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Friday, December 19, 2014

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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May 19, 2006

Wow. I've been busy. Lots to talk about.

As you may have read earlier, I recently started a slow but steady effort to restore the E36 to its former glory. I've paid others to do some work -- like the recent front end repaint -- but I've also started a trend to do more work myself. I personally replaced the fuel pump & sender units, an aging Roundel on the hood, and a cracked and faded air inlet cover, saving myself hundreds in labor and learning something in the process.

For the last several years, I've wrestled with the notion of upgrading the stereo. I mean, the HK was a good system in its day, but this is the age of iPods and satellite radio -- neither of which are compatible with the HK in any form, OEM or aftermarket. The problem is the system really can't be upgraded piecemeal -- it needs a complete overhaul -- and I've never been able to find equipment to my liking or the time to perform the upgrade. However, two problems materialized that forced me to take action this week.

First, over the past couple of years the rotary encoder (volume knob) had started to take on a mind of its own, decreasing volume when I commanded an increase and vice versa. It got so bad in recent weeks that I couldn't really use the stereo. Second, about six months ago the driver's side midrange driver began making crackling noises. It's now so bad as to be virtually unlistenable if the music contains any significant midrange frequencies (female voices, in particular). Since I'm not ready to rip the interior out of the car and upgrade the stereo, I was determined to find a quick, short-term fix.

The solution for the volume knob turned out to be simple -- I bought a new (refurbished, actually) OEM headunit. I chose this route because it was the path of least resistance. A refurbished OEM headunit was only $135+tax with my discount and I didn't need to worry about interoperability problems between the OEM amplifier and an aftermarket headunit. I had planned to install the unit myself this weekend but the new radio had a $500 core charge that I'd have to pay if I couldn't return the old unit to the parts department when I picked up the new unit. For that reason I walked over to my technician and asked if he could perform the swap for me. Always accommodating, he agreed. So now my volume knob reacts as it did when it was new, and as a kicker, the face of the radio notably lacks the shiny "polished" look that occurs from repeated use of the buttons and controls. It looks and works like the day it rolled out of the showroom.

As for the midrange, I took a different approach. I could have bought a single OEM midrange driver to replace the failed unit for $80, but I figured that the passenger-side driver should probably be replaced at the same time because its level of degradation couldn't be far behind that of the driver-side unit. One day last week I was browsing the e46fanatics.com forums and saw mention of a set of replacement midrange drivers ($100) produced specifically for the BMW by Bavarian SoundWerks. The drivers arrived today and look great, but I'll have to wait to replace them because they require removal of both door panels. In preparation for that work I picked up a dozen panel fasteners just in case I broke a few. It turns out that there are several types of door panel fasteners available that will work on this car and I got the best one based on my technician's vast experience in these matters. I'll talk more about that in an upcoming DIY article. Now all I need is some reasonable weather and a few hours to get the job done.

I also have an appointment to bring the car in next week to have several things done:

The oil service and flushes are routine, but the primary driver for all this work is the water pump. I recently became aware that this pump has a very nasty failure mode. Since the fan is connected to a pulley which is connected directly to the water pump, if the water pump bearing fails the fan will move outside of its normal plane of rotation and contact the radiator. That will cause the fan to self destruct and throw shards into the hood, among other things. And the last thing I need right now is dents in my brand-new hood. It's generally considered wise to replace the water pump every 75K-100K miles, and needless to say my vehicle as a few more miles than that.

I had planned to take the time necessary to learn more about how to replace the water pump and other "while we're at it parts" like the thermostat & housing, etc. myself. After all, I'm now officially dangerous -- I have a Bentley Service Manual in my possession. However, when I considered I had a time bomb on my hands and it made little sense for my technician to do some of the work while I repeated tasks such as draining the coolant to perform other work myself, the sane choice was clear -- get my car to the shop ASAP and let my technician handle it all. I mean, why risk my $2700 paint job to save a few hundred in labor? That's a classic case of "penny wise and pound foolish".

Stay tuned for more restoration updates.

Parts $375, Mileage: 127130.