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Monday, December 22, 2014

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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June 12, 2006

Replacement of front kick-panel drivers

Last week I decided to go ahead and install the Polk Audio 5510 5 1/4" woofers I had hanging around. I managed to get the drivers installed and started a listening session to check for rattles and the like. The drivers performed as I expected so I remounted the passenger side kick panel and fired up the stereo again just to be sure everything was still okay. Figures Murphy decided to pay me a visit. As I turned the volume up I heard a horrible raspy noise coming from the passenger side driver during bass peaks. The driver sounded like it was blown, but I just figured there was a clearance problem between the driver surround and the kick panel. Time to take the kick panel off again. Rats.

(Image: OEM vs. Polk 5510 Driver)Unfortunately, it wasn't that simple. Upon removal of the driver I figured out it wasn't fried in the traditional sense. Instead, the glue holding the dust shield / diaphragm to the speaker basket had dried out and given way, so when the cone went through its normal range of travel the diaphragm repeatedly hit the basket and produced a sound very similar to a blown driver. This really didn't surprise me, since the driver was manufactured 10 years ago and glue doesn't last forever.

At that point I resolved to remove both drivers and drive the car without them until I could find another solution. The pleasant surprise was that the stereo didn't sound all that bad with the 5 1/4" drivers removed -- if anything, it was a lot less muddy and easier on the ears. If that isn't a testament to how bad the OEM drivers are, I don't know what is.

The next day I called Polk Audio and told the friendly tech support guy of my plight. I let it slip that I've been a LONG time Polk customer (I still have a pair of the acclaimed 10B's in the basement) so the guy offered to provide replacement drivers in a 2 for 1 deal ($30 each) out of their remaining stock of roughly 150 units. The drivers came with a 1 year warranty, so I said "sold!".

The drivers arrived a couple days later and I was pleasantly surprised when I pulled them out of the packaging. They were indeed labeled "5510", but the baskets were a bit beefier and the cone was polypropylene instead of the reinforced paper composite of the original units. Apparently the drivers had gone through some reengineering over the years and this was the next step in their evolution.

I installed the drivers today and can only say that they are far superior to the OEM units. The muddiness is gone. And while they're certainly no subwoofer, they definitely add some bump to the soundstage that I can feel in my feet and in the steering wheel. Next step? New rear speakers...but those will have to wait until I recharge the toy budget.

A/C Compressor Sanity Check

On another note, it appears that my A/C compressor is starting to make a more consistent rattle than it has over the past several years. I've also noticed a more aggressive hit in vehicle performance when the compressor initially kicks in, and my technician told me that it could be due to the high pressure side not bleeding down fast enough, which is usually a sign that the unit is on its way out. Since I hate my car sounding like a coffee grinder I'd considered replacing the unit long ago, but I may get the opportunity to do that sooner rather than later. The A/C still works great, though, so I'm not in a rush to replace it. If it lasts through the season, great -- I'll do it next year after the other restoration work is complete.

Parts: $70, Labor: $0, Labor Savings: $50, Mileage: 128984

June 16, 2006

Ah, Mr. Murphy. Why do you trouble me so?

Today had to be one of the best weather days we've had yet this spring. Beautifully sunny skies, a few puffy clouds, great visibility and pleasantly warm temperatures in the mid 80's. And more of the same promised for the weekend. I arrived at work this fine Friday morning to find a skeleton crew. Apparently everyone thought it was pretty nice outside too, since they didn't bother to show up. I managed to put nearly a full day in until I was the second to last person there and heard the little voice in me whining "weekend is here, your work is (mostly) done, now go home". As I crossed the threshold of the company door, I thought I was home free. Beautiful weekend, here I come.

I have two primary routes home, one of which incorporates a short haul on a highway while the other involves back roads. The highway is usually faster, but not today. Within a 1000 feet of merging with the highway, it became clear that there was some kind of traffic problem ahead, so I made a quick dash for the nearest exit, which conveniently put me right on my alternate route home. I patted myself on the back for my quick thinking and thought the stars had aligned for me.

I then got a phone call -- it was my brother telling me that he had left for Ohio to see my cousin and was stuck in construction traffic somewhere in central PA. I told him I'd feed his cats and hung up. About that time, traffic here in NJ started to slow down a mile or so in advance of a major intersection. In about 10 minutes I managed to get within a few hundred feet of the intersection when the unthinkable happened.

I heard a loud "pop", the engine started making very unpleasant noises, steam started pouring out from under the hood and the interior vents, and the smell of coolant filled the air. God DAMMIT. The first thing that ran through my mind is that the A/C compressor seized, the belt snapped, and caused the very same catastrophic damage I'd hoped to avoid with the recent cooling system overhaul. I immediately turned the A/C compressor off, but that didn't solve anything. Probably because of my aircraft training, the thought of an engine fire ran through my mind at this point so I figured I needed to get the car off the road and get the hell out of it...quickly. In a strange twist of luck, I happened to be 10 feet from the entrance to a gas station, so I pulled in there. Fearing an overheat, a warped head, and a VERY big repair bill, I turned the car off immediately -- an "emergency procedure" my tech and I had discussed a week ago.

(Image: Blown Expansion Tank)I got out of the car and walked around to the front to watch a river of coolant draining from the car. I waited for a bulk of the steam to stop and opened the hood. I looked for the obvious stuff and found nothing wrong. The brand new belts, hoses, water pump, fan and radiator appeared intact. So where the hell was all of this coolant coming from? And then I saw it. The one thing I didn't replace failed. The expansion bottle had cracked vertically down its rear and that drained at least half of the coolant from the system in no time flat.

Fortunately, I had the number of the local towing company handy in my bag from when I did the fuel pump test run so I called them. They showed up in about an hour and for the third time in eight years saw my car towed to the dealer. I arrived at my dealer after most everyone but the sales staff had left for the day. I'd normally call my brother to come pick me up, but he was somewhere in Ohio by now and that was out of the question, so I kindly asked one of sales staff to take me the rest of the way home. They volunteered the services of one of the techs who was staying late to do a PDI for a customer delivery, so we grabbed an E90 and flogged it on the way home. With tongue in cheek, I made what little light I could of the incident and joked "aw, this sucks...I have to go home and drive the E46 for the next few days." But seriously -- this is precisely why I believe in having a second car.

I plan to see my tech first thing Monday morning to discuss the fix, but unless Murphy is still hanging around I expect it to be pretty simple -- a new expansion bottle and some anti-freeze. At this point I'm considering replacing the A/C compressor as well to prevent the scenario I envisioned from becoming reality, as the mere thought of paying for another radiator right now would drive me to drink.

Expect an update early next week. In the meantime, if you have over 100K miles on your car and haven't touched the cooling system, I'd strongly recommend you schedule the work soon. It's going to be a hot summer.

June 20, 2006

Cooling System Wrap-Up

(Image: New Expansion Tank)After a nice weekend of driving the E46, I took it to work on Monday morning. Since the dealer is on the way, I stopped in to brief my tech on what happened on Friday. Although he had a few jobs ahead of mine, I really didn't care. He was up to speed on what needed to be done and I certainly wasn't annoyed at the prospect of putting miles on the E46 to get it out of break-in. So, after talking shop for a bit, I let him get back to work and left for the salt mine.

Today, I got a call from my service advisor to let me know that the car was done, and I went to pick it up this evening. The cost was higher than anticipated because my tech recommended we install a new coolant level sensor ($30) and cap ($17) in addition to the expansion tank ($85), but I'm happy that there wasn't any other damage. The bill could have been a LOT worse.

I spoke to my tech and asked why he suggested replacement of the sensor and he said the original eight-year-old part looked a bit "funky" (obviously a technical term) and it would be difficult to replace later with the tank installed. Works for me. After he gave me the old tank, I looked closely at the crack and asked whether the filler cap has a pressure relief. Knowing where I was going he added "yes, it will release pressure at 2.0 bar (29 PSI), but I checked the old cap and it worked -- I simply replaced the cap because, well -- you don't want this to happen again for some strange reason, right?" Again, I couldn't argue with his logic. The cap is cheap insurance.

Changing of the Guard

Earlier this month the dealership I've come to know so well, King BMW of Freehold, changed hands. The King Family had been in the car business for over a hundred years and owned several franchises at this location before selling them off to focus exclusively on BMWs for the past five years. A few months ago they resolved to sell the remaining BMW franchise to a local dealership conglomerate and exit the auto sales business entirely.

In a long discussion with one of the sons, I expressed my disappointment and concern for the change, but after he told me why the family agreed to sell, I couldn't blame them. The family's justification for the sale was obviously never meant for public consumption so I won't repeat it here, but I will say that it had to do with BMWNA and what BMW wants the vehicles to become over the next 5-10 years. Needless to say, it's not good. The King family tried to do the right thing for the end customer (you and me) but BMWNA refused to budge, and the result, as they say, is history.

Thankfully, however, most of the people I've come to know on a first name basis are still there including one of the Kings, another family team consisting of mother, father and (unbearably hot) daughter, and a certain technician that used to fix the bike ridden by one of the King's sons -- who later grew up to be that technician's boss and general manager for the last 10 years. And yes, that technician was *my* technician. How's THAT for family history?

If news of the sale wasn't bad enough, I received word from my service advisor today that the new owners have increased the labor rate to $102 an hour (!). While I never liked paying in excess of $80/hour for King BMW to work on my car over the past eight years, I always took some solace in the belief that I was helping a local family-owned business thrive. Now all I feel I'm doing is helping a lot of indifferent bean-counters in a far-away office buy their next yacht. But such is business in America these days, and we have nothing but greedy MBA types and the colleges that train them to blame for it.

Hmmm...now where did I put my Bentley manual...

Total Mileage: 129114, Parts: $131, Labor: $235, Total: $388.