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Friday, December 19, 2014

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

New Fog Lights

(Image: Using screwdriver to release fog light assembly)A couple weeks ago I was washing the car when I realized that my left fog light was cracked. At first I was miffed because I knew this meant an unscheduled expense, but as I looked more closely at the glass of both fog lamps I realized that they had been sandblasted by the high-speed commute and were in need of replacement anyway.

I did my usual research on the parts, starting with realoem and the ETK for the part numbers, followed by Tischer for the price. It turns out that the fog lamp glass assembly is available separately, or as part of a three piece kit that includes the halogen bulb and mounting bracket. Since I expected to replace the bulbs as well as the glass, the kit was the best deal.

There are two original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for the E36 foglamps: Hella and ZKW. For whatever reason, realoem indicated that the Hella part number had been superceded by the ZKW part. While reading bimmerforums.com I found this thread which offered a great price on a pair of OEM ZKW foglamp kits. The vendor accepted credit cards, was located here in NJ, and I couldn't beat the price anywhere, so I placed the order. A couple days later the foglamps arrived on schedule. The words "Made in Austria" were stamped on the inside of the glass and I found a ZKW label on the side, so I knew I'd received the real deal and not some cheap ripoff made in China.

(Image: Old foglights, one with cracked glass)I managed to summon the time to install the new foglamps today. Replacement of the glass assembly is easy and only involves use of a screwdriver to depress the locking tab on the bracket that is attached to the bumper cover. Access to the locking tab is through the upper of the two holes cut in the bumper cover just inward of the fog lamp assembly.

Once I released the tab the glass unit popped out a bit on one side. I then tugged it out further and then pulled the entire unit out of the recess in the bumper. A weatherproof plug with twin release clips provides power to the back of the assembly, so I detached that before I removed the entire unit and swapped it out with the new assembly.

I didn't replace the brackets because the existing units appeared to be in good shape. And truth be told, I was not motivated to replace them for good measure because it appears that it is next to impossible to remove the screws that attach the bracket to the bumper cover without removing the cover itself because the brake cooling ductwork gets in the way. While removal of the bumper cover is a straightforward job, it was not something I wanted to tackle on a cold day unless absolutely necessary.

Although the bumper cover has been replaced recently, the grill in the lower center of the cover is original -- and it shows. Just as the daily sandblasting has taken its toll on the paint, that and the smaller rock hits have really done a number on the grill. For that reason I may wind up removing the bumper cover to replace the grill next spring, and if that happens I'll use that time to replace the fog light brackets. Until then, they'll remain on my shelf with the spare bulb and glass assembly I saved from the other side.

(Image: New fog light assemblies installed and operational The two fog light kits retail for $220 from BMW. Tischer had them for $176 plus shipping (figure $185 total), but my alternate source really came through with a price of $110 shipped with tax (!). This is a savings of $110 over the retail price or a $80 relative to Tischer's otherwise favorable pricing. Although I would normally not make a comparison between a BMW part and an "aftermarket" part, these ZKW units are for all intents and purposes the BMW part without the BMW label, so I feel this is a fair, apples-to-apples, comparison.

As far as labor is concerned, BMW apparently gets almost a half hour of book labor to replace these lights, which I think is overkill, unless you have to replace the brackets as well. Last time my technician replaced the units for free, but for something this simple I didn't have the heart to bug him. Given the savings in both parts and labor, I think this was time well spent.

Mileage: 152000, Parts: $110, Parts Saved: $110, Labor Saved: $100

Thursday, November 22, 2007


(Image: Closeup of microfilter removed in November 2007 
	after 14K miles) As I got up this morning I looked over at my outside temperature gauge and was surprised to see it hovering in the low 60's. I took this as a sign that I needed to wash and prep the car for winter so I went outside to do exactly that. I did some essential detailing, including applying touch up paint to some chips on the front of the hood and bumper, polishing in selected areas to remove some water spots, and then applying a full coat of Menzerna FMJ sealant to protect the finish during the upcoming crappy weather.

I also decided to replace the microfilter today, about 1000 miles ahead of schedule, because of the nice weather. I mean, why do the job when it's 20 degrees outside when you can do it in short sleeves?

Last time I did this (also the first time I did it as a DIY) I obtained access to the microfilter through the footwell rather than pulling the glove box as the TIS and other more "official" instructions dictate. So this time I figured I'd try to do it via the glove box route, if for no other reason than to document it. Unfortunately, I couldn't get past step 1: removing the glovebox. It takes six screws and I removed them all -- to no avail. The glovebox appeared loose, but would not disconnect from the dash no matter what I did. This may have something to do with the fact that it's only been removed once in the 10 years I've had the car, but I think it had more to do with the fact that there is no real convenient way to get a firm hold on the thing. You can only tug on the door so much before you risk breaking the hinges.

So, the downside is that I didn't manage to get the pictures I was hoping for, but the upside is that I finally learned how to disconnect the wiring harness block necessary to clear a path for removal and reinsertion of the microfilter. As none of the instructions I read (including the TIS) indicated precisely how to disconnect the harness block in question, I made a point of taking pictures of this. My Microfilter DIY article has been updated accordingly. The end result of this newfound knowledge is twofold: I can now replace the microfilter in about the same time as it takes my technician (10 minutes or so) and I now have proof that accessing the microfilter by removing the glovebox and such is a total waste of time.

Incidentally, I found the microfilter a bit cleaner than last time, but I attributed that to the fact that the car hadn't visited any body shops during the service interval. Body shops are extremely dusty and dirty places, and turning on the ventilation system in the shop is a sure way to contaminate the filter. In fact, if you have to bring your car to a body shop, I would consider it essential that you replace the microfilters once the car is back in your possession. They do serve a purpose, but they can't it very effectively if they're clogged with sanding dust.

The microfilters retail for $36 and are best purchased online. This filter was an "impulse" buy at my local dealer while purchasing some other stuff, so I only got 10% off and had to pay the state their unfair share. So I saved only about $5 on it, but that's better in my pocket than anyone else's. As far as labor is concerned this is still a 0.6 job, due mostly to the fact that BMW's own instructions advocate doing it the hard way even though no technicians I know do it that way. Doing this job oneself therefore saves about $80 in labor. Hmmm. $80 + $5 savings for 10 minutes of my day and the satisfaction that I did it myself. Is it worth it? Survey says "YES"!

Winter Tires

Recently I've been throwing around the idea of putting my old 16" wheels back into service cladded with winter rubber. I have a few reasons for this:

  1. I have six wheels doing nothing right now. My technician told me one of them is bent and I think it is the spare, but spinning them all up would clearly identify it. This would allow me to toss it and reduce clutter in the garage. The cosmetic quality of all the wheels leaves something to be desired, which is why I bought the CSLs in the first place, but in winter service who cares what they look like?
  2. The Pilot Sport A/S tires are great in snow when new at least, but they are a compromise in dry weather vs. a true summer tire like the Pilot Sport PS2. Here in NJ we typically have only 3-4 months where snow is a possibility, so for a majority of the year I'm sacrificing performance.
  3. I presently have no snow-worthy tires for the E46. If I put the 16" wheels back on the E36 for the winter, I can put the CSLs with still viable Pilot Sport A/S rubber on the E46 in case the E36 goes down for maintenance unexpectedly and the white stuff is everywhere. Of course, this was one of the reasons I used to justify the CSL wheels in the first place -- they will work on both cars.
  4. After hauling the original 16" wheels out for a thorough cleaning, I realized that I should have been removing the wheels and cleaning them annually all along. One of the wheels is newer than the others and it cleaned up nicely, but the paint on the interior of the original wheels is stained badly from nine years of road grime. Swapping wheels every winter would provide the opportunity to keep all of my wheels clean and thus preserve my investment.

I haven't figured out if I'm going to go through with this but if I do I'll have to pull the trigger by next month or risk losing stock on the needed tire sizes. It's only late November and Tire Rack is already sold out on one of the few tires available in the needed size.

Mileage: 152170, Parts: $30, Parts Saved: $5, Labor Saved: $80