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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Saturday, February 3, 2007

Power Steering Phantom Part Delays Overhaul

I set out to do the power steering system overhaul today but I received the wrong part. It's not that Tischer messed up -- in fact it appears they sent me the part number I requested. The problem is the part number I requested doesn't work on my car. I mean, it's not even close. The ETK screwed me again.

Falling back on my experience with other "phantom" parts, I got under the car and went in search of a part number on the hose itself. I was able to find a partial part number imprinted in one of the metal fittings that is similar to the wrong one, but when I prefixed that number with what I believe to be the correct parts category and section numbers my copy of the ETK didn't know anything about it. I checked realoem and came up with the same result. I even called the dealer's parts department and they weren't able to do anything with it either, but I discounted that because I knew he was looking at the same ETK software. It looks as though I'll need to bring it to them on Monday and have them call the BMW tech line. I'm convinced I can get the part -- I just need to get BMW to admit they put it on my car and they still stock it.

(Image: E36 oxygen sensor plugs on top of engine)Rather than replace one or two of the hoses and drain the system twice, I figured I'd wait until next weekend for this task. The leak appears to be a little "wetter" than it was a couple weeks ago, so this is definitely something I need to get done, but I expect it to be okay for the next couple of weeks. If it fails, screw it -- I tried.

Replaced Pre-Catalyst Oxygen Sensors

While I was under the car surveying the power steering issue, I also surveyed the task required to replace the pre-catalyst oxygen sensors I bought earlier this week.

It turned out that the little 3/8" drive breaker bar with pivoting head I bought to change the diff fluid worked perfectly with the 22mm crows foot oxygen sensor socket to remove the sensors. That's not to say it wasn't tight in there, but it was possible. I quickly realized that there was no way to get a torque wrench in there so I took special care in mentally gauging the force required to remove them so I could duplicate the force during reinstallation. I'll detail the replacement later in a DIY article, but it suffices to say there's not much to the task.

After I buttoned everything back up I took the car out to run it up to normal temperature in order to get the system into closed loop so I could determine if the new sensors were doing their job. There were no issues. The engine ran like a top with no misfires or rough running, and throttle response was normal. After three times around the block I figured the engine was up to normal operating temperature so I lit it up to test wide-open-throttle (WOT) and that was as pleasant as always. There is nothing quite like the howl of a BMW M52 on a chilly day as it translates that cold, dense air into raw horsepower.

The task took me (an untrained, inexperienced DIY newbie) a little over an hour to complete both sensors and about 15 minutes of that was spent playing with tools and developing my plan of attack. An experienced tech would probably be able to do it in less time. This is particularly striking because the dealer quotes a whopping $750 for this job. The sensors retail for about $450 and the rest is good 'ol book labor. For this reason, this fix was one of the most enjoyable I've done on the car. I saved myself an amazing $360 sourcing the parts and doing the job myself. Of course, I can't pat myself on the back too much. if this doesn't eliminate the catalytic converter efficiency warnings, I'll need that savings to help pay for the new cats....and as I've said before, they ain't cheap.

Mileage: 138900, Parts: $315, Parts cost saved: $135, Labor Saved: $225

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Oxygen Sensor Update

After two tanks of gas, the DME adaptation program appears to have recalibrated itself to the new oxygen sensors and the results are in: when I take the number of miles on the trip odometer and divide that by the number of gallons taken onboard from the same pump at the same gas station until the pump clicks off, I come up with some promising numbers. Fuel efficiency has increased exactly 2MPG.

(Image: Comparison of power steering hoses)It's not much, but it proves without a doubt that oxygen sensors do change as they age. The engine feels a bit peppier as well and it's not my imagination. Given that power output decreases with an overly rich mixture and the fact that the mixture is now closer to the stoichiometric ideal it's likely that the engine is indeed producing more power. Overall, I'd say that replacement of the O2 sensors was money well spent.

I spoke to my dealer about the labor cost to replace the cats if necessary and it turns out book labor is only 1.5 hours, or about $170 with tax and that includes the labor necessary to swap the O2 sensors from the old to the new midsection. For that price, this is one of those jobs better left to the pro with the lift and a transmission jack or two, and so it shall be....assuming I see the cat efficiency warning again. If I don't, the cat replacement project will remain on hold indefinitely.

Power Steering Overhaul

I called Tischer the Monday after I realized I had the wrong high pressure hose and Jason handled the return perfectly. I put the hose and some 24.0mm swaybar bushings I never used into the box and sent it back to him via USPS mail for $5. He got the package in two days and promptly credited my card for the full amount of the purchase. I couldn't have asked for better service. Way to go Jason.

To avoid getting the wrong hose again I decided to source the replacement high pressure hose from my local dealer. The parts guy was able to take the partial part number I obtained earlier from the hose and order what he believed to be the correct part. When it came in, it looked a lot like the hose on my car, but I couldn't be sure since I hadn't removed the hose for a direct comparison.

When I got the invoice I freaked. This hose retailed for $225, a full $100 more than the hose depicted in the ETK for this application. This was far more than I wanted to spend on this project, particularly because the high pressure hose wasn't in bad shape (or so it appeared...you really can't tell their condition from the outside), but I figured "in for a penny, in for a pound" and swiped the credit card. I was just happy to have the correct part....or so I thought.

I finally got around to doing the hose swap today. It took me 2 hours and 45 minutes to do the swap, take a short test drive, and bring the oil level in the reservoir up to the proper level. This turned out to be a three curse job. I cursed once when I realized that the hose my dealer provided was the wrong one....again. I cursed two more times dealing with the reservoir (read about it in the coming DIY). The leaks related to the rubber hose ends at both the reservoir and the pump appear to be fixed, so I consider this mission accomplished, in spite of the part snafu.. I plan to return the incorrect hose for credit and give them one more chance to source it correctly before I let my fingers do the walking.

(Image: Closeup of CDT 6x9 free air subwoofer)Book labor for this job is 3 hours or $330 (2.0 hours for the hoses and 1.0 for the fluid flush). And yes, that's ridiculous, but that's the problem with book labor. Not only is it usually double the actual time a good tech would take to do the job but they'll never combine labor on related jobs to save you money. The fact that a fluid flush is part of the hose swap and doesn't actually require any additional time is immaterial to them....which explains one of the many reasons I now try to do things myself whenever possible

Mileage: 139200, Parts $205, Parts cost saved: $75, Labor Saved: $330

More Stereo Upgrades

I've had plans to replace the rear speakers for some time but couldn't figure out what I wanted to use. I considered installing 8" subwoofers in place of the factory HK 6x9 units but the one installation option that appealed to me (JL Stealhboxes) were apparently discontinued for the E36 this month -- talk about timing. That's probably just as well, though, since they were very expensive and came equipped with a subwoofer I knew I wouldn't use. It was not possible to order the enclosures separately. That brought me back to 6x9s and the only real choice available at this point -- CDT 6x9 free-air subwoofers.

When I looked on CDT's site I found a dealer a couple of miles away from my mother's shore house. As luck would have it I had already planned to be down there last weekend to install a PC and internet access for the business, so I dropped by SoundsGreat to pick up a pair of the woofers and their 1" soft dome tweeters. I read on bimmerforums that the CDT 6x9 drivers will not fit the OE 6x9 adapters but the models offered by Bavarian SoundWerks would work, so I used a discount coupon I'd received over the holidays and ordered them with a slight discount.

If you're wondering why I couldn't just throw a set of coaxials in there it has to do with the fact that the HK amplifier contains the crossovers and does not send a full-range signal to the existing 6x9 drivers. You need components for this installation. And before anyone starts to compose an email to me about how the rear speakers should be low-end / fill only and putting tweeters in the back destroys the soundstage, stop right there. I know all about it, and I'm not necessarily planning to keep the tweeters installed if I replace the amplifier...I just don't know when I'll get around to that and the OE system has tweeters back there.

Total cost of the speakers and adapters was $250, but I'm not officially "booking" this expense until I replace the drivers. I have some other mechanical work to do before I tackle the speakers, so it may be a few months before that happens, but you'll read about it here when it does.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Power Steering System Update

I experienced an unintended consequence of the power steering system work. When I took the car out for the test drive on Saturday the steering felt fine, but that test drive only took about 5 minutes. Yesterday I took the car out to lunch and drove it for about 40 minutes. Near the end of that driving session I felt the steering become tight and with intermittent power assist. The more rapidly I tried to turn the wheel, the more the system fought me.

I initially thought it was a simple matter of bleeding the system because I'd just ridden over some rough pavement and figured I'd inadvertantly freed some trapped air that was causing the pump to cavitate. I also considered the possibility that my power steering system was behaving like so many old BMW transmissions do after fluid changes and the rack or the pump was slowly failing.

To get to the bottom of the problem I did the only thing I knew I could do...bleed the system again. I put the car back up on the stands and cycled the wheel lock to lock another 10 times. The fluid in the reservoir dropped a bit and I found many small bubbles in the top of the fluid which indicated that I did manage to free some air. The following test drive provided less than promising results. The symtoms were initially improved, but when it came time to take the last turn into my driveway at low speed and low engine rpm I turned the wheel rapidly it felt like I had no power assist whatsoever.

This morning I resolved to take the car to my tech to discuss the problem and have him fix whatever needed fixing as I couldn't risk driving the car with problematic steering. When I described the symptoms, his long experience suggested that it was a simple matter of the belt slipping because I accidentally contaminated it with ATF. He said it only takes a drop or two on the pulley to spread to the entire belt over time and a good shot of brake cleaner should take care of it. The dealer's parts department stocked BrakeKleen so I bought a can and watched as my tech hit both the power steering and water pump pulleys with the cleaner while the engine was off. He then asked me to start the engine while he sprayed a steady stream at the power steering pulley and belt to help dissolve the ATF. After 30 seconds, I was able to turn the steering wheel with one hand again and knew I'd just dodged another bullet.

So, the moral of the story is to keep ATF off the belts and have a full can of brake cleaner handy in case you mess up.

Mileage: 139285, Parts $5

Sunday, February 25, 2007

New Rear Speakers

Last year I replaced the front speaker components when the OE midranges began to crackle. Recently I'd noticed the rear speakers distorting a bit more on peaks so I took that as a sign that they needed to be replaced as well. I considered the installation of 8" round subwoofers rather than 6x9 drivers, but simplicity won out and I wound up buying the CDT 6x9 free air subwoofers and some 1" silk dome CDT tweeters. It appears that a lot of people don't recommend installation of tweeters in the rear speaker complement, but I'm used to hearing high frequencies from the rear so I figured I'd try them out and disconnect them later if they didn't work out.

While doing research for this project I read of one case where the owner of a '99 M3 attempted to replace the 6x9s and reported that the CDT units did not fit the OE adapters. This person was a BSW customer so the BSW rep recommended their 6x9 adapters. I took the hint and ordered a pair in advance of the work. They arrived this week. Last night I managed to get a bunch of work done early and had to screw my head onto something else or go crazy so I figured I'd tackle this project.

(Image: CDT 6x9 free air subwoofer mated to BMW mounting adapter)Not far into the process I realized that the OE adapters had one really nice feature applicable to my installation -- a perfect location for an aftermarket tweeter. This and the fact that the BSW adapters had no provision for tweeters (a fact that was not made entirely clear to me when I ordered them, sad to say). encouraged me to modify the OE adapters to fit the CDT 6x9's and put the BSW units back in the box. If you're wondering, the modifications amounted to elongation of the holes in the speaker mounting flanges and sanding down the standoffs on the adapter to compensate for the shallower mounting arrangement. Very simple, really.

I'm extremely happy with the results of the physical installation and I would recommend this solution to anyone who wishes to install tweeters on the rear deck and retain the factory wiring. I should point out, however, that if you don't intend to install tweeters then the BSW adapters will be the best solution. The adapters themselves appear well made and fit the CDT units quite well. The only thing I don't like about the BSW adapters is that they don't come with any adhesive-backed foam insulation as used on the OE adapters to help seal the adapter to the rear deck and prevent rattles -- and for $60 a pair, I think they should.

The end result is sonically promising, if not thoroughly pleasing. After about 15 minutes of listening I can say that the benefit of the CDT drivers, at least when driven by the OE amplifier, is that the low-end is more well defined and composed. They don't really add to the low end as much as they improve its clarity. That's not to say the upgrade doesn't make its presence known. I had to track down some heretofore unheard rattles on the rear deck due to the overall increase in sound pressure level at lower frequencies, so they're definitely doing their job better than the OE units.

The downside to the installation of the 6x9's is that their greater resolution and overall capability has made it very obvious that the OE amplifier is the weak link in the system. The amp lacks the power to drive the speakers effectively, the built-in crossovers are wrong, and the excessive filtering restricts the potential of the extremes of the frequency spectrum. In short, the amp is garbage and should be replaced. I'll likely replace the factory amp with a Zapco DC Reference 360.4 given its amazing featureset and great physical design, but that will have to wait until warmer weather as that's not a simple project. I'll have to take the car out of service for at least a weekend and I can't do that while my backup vehicle is equipped with tires that perform like racing slicks on ice when the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Total time for this project was 4 hours exclusive of a trip to Home Depot for some miscellaneous hardware and a hot-melt glue gun to replace the one that appears to be have been teleported to an alternate dimension. Installation labor at a local stereo shop is $40/hr and assuming they'd done this exact job before they would have likely charged me 2 or 3 hours labor. Was this worth my time to save maybe $120? Probably not, but at least I know the job was done right, and that -- as the commercial says -- is "priceless".

Mileage: 139990, Parts $290, Labor Saved: $120.