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How I got it and what I plan to do

Old 11-05-2018, 10:32 AM
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Join Date: Nov 2018
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Default How I got it and what I plan to do

TLDR - my family game me a cherry Freestar Limited. I want to upgrade it to the factory towing package and design and implement a digital CANBUS guage/dash. If I get that far I'd like to do a Raspberry Pi passenger based entertainment system and I'd like to explore the possibility of swapping the second row bench for quad buckets.

Hey everyone. New to the forum. I'm an electrical engineer (got my minor in nuclear engineering too but I'm not using that professionally ... yet).

I'm just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. My other cars include my venerable 1995 Mazda B2300 with nearly 400k miles and my fiancÚs 2007 Toyota Prius with ~150k miles.

So, how I got the van. Then I'll move on to some plans.*

I got this van (garaged 2007 Limited, ~91k miles) after a family member got tired of dealing with her dealership over a recurrent ABS problem covered under her extended warranty. The story is that they could not source the ABS module new since Ford essentially no longer supports the Freestar. They were literally trying junkyard models and even replaced the hydraulic control portion. Repeatedly the ABS light would be off when she picked it up but would return within days. She gave up and bought a Honda CRV and that's when she asked me if I wanted the van (since my B2300/Ranger has nearly 400k miles - still runs but it's scary thinking a bearing might give out one day). She kindly sold it to me for $1. I'm lucky to have such a good family. Of course I spent 3 days at their house (about 4 hours away) pressure washing (after I fixed the non starting pressure washer), fixing computers, and doing other maintenance. It's the least I could do to try and repay their generosity.

So ... my plans.

First I gave the van a once over and noted any problems and started fixing a few things. My family member didnt know exactly how wax worked so first up was removing quite a lot of white wax buildup streaks that made the van looked like it was scraped all to hell.

Then I got to removing all the college football support stickers (all of them were on glass, yesssss).

Fluids look good. Tires looked good. Got the tires rotated and had the alignment done for good measure.

My future plans are sort of ambitious. I have two major projects in mind - tow prepping the van (it does not have the factory tow package) and designing a CAN data display to replace the analog clock.

For tow prep I first want to bring the van to as close to the factory tow package as I can. The owners manual states that the tow package included
  • The hitch itself (and accessories)
  • An auxiliary transmission oil cooler
  • An auxiliary engine oil cooler
  • Heavy duty cooling fans
  • Heavy duty battery
  • Trailer light wiring with (fused?) isolation
So I'd like to do the two oil coolers as factory as possible. The oil radiators themselves seem to be available as aftermarket replacements so availability shouldn't be too hard. From their I'd want all the original and proper hard lines and mounting hardware. My brother is a service director for an import dealership near me but it's owned by an automotive group that has Ford dealerships too. He is an incredibly busy professional and father of 3 so I try not to bother him to much. That said, I can ask him to get me parts at his employee cost. But factory parts can still be very expensive even with his discount.

Beyond getting the factory tow package sorted I would want to augment it a bit as well. First, a transmission temp guage (if not otherwise covered by a future CAN dash readout) to monitor the trans. Second, air "helper" springs (either integrated to the rear shocks or the 'air bag inside the spring' type. This of course would ensure the rear didnt squat and cause instability. Third, a trailer brake controller. My brother owns a tow dolly with brakes (only one I've ever seen with brakes actually) and I'd like to be able to use them. My towing plans are for lightweight cars (under 3000 lbs) and small trailers.

CAN dash. So CANBUS can be awesome. On my fiances Prius I can hookup my old laptop, a USB to OBDII/CAN dongle and, with the computer, do fun things like honk the horn and useful things like force the coolant pump or battery fan to turn on. But it also reports a ton of information that isnt available through the on dash display like: oil temp and press, individual tire pressure, individual cell voltages, motor current, engine RPM, and much, much more.

For the Freestar I'd use a microcontroller (I'd prototype with an arduino board) to request CAN data and display it ok a screen that I'd locate where the factory analog clock is now (between the two center climate vents). I'd like to find a screen that matches the in dash green dot matrix display as much as possible. I'd use the factory wiring for the clock light as a dimmer input for the screen (voltage divider to an ADC pin unless the display has an analog brightness pin). I'd just get a blank trim piece from a Freestar that didnt have the clock to mount the screen in.

The major hurdle is getting all of the CAN addresses/requests. I could try and find documentation on the subject but that isnt very likely. I'll probably have to use forscan software and sniff the data using a microcontroller. Tedious but it should work.

*super bonus project
If I can actually get all this crap done I'd like to set up 5 displays (front passenger, 2 for mid, and 2 for back) running off Raspberry Pis. For the unfamiliar a Raspberry Pi is a single board computer that runs a type of Linux. It would allow each passenger access to a library of audio and video media (I'd run a network within the van) and "Retropi" (a classic gaming emulator that allows you to play old Nintendo/Sega/etc games). No I dont have kids (yet). I'm just a big kid myself.

*Ultra Bonus
I've been looking at the quad bucket seats. The bench is so dang heavy that it's a ton of trouble to remove. I've noticed the quad buckets use two attachment "wells/brackets" each where the bench uses one. I have yet to pull back the carpeting to see if it looks like the mounting could be swapped out or if the option was handled during the stamping process of building the van's body. Looks like I'd also have to handle the seat belt lower mounting. I'm sure each of the buckets are still heavy but I bet not as much as the bench and far smaller/easier to handle.

Well that was a long post wasn't it!
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