed air line to create a vacuum (using the venturi effect), and the fluid can be pulled in through the bleed valve and collected into the tank. It is important to not let the fluid level drop in the master cylinder during this process to prevent air from being re-introduced into the lines. The kit comes with an inverted bottle which will automatically fill the master cylinder as the level drops.

 

A/C compressor

A/C systems are a bit mysterious, but super easy to understand and repair once you know what the different things do.  At the center of it is the compressor. It compresses the refrigerant and sends it to a spray nozzle, and then collects the drainage back into the compressor. The compressor squeezes the refrigerant gas into a liquid. This releases a lot of latent heat, so this gas-to-liquid phase transition takes place in what is known as a condenser. It looks exactly like a radiator so that most of the heat can be dissipated. The spray nozzle is known as the expansion valve, and is mounted on the firewall, usually on the passenger side. As the liquid refrigerant is sprayed, it will evaporate and cool. Therefore, this process takes place in the evaporator core, which is inside the passenger compartment attached to a blower fan.

My compressor failed catastrophically one night. It totally seized up, and the drive belt burned up in a cloud of smoke.  Whenever the compressor seizes up, metal shavings will end up into the downstream refrigerant lines. This means most of them will be stuck in the condenser and in the expansion valve, so these components should be replaced as well. Without it, the new compressor is almost guaranteed to fail (ask me how I know). In order to remove the condenser, the radiator and its cooling fan has to be removed. There are actually two cooling fans. The fan at the front of the vehicle cools the condenser, and the rear fan cools the radiator. After removing the rear cooling fan, the coolant has to be drained from the radiator and its hoses disconnected (including the transmission fluid coolant lines). The condenser is sandwiched between the radiator and the front fan.

Removal of the backside fan

Radiator removed

 

Old condenser

New condenser

During installation, it is best to seal the compressor ports with some tape to prevent debris from falling in. Even small amounts of debris could be catastrophic for the rotating surfaces of the compressor. The new compressor usually comes with the correct amount of refrigerant oil, but the condenser may not.

Compressor ports taped off to prevent debris

 

The expansion valve is relatively easy to remove and replace. All o-ring seals should be replaced at this time as well.


Old expansion valve on the firewall

Expansion valve removed

New expansion valve installed

Then the system is evacuated with a vacuum pump. Because the hole in the expansion valve is small, the system has to be pumped out from both the high and the low pressure sides. Additionally, since the refrigerant lines in the condenser are also extremely small, a long pump duration is necessary to pull all air out of the system- at least about one hour. Unfortunately, the vacuum gauges that comes with standard A/C manifold systems do not have enough sensitivity to show small changes in vacuum levels. It is not easy to tell if the system has reached its lowest vacuum level, or if it is still pumping. A useful trick is to pay attention to the sound of the vacuum pump when the isolation valve is turned on and off. If the system has reached its lowest vacuum level, and there are no leaks, there should be no change in sound. Even a small change in sound will indicate that there is a small flow coming from the A/C system. It may be hard to believe, but this process is far more sensitive than relying on the pressure gauge.

The Rio takes 20 ounces of R-134a refrigerant. A standard bottle/can contains 12 ounces, so a little less than 2 bottles is needed. Walmart sells these for less than $5 each. The standard technique is to disconnect the vacuum line from the pump after the evacuation, connect the refrigerant bottle, and purge the line with refrigerant by letting air out through the small valve located at the manifold. I was not happy with this technique because after spending all that effort to perfectly evacuate the system, we can still end up introducing air or moisture. Here is a better way: Remove the valve at the manifold and connect a separate yellow refrigerant charging hose to that port. Connect the refrigerant bottle to the other end, but leave the bottle closed. When you evacuate the system, it will create a vacuum everywhere up to the refrigerant bottle. When evacuation is complete, close the valve at the vacuum pump, close the high-side (red) valve, and open (or pierce) the refrigerant bottle. This will start pulling refrigerant from the bottle and into the A/C system. When one bottle is empty, close the valve at the low side (blue) inlet to isolate the A/C system, connect the new bottle, and run the vacuum pump again to evaluate the hoses. Evacuation should happen fairly quickly because you are only evacuating the hoses. Then start filling from the second bottle.  Stop short of completely running the second bottle empty because you only need another 8 ounces from the second bottle. Alternatively, you can use a weighing scale, but I have not been able to get a reliable reading from the scale with the hose still attached to the bottle.

Ignition key switch replacement

My Kia Rio would sometimes not turn over when starting, and it would take a several attempts turning the key to get started. Even when it did turn over, the cranking power seemed pretty low, almost like it was a bad battery or a failing starter motor. After replacing the starter motor and battery and seeing no improvement, I traced the problem down to the ignition key switch. This is hardly ever talked about, so I assume it is a rare problem. Fortunately, it is relatively easy to fix.

The ignition key switch contains two components, One part is the lock cylinder where the key goes into, and the second part is the electrical switch. It is a simple rotary style switch. The start position was not making good contact, which was the cause of my problem.

The first step was to remove the top and bottom covers around the steering wheel. The bottom cover is held by three screws and the top cover is just snapped into the bottom cover.  The rotary switch is a white plastic part attached to the end of the lock cylinder. Removal requires access into some tight spaces and a right angle screw driver would be needed. The lock cylinder does not have to be removed.

The same wire bundle also goes to a separate push button switch that attaches to the side of the key slot. This is the switch that senses the key in the slot and makes the beeping sound.

After replacing the key switch, the starting performance was noticeably better. It had the same effect as if a dying battery had been replaced.

Starter Motor Replacement on the 01 Kia Rio

The starter motor in the 2001 Kia Rio is in a very awkward position. It is on the bell housing below the intake manifold pipes, and held by three bolts. The two upper bolts can be accessed from the engine compartment from the driver side. The air filter box and the air intake pipes have to be removed to gain access to these bolt. Even then various socket extensions will be needed.

The lower bolt is best removed from under the vehicle. First, the intake manifold brace has to be removed after taking off it’s four mounting bolts. With the brace out of the way, the starter motor becomes easily accessible from below.

Location of the starter motor under the vehicle

Intake manifold lower brace

Starter is much more accessible after removing the intake manifold brace

The starter motor has to be gently lowered to get access to it’s electrical connectors.  There are two electrical connectors – a heavy positive cable that comes directly from the battery, and another small spade connector for the control signal.  There is no external starter relay in this vehicle. It is built into the starter motor.  It is important to disconnect at least one terminal of the battery before working with the starter. If the positive wire accidentally comes in contact with the vehicle, it will short the battery and start a fire. After disconnecting the wires, the starter can be taken out by lowering it. There is no way to take it out from the engine compartment.

When reconnecting the wires, it is important to remember where the power cable goes. There are two bolts and they are not marked. One is ground, and it is internally connected to the metal body of the starter. The positive cable from the batter should go on the second bolt.  Do not connect the positive cable to the ground bolt for obvious reasons. Additionally, a dirty connection can cause the starter to run poorly. Due to the difficulty accessing the starter motor, the connectors should be thoroughly cleaned before installing the starter back into the vehicle.

The left bolt is for the positive cable, and right bolt is internally grounded so do not connect anything here.

 

 

Tapered Roller Bearings

The 2001 Kia Rio uses two tapered roller bearings. They are different than the majority of bearings. Most shops don’t seem to know how to replace them correctly, or even care to refer to the Kia service manual.  I went through six bearings in 24 months, and four of them were done by the Castrucci dealership in Dayton. After spending over a thousand dollars on shoddy work, I decided to do it myself. It took two weekends, but my wheel bearings have never run this smoothly in years.

Principle of Operation

The spacer is the most critical item in the wheel bearing. This is how it works: when the axle nut is tightened, both the outer and inner bearings will be pulled towards their races. If the clamping force between the bearings and races is too high, the bearings will be under excessive compression. The typical torque applied to the axle nut is about 150 ft-lb. This is sufficient to completely lockup and crush the wheel bearing. This is why there is a spacer. The spacer takes up most of the clamping force, leaving the right amount of force to hold the bearings against the races.  In other words, even with 150 ft-lb on the axle nut, the bearings will be just snugly held against the race, and not with a crushing death grip. This process is known as preloading the bearing.

The spacer has to be the correct length to make this happen. There is no one size fits all. The exact length is specific to each bearing and each steering knuckle. It can only be determined with the steering knuckle on the bench (and not in the vehicle). Kia recommends checking the preload and spacer every time the bearings are disassembled. There is even a technical service bulletin that says reports of repeat wheel bearing failures were due to improper installation. Surprisingly none of the Kia shop technicians I spoke to are even aware of this bulletin.

How to set this preload is described later in this post.


Removal of the Steering Knuckle

Though it sounds ominous, removing the steering knuckle and wheel hub is actually quite easy – easier than changing the engine oil because you don’t need to crawl under the vehicle.

First, the axle nut should be loosened. This is much easier to do with the wheel firmly against the ground. So, do this before raising the vehicle. Then the brake caliper and rotor need to be removed.  The caliper is held by two bolts, and the rotor is held by two Philips screws. Once the rotor is off, the wheel hub should be visible.

Next, the steering knuckle has to be removed. This is what holds the wheel hub, bearings and races. It is attached to the strut with two large horizontal bolts. There are two other ball joints  – one on the lower control arm, and one on the steering tie rod.

The steering tie rod ball joint is held by a bolt, castle nut and a cotter pin. Once these are removed, the rod end can be separated by tapping the bolt from below with a mallet. Be careful not to damage the grease boot around the ball joint. Once the steering tie rod is removed, the wheel hub can be steered by hand making it easier to access the back side.

Next, remove the two horizontal bolts and nuts that hold the steering knuckle to the strut. Once these are off, the steering knuckle and can be tilted outwards and the axle can be tapped out of the hub splines.

 

 

 

Next, remove the bolt and nut on the lower backside. This bolt acts like a locking nut for the bottom ball joint. Then the steering knuckle can be simply lifted out of the lower ball joint.

The last item is the speed sensor (only on the passenger side), which is held by one bolt. But it may be frozen in place, and may have to be tapped out with a mallet from underneath.

 

 

 

With the steering knuckle on the bench, the wheel hub can be knocked out with the right sized socket and a hammer. Then the two wheel bearings and the spacer should simply fall out.

 

 

 

 

Inspect the wheel hub for damage. Mine had a lot of gouges, another evidence of incorrect preloading by the previous mechanic, so clearly it had to be replaced. It is a cheap item, so it is best to replace it if you get this far into the process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clean the steering knuckle in a solvent bath so it is easier to work with.

 

 

 

 

 

The next step is to remove the races. This can be a bit tricky. It comes off easier if the body is heated with a propane torch to slightly expand it. Then go around the rim and knock the races with a screw driver and hammer. It takes a while, but it will come off eventually.

Then install the new races. Make sure the races go in straight and not tilted. A bearing installer kit is extremely useful here. Here is a very handy trick. Place the new races in dry ice for a few minutes (you can buy dry ice in many grocery stores).  This will shrink the races enough to simply drop them into the hole.


Setting the Bearing Preload

This is a topic of much confusion, and most mechanics (including the Kia dealership mechanics) don’t seem to know how to do this properly.  Typically they send the whole steering knuckle to a machine shop. This is where the problem begins. The machine shop will simply reuse the existing spacer assuming that is the correct size for this vehicle. My bearings failed six times within 24 months, and four of them were done by the Kia dealer. Don’t trust anyone to do this correctly, and you don’t need a machine shop either. Do it yourself and save thousands of dollars in wasted repair cost.

The basic idea is to find the correct spacer length that will give the specified rolling friction for the specified axle nut torque (typically 150 ft-lb). If the spacer is too short, the bearings will be under too much compression. If the spacer is too long, the bearings will have too much play. Both will result in premature failure of the bearings and races. The difference between too short and too long can be as little as 4 mils (100 micrometers). Every bearing and race is slightly different, which is why reusing the old spacer is guaranteed to cause problems.

The correct spacer length is determined by assembling the bearings and spacer into the steering knuckle on the bench and measuring the rolling friction. Of course, since the real axle is in the vehicle, and the wheel hub is not yet installed, we need something else that can simulate their function. There is a special tool from Kia which costs $90 (part number 0K130 331 016), but this is really not necessary. Here is how you can do this without the special tool.

 

 

Find a short metal tube (aluminum is fine) 38mm in diameter, and roughly 1” in length. It may be easier get a 1 ½-inch diameter tube and lightly sand it down to 38mm. The inside hole diameter of the tube should be at least ½”, but larger is ok as well. The purpose of this tube is to keep the spacer aligned to the wheel bearings. In the vehicle, all three parts ride on the same hub shaft, so they are automatically aligned, but on the bench we need this tube to do that job.

 

 

 

The bearings and the spacer should slide snugly over this tube.

 

 

With the new races already installed, clamp the steering knuckle on a vice. Install the two bearings, spacer and the aluminum tube into the steering knuckle.

Then select a proper sized puck from the bearing installer kit to hold the bearings on one side of the steering knuckle. Slide a long ½”-diameter bolt through the whole assembly. Place a second puck on the other side, and use a nut to clamp everything in place.

Tighten the nut, lightly at first, and measure the rolling friction. This can be done with a long wrench and a fishing scale. The rolling friction should be between 2 and 10 inch-lb. When measured 4-inches from the bolt the force on the scale should be 0.5-2.5 lb. This is a low enough that the assembly should turn easily by hand. If it is too tight, that means a longer spacer is needed. The goal is to incrementally torque the nut to 150 ft-lb while keeping the rolling friction between 2 and 10 inch-lb.

Since the spacer length is determined by trial and error, you need many different sizes on hand. This could be a problem because there are 21 different sizes from 6.285mm to 7.085mm. Each one costs about $5, and they are only available through a Kia parts distributor (even they will have to special order it, so be prepared to wait a few days). This brings up a question – how are they repairing wheel bearings if they don’t have all the spacers in stock, but I digress.

Spacer selection table

Once the correct spacer is found, disassemble everything from the bench, and install the bearings and seals with plenty of lithium lubricant. The hub should be pressed in carefully because it is a tight fit. Use the bearing installer pucks with a long bolt to pull the hub into the bearings. Then install everything in the vehicle and tighten the axle nut to 150 ft-lb. The rolling friction should automatically reach the previously set limit of 2-10 inch-lb. Of course, you can’t verify the preload at this stage, which is why it is important to set the preload on the bench. This is the factory specified procedure, and if you do it this way, you will not have any problems with wheel bearings.

 

Here is the Chapter from the Kia Manual on Front Hub Axle Repair Procedures