Sound Reduction Puzzle

In the process of perusing the seemingly endless Land Rover restoration sites we could see that (so-called) “soundproofing” was a common step in most projects.   The term is a bit optimistic, one can never eliminate sound in a vehicle, so “sound reduction” is a more appropriate term.

All vehicles have some degree of soundproofing, it is the stuff under the carpet on your floor and the trunk/boot.  The thick piece of silver lined foam under the hood/bonnet is also soundproofing.  Depending on the vehicle and/or the preferences of the owner there can be any number of products and combinations thereof used throughout, including in the doors and roof.  People who are restoring older vehicles, whether they are 50s roadsters, 60s muscle cars, or 90s Defenders, will at some point likely decide to reduce noise by installing additional soundproofing materials.   Land Rovers are no exception as the various threads in Land Rover Forums show.

Defenders and other Land Rovers of their era were built as big utility vehicles and because of this and the large areas of the aluminum body they are probably among the noisier vehicles on the road.  Ours is absolutely utilitarian, and has only bare metal on the floors and walls.  The doors do have small patches of  sound dampening materials on the inside of the door panels, this would have been part of the factory production process.  The roof has quite a good piece of hard plastic liner behind the interior roof fabric, but that is not going to do much against the vast areas of bare aluminum.

We decided it was worth looking at sound reduction, but had no idea of where to start.   I started scanning for what materials worked best and learned a lot about  the science of sound reduction.  Obviously there is a huge sound reduction industry, but I was surprised to learn how much of it is devoted to vehicles.  I learn that there are two separate steps involved in sound reduction: the first is referred to as “dampening” or “deadening”.  This addresses noise generated or amplified by the body panels themselves and involves the installation of some sort of very heavy rubber/butyl material, lead is sometimes used to add weight.  The dampener is added to directly to the metal surface and transforms the sound waves into heat.  Thus an integral part of a good sound dampener is a layer of metal foil that helps keep the heat from entering the vehicle.

The second key function is sound absorption, a barrier to collect the sound waves that are generated both inside and outside the vehicle.   This is what is done by the  baffles one sees on the ceilings of in orchestral halls.  Baffles are not terribly practical in your car, so this function is usually performed by a light, open cell foam.  This is applied on top of the dampener.  And that is about it.  That is most certainly an overly simplistic description of the basics of vehicle soundproofing, but it helps to set the stage for the story of our product scanning and  eventual selection of a product.  There is a great variety of products available, some which perform one or other of the functions, or perhaps combine them both.  All the sellers say more than one layer is better, which no doubt helps to sell sound proofing material.

The first supplier that we became aware of is the aptly named Noisekiller(NK) of Great Britain.  www.noisekiller.co.uk/vehicle_soundproofing_products.asp.   NK makes sound reduction materials for every imaginable application, including but certainly not limited to vehicles.  I became aware of them because they happen to produce custom “soundproofing” kits for Land Rovers.  The product is highly recommended by many others.  Thinking this might be the way to go last May I exchanged emails with Andy, my contact at Famous Four, who said he could get NK to send them a kit which they could send on to me as part of  my star-crossed third shipment (see separate “Customs Shock” post).

However, at this point I encountered the problem that would make getting sound proofing to Ghana a real challenge: the weight.  The stuff is  expensive enough to begin with, but it weights as much as 1 pound per square foot, which rather renders international shipping costs prohibitive.   The NK Defender kit costs 280 British Pounds, or about $450, to buy, but the weight of that kit is 50 kilos!   Andy said he could get a 5% price reduction from NK to cover the cost of getting it to Famous Four, but for them to send it on to Ghana would be an additional (gulp) 430 British Pounds, or almost seven hundred dollars just for shipping, for a total cost of more than $1,200.   That is very expensive quiet.  I told Andy thanks, but I would have to pass.

That began a long search thither and yon for a less expensive noise reduction option.  Some Land Rover forums have people talking about assorted construction materials that are usually readily available in North American or European hardware/building supply companies, for example the ashphalt paper that goes under roof shingling, but that sort of thing is not necessarily available in Ghana, and would be very difficult for me to locate.  My local search did lead me to Ghana Rubber Products, which I thought might produce some sort of heavy rubber that would work.  They produce sheets of rubber of varying sizes for shoe soles (ie. flip flops)  This led to a Saturday morning meeting with the owner at the GRP plant in Accra, who showed me what they had.  They identified a 3 mm thick but not very heavy rubber that I thought might at least serve as a sound barrier for 30 cedies  ($20 dollars) for a 4×6 sheet.  At that price we could do the whole Defender for about $100.   I went back a week later and spoke to his brother who, incredibly,  happens to own a Land Rover Defender and had actually purchased NoiseKiller.   He knew something about  sound reduction and recommended Noisekiller, he was not confident the product I had been looking at would do too much, but he identified a slightly lighter material.  I bought four sheets worth of his flip flop sole material thinking I could use it as sound absorber for some areas, but left knowing I was still in the market for sound reduction material.

Other options I found included Genesis of South Africa and Second Skin or Dynamat from the US.      I spent a lot of time looking at Genesis  www.genesisacoustics.co.za,  because it seemed to be a good product reasonably priced.  They also have a liquid paint on product that one can apply inside or outside the vehicle, which extends the area that one can apply it to.  However, when  I eventually measured and got a quote on the material and shipping it was only marginally less than the NoiseKiller from Great Britain.

In the course of surfing the web for more ideas and sources I stumbled upon a company called B-Quiet  www.b-quiet.com, which sold dampener, absorbers, and combinations thereof and billed themselves as  “the affordable sound deadening solution”.   One of the things I noticed was their website gave prices in US and CAN dollars and I assumed they were an American company selling into Canada.  The $C=US$ exchange rate they gave was rather  unfavourable to the Canadian dollar, which would make an American product more expensive to Canadians, so in a patriotic mood I sent them an email to say as much.  I received a prompt reply saying they in fact were a Canadian company located in Alberta and they thought their exchange rate was just fine thank you.  Of course, if they are producing in Canada and selling to the States the low exchange rate only makes them more competitive with American products like Dynamat.  Brilliant.

I looked at this product more carefully and judging from reviews their quality was good and the price gave credence to their website billing as the “affordable sound deadening solution”.   I looked at something called  B-Quiet Ultimate, a sound dampening material, and V-Comp, a combination sound dampening and absorbing material.   They also produce B-Quiet Hiliner, a thicker aluminum lined acoustic foam for under the bonnet.  Similar materials  are available from Genesis or from Noise Killer, but the Canadian company’s price was much more reasonable.   I was able to get a quote  of $500 for an coverage area larger than NK or Genesis, delivered to Ottawa.

The Ottawa delivery is where the real beauty of this Canadian- sourced option plays out.   I have an annual mailing allowance from Canada of one hundred pounds, which might not go far if you have a large family or get lots of magazines, but this year Laura and I have only used 25 lbs.  It is now October and we have more than 75 lbs of  shipping we have to use before the end of December.     As it turns out the weight of two 50 sq. ft rolls of B-Quiet Ultimate and two 15 sq. ft. rolls of V-Comp is about seventy pounds – the Hiliner only weighs another pound.   I could use more V-Comp but if we go over our weight it will just be held in Ottawa till next year.  I can order more then if I really need it.  I am planning to combine the B-Quiet Ultimate deadener with the V-Comp in the particularly vulnerable areas in the front of the cabin until the V-Comp runs out and  and then use pieces of the Ultimate  in combination with the flip-flop sole material from Ghana Rubber Products for less vulnerable areas.

B-Quiet products purchased: 30 sq. ft. of V-Comp barrier (1 of 2 rolls on the floor – 18 lbs); 100 sq. ft. Ultimate, (1 of two rolls on the table – 17lbs); and a 4×6 sheet of Hiliner for under the bonnet (silver on the right – 1 lb

It only took about two weeks to get here, and with this in hand I am ahead of the game because we can’t install it until after the painting is done, which won’t be for a couple of weeks yet.    With this material installed and covered by carpeting our  Defender will hopefully be elevated from clangy utility vehicle to relatively quiet cruiser.

Phase I Electrical

Why more than one phase of electrical?  Because I want to focus first on the basic things every vehicle requires to run and for basic safety and roadworthyness certification.  Headlights, horn, signal lights etc.  The basic stuff.  There are other systems required to support expeditioning, but that can come later – in Phase II.

I drafted up a list of the items to do in Phase I and II and got a couple of quotes on Phase I.  The low bidder, by a wide margin, was Eric from Opere’s shop under the tree so I asked him to do the work while we were in Egypt.   The work is now done, and it is amazing how much you appreciate little things.  There was not very much right about the basic electrical when I first bought this vehicle.   Most seriously the the alternator did not work, a problem that was corrected when a new-to-me alternator was installed with the motor.   The front windshield wipers wiped, the rear did not.  Only a couple of the signal lights worked, the brake lights did not, nor did the headlights, or the horn.   Up till now whenever I have pulled up to the high, solid, windowless gate outside our house I have had to rev the engine so the guard knows I am there to let me in rather than honk as one normally does. Fortunately the engine makes lots of noise.   The horn now works, as do all the lights.  He also did the rear windshield wiper motor and the windscreen washer fluid pump.   He charged me GHC 300, or about CAD 200

Eric’s  price includes a number of things that cannot be done until the painting is complete.  This includes installation of  all the new exterior light fixtures that I bought on Opere’s recommendation that the 15 year old ones that don’t look too bad now will look terribly old against a new paint job.  Eric has also bought me a large interior cabin light for the rear cargo area and will instal this and the front cabin light that has been stripped out (along with pretty much everything else) in anticipation of the interior painting.   My only real regret with respect to the electrical is that I have not yet had time to sit down with Eric and go throught the electrical system so I can learn about the circuits, fuses etc.   There are also still a number of old wires hanging about from the earlier A/V system that EPA used to support its public education programs in the field and that I decided would be of any particular use to us.   I was going to do this when we came back from Egypt but about that time poor Eric was passing between two parked cars when one of them backed up and pinned him, causing some ill defined damage to his internal organs and putting him out of action for awhile.   He seems OK, but I don’t want to bother him while he is convalescing.  It can wait.

That is Phase I.   Phase II is the electrical required for expedition outfitting and it will be more complicated.   A dual battery system to support a fridge, lights and circuits to support other interior and exterior accessories, together with a solar power back-up system will be the main elements of the Phase II work.   The big question is whether Eric, or anyone here, will be able to handle this.  Half the Land Rovers in South Africa have a dual battery system, here no one seems to know about it.  I may have to teach myself about the fine points of dual battery systems and solar power back-up to get this done.   I have already purchased  the isolator kit for the  dual battery system, actually we have purchased two.  One  Laura bought at Canadian Tire when she wen to Canada in August, and another I bought from OffRoad Egypt when we were there in October.   Neither were terribly costly and I don’t mind having a couple of choices to increase our chances of getting this operational.  I will do a separate post on Phase II of the electrical after the painting is done and I can focus more on that.

 

 

Getting Ready to Paint 2: Picking a Sprayer

Getting my 15-year old Land Rover Defender painted is proving to be full of challenges, one of them is identifying  a “sprayer”.  Identifying and contacting a painter has been more difficult than for any of the other specialists that I have dealt with.   Opere has  been my first reference for specialists ranging from mechanics, bodywork and electrical , but  the painting is in a different order because, obviously, there is no paint oven under Opere’s  tree.   Over the course of the past few months whenever I have broached the subject of painting with him to try to nail down that phase of the project he never seemed very interested.   Strange because there are frequently one or two Defenders in his yard that look like they are just about to go for painting or have just come back from painting.   It was only when he realized I had found the Sikkens shop and had gotten a price he focussed.   As he always does,  he stressed the importance of ensuring I was going somewhere that would do a good job, but did not promote anyone he knew.   When I told him who I was talking to and how much they had quoted  he seemed to relax, either because he was satisfied that this was a good place, or that he could not beat the price and still take a cut that would make it worth his effort.

My former colleague Stephan had recommended  Sikkens, a name which is well-known for paint around the world, as a place that had done a very good job for him at a reasonable price.  He said he had his Defender painted “at Sikkens”, so  assumed was a business somewhere in Accra.  I saw his Defender and it looked great.  Since then everyone, including Opere, has  recommended that I use Sikkens Autobase paint, but  is clear they are not recommending any one place. Rather they each seemed to have their own favourite “sprayer”, all of whom may use Sikkens paint.    I was left wondering if “Sikkens” was a place in Accra as Stephane has led me to believe,  or just a brand of paint.

To enlighten myself I turned to Google and searched “Sikkens in Ghana” – there were about a dozen auto paint shops that come up.   I noticed that one of these, “Kolours”,  was located not too far away from where I live so I went by to have a look and talk to them.     The first thing I noticed when I pulled up was that the name “Kolours” did not appear anywhere on the front of the seemingly small storefront operation,   rather it featured “SIKKENS”, as if that was the name of the shop.   I sent an email to Stephane with description of the location and he confirmed that this was in fact where he had had his vehicle painted.  So there is no one “Sikkens” it is rather a network of places that happen to distribute Sikkens paint, and which probably have to undergo certain training and maintain certain quality standards  in exchange for the name.

The manager of “Kolours” is Bernard, a personable Ghanaian who each time I go back to look at colours, or ask questions, he says, “I’m ready”,  his subtle way of reminding me that it has been well over a month since I first spoke to him and said I was going to bring it in for the paint.  The problem is I keep finding reasons to delay, I am not really ready to paint yet.

 

"Kolours" Paint Shop, with Bernard poised at the Defender

I have had three informal quotes on painting,  Opere and Francis have cited numbers, but without the benefit of any close look at the details of what it is I want to do (Iie. everything has to come off before painting, two colours outside, one inside and bottom paint).  I have only given those details to Bernard, and his price is the same or only marginally higher than the quick quotes I got from Francis and Opere.  What also swings it in Bernard’s favour is that I know one satisfied customer, and the Kolours shop looks very clean and well run.   I will use them, but follow Stephane’s advice to monitor the work closely myself. But we are not ready to paint yet, there is still an undercarriage to clean up, and a few niggly pre-paint details.

Ghana Customs Shock

To date, apart from a few things procured locally, the primary source of parts to rebuild our 1995 Landrover Defender has been two shipments from Famous Four http://www.famousfour.co.uk/ in England.     This is how we got almost all the brakes and  clutch parts, the rear half axles, the wheel bearings, the tie rod ends, the door seals,  the aluminum chequerplate panels, the heavy duty shocks, etc.   Those shipments came into Ghana with greater ease and speed than I had expected in March and April, delivered to the front door of the embassy within two weeks of sending from the source.

I started compiling a list of things for a third shipment in June to cover a few mechanical pieces that I had missed in the earlier shipments, as well as some interior and exterior finishing pieces.  The third shipment is relatively small and includes relatively  inexpensive, yet vital  pieces that are not available or are very expensive locally.  It includes:  the fuel sender (the piece in the tank which which measures the fuel level for the fuel gauge which I discovered had been removed from this vehicle at some point); the bonnet release cable and device;  a handbrake cable that is too expensive here; a new set of floor screws,  tie rod ends (that I should have ordered the first time);  and some mechanical pieces like bushings for the rear A-frame that were not part of the bushing kit I got in the first shipment. more body pieces  (aluminum chequerplate for the hood, screws to tighten up some of the body plates, new exterior lights to replace the old ones that might work and look OK now but will look really old when we repaint the body.   I also bought new front seat foams and covers from Exmoor Trim in England (www.exmoortrim.co.uk) .   One of the reasons why I wanted to do our own vehicle is that I did not like the way they did the interiors here, the seats were particularly frightening.   However, this shipment did not  include any soundproofing even though much of the delay in finalizing the order resulted from my own indecision about the various options for the stuff.  In the end I concluded that all things considered England would not be the optimal choice for soundproofing for us(see separate “sound reduction puzzle” post).

This shipment has demonstrated how the reliance on externally-sourced parts makes my schedule vulnerable to delays beyond my control.   There were already delays due to my own indecision and effort to include as much as possible in this shipment before finally finalizing the order in late  July.   When mid-August came and I had not heard anything I went back to Famous Four to ask for a sitrep.  The next day I received a phone call from TNT in Ghana to say the shipment had arrived in Ghana but was being held in at the airport by the Customs and Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS) and that I would need to present myself at the airport in order to clear it.    This had not part of the process in any of the previous shpments,  neither of the two  Famous Four shipments or the early investment in outfitting gear we had shipped back from South Africa last December incl. a mobile fridge before we even owned the vehicle.    I have to wonder how long the things had been in Ghana before TNT deemed to phone me, perhaps prompted by a call from Famous Four.  As it turns out this was just the beginning of series of problems with both TNT and CEPS that would combine to seriously delay the delivery of this shipment.

I took a morning off work to go to the airport cargo area and on arrival at the entrance was besieged by people asking where I was going, one fellow just got into my front seat uninvited and said he would show me where TNT was.  It turns out everyone there is looking for  a cut in the process.   When I got to the TNT office I was informed that I had to pay a “handling charges”, even though my shipping fees with Famous Four were to take it to the door.    DHL, who had handled the two previous shipments, had on both occasions delivered the goods no problem to the High Commission without delay.    I declined paying the handling fees and left the airport and sent a message to Famous Four to seek clarification about shipping/handling costs.  The next day I got a phone call from a manager at the local TNT office (with a strong British accent) to apologize for the confusion, there would be no handling fee, but I still needed to clear Customs.

A couple of days later I went back to the airport and went through the same process of having someone jump into the front seat.  This time I was well received at TNT by the same person who had asked me for the handling fee the previous occasion,  who this time just escorted me to the small office of a CEPS officer at the end of the warehouse.   Despite the modest office the CEPs officer had an air of assurance and authority and people around certainly deferred to him.   After we were introduced he looked at the documents the TNT person had given him and asked if these car parts were for official purposes or  my personal use.   I decided it would be tough to convince him these were official auto parts and indicated it was for my personal vehicle.  He said that even though I was a diplomat entitled to duty-free import of personal possessions,  how did he know I did not have a Ghanaian girlfriend I was bringing in car parts for?   I said I did not appreciate being accussed of abusing my diplomatic privilege,  that I was obliged to respect laws and  protocol, just CEPS was obliged to respect the Geneva Convention.   He said that since this was for personal not official use I would have  seek the approval of Ghana’s the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  I was  not sure  that was true but it did not seem totally improbable and I decided there was nothing to be gained from challenging him and said I would be pleased  of course to follow any required procedures.   While he was telling me about the procedure I had to follow, he also wanted to  impress upon me  how long the procedure could take,  as if I had some choice.

The reason for his making the point about how long the process could take became clear only after I had agreed to go for MFA clearance and left his small office at the end of a warehouse and was walking acrosss the yard.  As I neared my car  I  was approached by a fellow I had noticed in the  warehouse when I first came in.  He repeated the Customs agent’s refrain that it could take a long time to obtain the clearance, but that he thought I could get the goods that day if I was prepared to pay the duty.   I asked if he knew how much the duty would be.  He said  250 cedis, the equivalent of about $170.   I don’t think my shipment  was worth that much, and the fact that I was having this conversation in the parking lot with a fellow in jeans and T-shirt, who also asked me how much I wantd for my Subaru Legacy that we were standing beside, helped me realize that I had just been asked for a bribe.

For better or worse, I have had a long-standing personal and professional commitment against paying bribes.  In my experience this has been the position of  Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAIT) and of CIDA where I work, and I am no stranger to waiting out delays required to clear our personal effects upon arrival in other postings because we don’t pay bribes.   I declined the offer of paying the “duty”, saying I preferred to do it properly.   Interestingly, about the same time as we were trying to clear this shipment newly-arrived diplomatic staff at the High Commission were also being subjected by CEPS to unusually long delays in processing their personal effects at the  Tema Port,  in at least one instance there had been an approach that sounded like a request for a special payment.   Despite Ghana’s relatively positive governance image when compared to other African countries, corruption remains a significant development challenge.   Certainly corruption persists within CEPS.

Later that day when I spoke to CHC Admin they said indeed it was not out of order for CEPS to ask for MFA clearance and this was part of CHC Admin’s duties.  It would take a couple of weeks to get it.  Fortunately CHC has the knowledge of the process and people to facilitate this and I was hoping to get my hands on the goods just before Laura and I were scheduled to depart for a two-week Egyptian vacation.  We got the clearance about three weeks later and  TNT came to the CHC to pick up the formal approval MFA and presented it to the CEPS officer at the agent.  By  7PM on the Friday of the weekend we were scheduled to leave it was delivered to our house.   On Saturday I was able to get the parts and vehicle to Opere’s shop under the tree where he, Paani the “welder”, and Eric the electrician were able to work on their respective pieces while we were out of the country.

The implications of the problems that I had with this shipment are not limited to the delay of more than a month.   I now have a much more cautious attitude toward any future shipments and will be more willing to source second hand or more expensive new parts locally rather than importing and risking having to deal with CEPS again.   Fortunately the only offshore things we still need are a few items for expedition outfitting.   I was able to get some from Offroad Egypt(separate post coming), and we should be able to pick up most of the rest of what we need on a shopping trip planned to South Africa at Christmas and bring it back with us.

As I write all the mechanical parts have now finally been installed, Phase I of the electrical work is underway (separate post coming) and Paani has finished the pre-paint body work.