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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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August 8, 2006

Aux Fan Relay Replacement

(Image: Aux Fan Relay Contacts)After a snafu delayed delivery by about a week, the aux fan normal speed relay finally came in today and my tech swapped it while I waited in front of his bay.

The old relay is shown in the picture. Check out those burnt contacts -- they're nearly completely gone. Pretty nasty. Moral of the story? If your compressor is making noise and your aux fan isn't running, take the relay out, inspect the contacts, and if you find anything close to that depicted, replace it!

Incidentally, to remove the relay, use a pair of pliers and just grab that little T-shaped handle and pull straight up. The cover pries off with a thin flat-blade screwdriver pushed between the outer casing and the relay base. And the contact plate can be removed as shown to expose the contacts by squeezing the relay between one's fingers until the little arm shaped like a lolipop detaches from the latching pin. Easier done than said.

The A/C system has been working a lot better since my technician jury-rigged the old relay, and my first commute today in 85+ degree heat revealed simlar performance with the new relay. It's now freezing me out of the car.

Total Mileage: 131250, Labor: $0, Parts $16.

August 14, 2006

Flat Tire

When it rains, it pours. Lately I've been blowing a lot of coin on the car in an effort to keep up on maintenance, complete the restoration, and equip my garage with the tools required to do as much work myself as possible. So you can imagine my displeasure when I came out Friday morning, hopped in, and felt the wheel pull hard to the right as I pulled out. I instantly knew I had a flat tire.

Fortunately, my blood pressure remained at textbook levels. Maybe my anger management is really paying off, or I'm getting better at rationalizing the money I spend on these cars. Or perhaps it was just the fact that I had a really nice second car available and it was a perfect day to drive it. I don't know, really. A quick survey revealed a screw planted firmly in the tread of the right front tire, and since no one (including my dealer) will patch high-performance tires out of fear of liability, I instantly knew this tire was headed for the dump. But, of course, things are never that simple.

The next day I began to think about my options. First of all, I knew I had to put the spare on the car at my earliest convenience, since a BMW with a flat tire is about as useful as a submarine with a screen door....or a tank with a kickstand (Thanks very much...I'll be here all week!). But then I remembered that the spare tire is a different make and model -- a Dunlop SP8000 to be precise -- so that wouldn't be a permanent solution.

(Image: Right front jacked up) Oddly enough, over the past couple of weeks I'd noticed the front tires starting to make that lovely "wah wah wah" sound exhibited by the last set. When this happened to the last set I thought it was a fluke, but it's apparently a design flaw. Given that the tires can't be rotated at this point and wear dictated I buy at LEAST two tires, I just decided I'd get ready for winter and put four new tires on the car now and kill several birds with one (very expensive) stone.

Of course, I'm not one to throw good money after bad. A couple of the rims are bent (albeit mildly) and the finish on three of the rims is in questionable shape (to be expected given the eight years of abuse they've taken on my daily driver), so I didn't want to mount another set of new tires on these rims. That got me to thinking about buying a new set.

One of my priorities in the restoration has been to maintain the stock look, so my first choice rim was the 17" BMW M-Contour, which came on the M3 of the same vintage. It's very clear that the M-Contour rim was designed specifically for the lines of the E36 so this was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, sticker shock dictated I avoid it and other BMW OE rims, as I had no intention of paying $2K ($400x5) for rims just to preserve the stock look -- which some might argue looks a bit dated at this point anyway. Fortunately, I stumbled on a rim that is a replica of a wheel that ships on a current model BMW, looks like it belongs on the car (which is saying a lot considering it's an 18" rim) and is the right price.

In fact I managed to acquire five rims and new rubber in 235/40, mounted, balanced, and shipped for less than the cost of a full set of M-Contour rims alone. No need to twist my arm. I'm all about using BMW OE parts, and I'm NOT into the bling of large rims and low-profile tires, but this was a hard deal to pass up. Some of you "in the know" have likely figured out which rims I'm talking about, but I'll leave the rest of you in suspense until I have time to take a full set of pictures.

That decision made, Saturday morning I put the car in the garage, jacked it up (for the first time without a lift, mind you) and swapped the flat tire for the spare. I had a bitch of a time breaking the wheel studs free with the wrench BMW provides with the car and I bruised my hand cranking on it, but I got the job done. With the spare on the car I torqued the studs to 80 ft*lbs, which is at the low end of BMW's recently updated torque spec of 87 +/- 7 ft*lbs. I quickly concluded that I didn't want to repeat the experience, so later in the afternoon I went to Eppy's and bought a SK 1/2" drive breaker bar with a 24" handle. That will hold me over until I equip the garage with air tools.

While I had the wheel off, I confirmed that I'll need brakes very shortly. I expect the brake-wear indicator to trip within the next month, at which point I plan to do brakes myself for the first time on this car. That will save about $500 in labor, which will go a long way toward paying for the tools necessary to do the job in the first place.

I'm expecting the new rims and tires at the end of this week or early next. Look for the photo spread soon.

August 26, 2006

CSL Wheels Arrived

(Image: Velocity Motoring CSL Replicas)My new wheels arrived this week and they're (drum roll please) 18" Velocity Motoring CSL replicas. They look great as is, but I expect them to look even better wrapped in some nice high performance rubber and mounted on the car.

As I said in my last update, I'm not big on the bling thing, and I was somewhat concerned that anything but OE wheels would overpower the beautifully understated E36 body design, but I think these will freshen the look of the car in a tasteful way. And that's no surprise, really -- the CSL wheel IS a BMW design after all. The quality of the finish is definitely not OE but then again I'm not paying OE prices either. A reasonable compromise, I think.

I originally planned to have the vendor acquire and mount the tires, but when I learned that the tires would delay the shipment a week or more I cancelled the tire order and asked them to ship the wheels bare. While waiting for the wheels to arrive I went back to the drawing board to look for a good replacement for the Pilot Sport A/S, but the results were not encouraging.

The only well-reviewed "ultra-high-performance" all-season tires out there are the Michelin Pilot Sport A/S and the Pirelli PZero Nero. The Pirelli tires don't seem to have the complaints about noise later in life, but they apparently have a tendency to tramline and my technician backs up a few of the observations that Pirelli tires in general have a tendency to wear unevenly or just very quickly. They grip like mad (almost like a summer tire) but they have a tread life to match. And to top it all off, Tire Rack said Pirelli is discontinuing the PZero Nero and there's no word on its replacement. Ultimately, I think the best choice would be to put a set of Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 summer tires on the 18's and another set of the A/S on the 16's for winter-only use, but that would also be the most expensive route. I may do that eventually, but not this time around.

Ugh. I can't believe that I'm going to say this, but I may wind up going for Pilot Sport A/S again, this time in 235/40/18.

Flat Fixed

I managed to find a local tire place that would put a patch on the inside of the tire for $22, so I dropped off the tire and picked it up a couple hours later. When I went to pick up the tire they offered to put it on the car for me, but I passed because I knew full well they'd use an air wrench and over-torque it. And if you think that's no big deal, consider that when I got home and swapped the tire, I found I didn't really need my breaker bar to remove the wheel bolts. If they're torqued properly, I think the wrench provided in the car is sufficient.

All of this tire swapping got me to thinking. There are some things I plan to put in the car to make sure I can change a tire on the road safely from this point on:

The most interesting thing I noticed while running the car through several tanks of gas without the spare in the trunk? I blessed with 0.7 MPG higher gas mileage(!). You won't catch me running without a spare to save those pennies, though -- OPEC be damned.

Total Mileage: 131800, Wheels: $875, Parts and Labor: $22. Labor Savings: $20.