September 9, 2006
First DIY Oil Service
I know I've said that it doesn't make good fiscal sense to do oil changes yourself. By the time you get the parts, prep the work area, get the car up on ramps or jacked up, get the job done and then take the oil to your local HazMat facility or cooperative local garage, you've blown the better part of 2 hours if you're lucky. Normally, a DIY oil change only makes sense if your time is worth nothing and you like getting dirty.
However, as synthetic oil service at my local dealer is now over $100 and I can get the very same oil and parts my technician uses for slightly less than $40 with a CCA discount (less if I buy the filter elements in bulk online), I can save myself around $60 in labor by doing it myself. Will you catch me under the car when it's 20 degrees outside? Unlikely. But today was a beautiful late summer day so I gave it a shot.
There are just under a zillion BMW oil change DIY articles online, but I learned a few things that I felt I would benefit the BMW community, so I'm planning to write up my own words of wisdom. Look for the article soon.
Tools and Equipment
A few weeks ago while looking at tools required to access the differential drain plugs I learned that there is insufficient clearance between the differential and spare tire well to fit a traditional 14mm hex socket and ratchet wrench. Some Googling resulted in the answer -- the FACOM D10714, 14mm stubby hex socket. I called Eppys and ordered two for good measure. At $10 each they were a bit pricey, but I had to look at the big picture. The labor for a differential fluid flush at the dealer costs a hell of a lot more than that, so the first time I do it myself the tool will pay for itself several times over.
I went to Eppy's today to pick up the sockets and take a look at a jack to replace my brother's which was officially declared MIA. As it turned out they were out of stock on the units I had considered. They offered to deliver the jack in a few days if I placed an order today, but that wouldn't help me get the oil change done today. I solved my dilemma by grabbing a set of Rhino Ramps at Wal*Fart for $40. It's not wasted money because I'll need the ramps to elevate the front of the car sufficiently to get the jack under the car when doing the brake job or any other task that requires jack stands.
While at Eppy's, I also picked up an oil drain pan with a spout. Over the years I've used many containers as catch basins, including old cat litter boxes, but those usually become an unweildy mess when filled with 6+ quarts of hot, dirty oil. Having one with a spout would make transferring it to an old 5 gallon hydraulic oil container pretty easy. In fact, this turned out to be one of the better decisions of the day. It made dealing with the old oil completely painless.
With a mere 16500 miles in service, the Pilot Sport A/S tires have become very noisy. So noisy, in fact, that I've realized the noise is coming from the REAR tires, not the front as I originally surmised. Such is life with resonance -- it's hard to determine the source of noise because it reflects throughout the interior. This makes a lot more sense considering the rear tires are within a mm or so of the wear indicators.
In spite of the fact that the car sounds like an 18 wheeler with a couple of bent rims blasting down the highway, I've decided to run these for another month (or as long as I can stand to listen to the "wah wah wah wah" sound pounding into my head). I figure that will put me into October with new tires so I'll have fresh tread for the upcoming snow season. In the interim, I guess I'll have an excuse to turn up the stereo.
Bottom Line Reports Change
One of the things I've done at the end of virtually every maintenance update since I started this website is break down the costs into a "Bottom Line" so readers would be able to judge for themselves what it takes to run one of these machines. Now that I'm doing more things myself and reducing or eliminating labor charges in the process, I've decided to make a few changes to the manner in which I report these costs.
First of all, I've added a "Labor Savings" amount to preserve the accuracy of the reports. While the "Labor" amount will continue to reflect the cost of labor I pay professionals to do work for me, the "Labor Savings" amount will reflect the same cost of labor that I have saved by doing things myself. The Labor Savings will always be based on current labor amounts, so the true cost of ownership will be preserved for readers that choose not to turn wrenches. I've also decided to separate "Tools and Equipment" from the Parts cost to better track my investments in the stuff I have to buy to get the job done. This will allow me to compare the figures to see if I've made a "profit" from doing things myself.
For example, as you can see in the following bottom line, I paid $40 in parts, $40 for the ramps and $30 for tools at Eppy's. Given that the cost of labor for an oil service is presently $60, it's obvious that it actually cost me $10 MORE to do the oil service myself. The next time I do an oil service, however, I can naturally expect a net savings.
Total Mileage: 132500, Parts: $40, Tools & Equipment: $70, Labor Savings: $60
September, 10, 2006
Brake Job Preparation Complete
I'm ready for my first DIY brake job on the E36, as I managed to pick up a new jack and the necessary parts for a song. After a few weeks of weighing the various qualities of the handful of available manufacturers, I finally decided on the American Forge and Foundry 2 Ton Low Profile jack. It wasn't my first choice, but it was friendly on the wallet. I'll talk more about my purchase decision in a Tools article I'm writing, but suffice it to say that I now have a reliable means of lifting the vehicle.
When it came time to make a decision about the brake components, I ultimately decided to go OE. While aftermarket parts are less expensive and promise things like reduced brake dust, they do it at what personal reviews suggest is a net loss in braking performance (especially the initial bite) and an increase in noise.
Since I've put my this car on a tight budget I decided to order the parts via the least expensive route. Always the computer geek, and increasingly the tightwad, I developed a spreadsheet to compare and contrast the quotes provided by my local dealer, a couple out of state dealers and a few well-known and respected parts houses like Turner Motorosport. The winning quote came from Tischer BMW, a dealer in Silver Spring, MD that offered a 20% CCA discount. When the math was complete, Tischer's discounts were actually higher than 20% in some cases, so this was a no brainer. If they deliver as promised, they'll likely get my parts business from now on -- at least on items I don't need yesterday and aren't awkward or expensive to ship.
Differential Fluid Flush Prep
I've decided to replace the differential fluid primarily as a learning experience. My technician checked it about a year ago and gave it a good bill of health, but I don't think it's ever been replaced, and the thought of running 8+ year old gear oil just rubs me the wrong way. I picked up the tools last weekend, but I still lacked the fluid or a means to get it into the differential, so I took a trip to a local Pep Boys to find Mobil 1 75W-90 (without friction modifier, of course, since this is an open rear) and a fluid transfer pump. My dealer wanted $8 per half liter, but I found the Mobil 1 for roughly half that price at $8 per quart. The transfer pump was a mere $8, so that was a done deal. The only parts remaining are the crush washers for the drain and fill plugs, and I neglected to put those in my Tischer order so I'll buy them at my local dealer.
September 21, 2006
It's true what they say. Things are not always what they seem. And to think I was about to write off the Pilot Sport A/S. First I thought it was the front tires. Then I convinced myself it was the rear tires. But over the last two days I noticed the character of the annoying wah-wah-wah sound change, first to a more consistent growl, and then to a really annoying pulsating growling noise and vibration powerful enough to be felt through the floor. I may be slow at times, but I ain't stupid. I know a bad wheel bearing when I hear it.
Not 300 feet out of my driveway this morning the noise became almost deafening, so I decided to make trip to the dealer so my technician could confirm the diagnosis. On the way there I performed a few standard tests so I could give that data to my tech and hopefully save his time and mine. First I swerved left and right.. No real change. I accelerated rapidly. Still no change. Only when I quickly let off the gas following that acceleration did I notice the growling become more pronounced.
I arrived at the dealer and gave my tech the symptoms and the results of my tests. Accomodating as ever, he quickly hopped in the driver's seat for a test drive, but we didn't get more than a couple hundred feet toward the exit when he confirmed that it was the left wheel bearing. We turned around and headed back to his bay to discuss it. I knew what had to happen -- but I just didn't want to go back home to get the E46. With a sinister grin on my face I asked "So...how much longer do you think I can or should drive this?" With a playful tone he reasoned "Well, you'll have to bring it back for an appointment. It's seven miles to your house, and seven miles back here. That's fourteen miles!" Okay, okay. No need to hit me over the head.
Normally I'm willing to wait however long it takes to get an appointment, but since I wanted to get the car back in service as quickly as possible I brought the car in this evening in the hope that they'd get to it before the weekend. The next update will tell.
"Wait a minute", I hear you ask. "I thought you were on a DIY kick. Why are you having the dealer do this?" While replacement of front wheel bearings on a BMW is a straightforward task, and I do plan to do those myself soon, rear wheel bearings are a pain in the ass under optimal circumstances (i.e. you have the right tools and the bearings haven't fused themselves to the trailing arm or the hub). At this point I don't have the tools, I know that it would take at least a week to get them here, and mileage on the E46 is a lot more costly than that of the E36. And then there's the little voice in my head I often take with me when I fly, warning me "don't bite off more than you can chew on your first major DIY project". I think the brake job will be enough of a burden.
On a positive note, I received the shipment from Tischer BMW and everything appears as ordered. Pads, rotors and set screws for four corners plus the two wear sensors came to a bit over $340. That's a great price so as long as they keep the discounts coming Tischer will get first crack at my parts business from now on. Many thanks to Jason for a completely professional transaction.
And speaking of brake parts, I just noticed a slight defect in the right front rotor that is the result of pad wear. It's no big deal at this point and I'm still hoping to do the brakes when the sensor trips, but if the rotor gets much worse, I'll consider the pads spent and just do the job to get it out of the way before cold weather sets in. No sense in working in a cold garage if you can avoid it, right?
Total Mileage: 132800, Parts: $343
September 27, 2006
Picked up the car early this morning and took it to work. The wah-wah-wah sound is totally gone and the tires are as quiet as they should be at this point in their lives. That's the good news. The bad news is the price I paid to have this done...$510 with tax. Ouch. Book labor is 3.7 hours at $102 and the remainder is parts & tax.
While more than a few DIY'ers have voiced the opinion that they'd gladly pay someone to do this job (it can be a real PITA), I still say it's possible to do it yourself if you invest in the proper tools, which cost anywhere from $250 to $500 depending on what you buy. When the time comes to replace the right rear wheel bearing, I'm going to do that one myself...even if the tools cost me nearly as much. Worst case is I'll have to pull the trailing arm off the car and take it to a local mechanic to have the bearing pressed out. But no matter what happens I figure I'll learn a lot in the process and be able to rent the tools out to fellow DIY'ers to help recoup the cost. Fortunately wheel bearings tend to fail over a relatively long period (on the order of weeks) so when / if I notice the others starting to go I should have plenty of time to acquire the tools and allocate the time to do the job.
As you can see from the picture, this is a fairly large two-row tapered ball bearing unit with twin inner races and a single piece outer race. As is common, the inboard inner race (shown to the left of the main bearing assembly) stuck to the hub as it was pulled out of the trailing arm. Apparently it put up quite a fight, so my technician used a die grinder to weaken the race before breaking it and pulling it off the hub. Given all the noise this bearing made I expected to see more obvious internal distress but all I found was a relatively fine mix of metallic particles embedded in the grease. I guess that's all it takes to destroy the functional properties of a bearing.
The twelve-point axle nut (shown to the right of the bearing) holds the entire hub assembly to the axle shaft. As the nut is purposefully deformed when it is installed to ensure it won't spin, it's a single-use part. At $10 (retail) it's expensive too, but one might argue that this is not an area in which you should go cheap. They don't call them "jeezus" nuts for nothing.
Total Mileage: 133123, Labor: $377, $Parts $99, Total $510.