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Monday, December 22, 2014

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Summer Rubber

As the calendar turned to April and the threat of winter weather here in New Jersey diminished I felt it was time to return to summer rubber. This would have been a simple 15 minute tire swap but I had some other plans (see below).

(Image: E36 up on 4 jacks for Brake Fluid Flush) The one thing I noticed in doing the tire swap is that the winter wheels came off the hubs very easily thanks to the anti-seize compound I put on the hub last time. Since the 18" CSL reps are machined to fit a bit tighter to the hub I made it a point to clean off the old compound before I applied a new coat. Guess I'll wait and see next fall if this will make my life easier. I expect it to.

Naturally, I used my air impact wrench to remove the lug bolts and that made very quick work of that task. When it came time to reinstall the bolts I started all five by hand and then used my air ratchet with a 3/8" to 1/2" adapter and the same 17 mm socket to get all the bolts within a few turns of final torque. Worked like a charm and saved me a couple minutes each wheel. I recommend this technique if you have the tools.

But whatever you do, don't use an impact wrench to tighten the lug bolts. That seems like a good idea and a real time saver...right up to the point that you bust a knuckle or two trying to use the OE tire iron to break the bolts free to swap on a spare out in the middle of nowhere. Always torque your lug bolts using a torque wrench.

Brake Fluid Flush

Although the brake fluid flush wasn't technically due until June I figured I'd take care of it myself while the wheels were off. This was my first time working with the critical brake hydraulics so long before I opened a single bleeder screw I did a ton of research on the usual BMW forums, bought the right tools, and confirmed the best practices with my technician. As a result, the flush went exactly as expected and only took me about 45 minutes.

Modern BMWs require DOT 4 brake fluid. Although any DOT 4 fluid will work for a street car, I picked up some good quality ATE TYP200 gold fluid from Steve at Ultimate Garage for the simple reason that his facilities are here in New Jersey and knew I could ship via ground to keep the cost down and yet get it delivered next day -- and that's exactly what happened.

This was also the first time I used all four jack stands to keep the car level during the flushing process. I jacked the front first with the rear wheels chocked and the parking brake applied, got the stands under the front stable, and then carefully jacked the rear before throwing the second set of stands under the rear jack points. This gave me the confidence I'll need to do transmission fluid flushes, among other work that necessitates all four corners up in the air.

Cost Analysis

The typical cost for this service at a BMW dealer is almost $200, so I saved about $170 in labor doing the job myself.

As far as tools and equipment are concerned, I bought the "Black Label" Motive Pressure Bleeder for about $60. I already had the 7mm and 9mm box end wrenches required to open the front and rear bleeder screws, respectively, so no direct costs there. The collection bottle was made from a spare water bottle and copper wire (no shortage around here since I'm an electrician), and some 1/4" I.D hose from Home Depot that cost less than $5. So the "real" savings is only about $90 this time around, but the effective savings will ultimately improve in future years as I take over yet another job I previously left to the dealer techs.

Mileage: 158457, Tools: $60, Parts: $20, Labor Saved: $170

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Valve Train Noise

As the odometer has crept over 159000 miles I've noticed slightly more valve train noise in the morning after start. It sounds like classic tappet noise and only a couple tappets appear to be making noise. It is nothing obvious or distracting -- just more noticeable until the car warms up...then it purrs like a kitten. Nothing I can really do about this as I understand it is normal for an engine of this age.

OBC Lamp Replacement

(Image: E36 OBC Removed, exposing bulb sockets) This week the bulb that backlights the clock LCD in the OBC failed. Rather than bug my technician for something so trivial I decided to pull out the OBC and fix it myself. In fact, it took me more time to adjust the camera to take the pictures for this log than it did to actually replace the bulb.

Last time I had a bulb failure in the OBC my technician took care of it while I was in the shop getting some other work done. Normally, technicians just replace all the bulbs because their labor is expensive relative to the parts and it's better from a customer relations perspective to replace all the bulbs rather than fix one bulb and force the customer return several times to replace the other bulbs as they fail, but since my labor is "free" and the bulbs cost almost $3 a piece, I felt there was no point in throwing $12 at a $3 problem.

Access to the latching mechanism is provided by a hole in the top of the tray beneath the OBC. To release the OBC I stuck my index finger in the hole and then pushed directly upward. At the same time, I managed to get my middle finger slightly behind the OBC while I used a screwdriver to carefully pull the top of the glasses tray down an 1/8" or so to help unlock the unit. With about 10 seconds of fiddling the OBC popped loose.

The bulbs are the same 1/4 turn type used on the back of the speedo / tach gauge cluster and required only a small screwdriver to remove and reinstall. The four OBC bulb sockets are highlighted in the photo with arrows. Mission accomplished.

Exterior Trim Restoration Experiment

Although I've been forced to replace the exterior side mouldings on this car more than once, the trim on the front and rear bumpers is original...and it shows. The plastic is faded and generally looks like crap even if I hit it with some 303 Aerospace Protectant. Replacement mouldings for the front and rear bumpers aren't terribly expensive, but I have other things on which to spend $200, so I decided to try an experiment before I ordered new trim.

(Image: Result of Leatherique Trim Restorer on E36 side mouldings)I read about various black trim restoration kits and settled on the Leatherique Rubber Black restorer ($25). Rather than sacrifice a piece of trim currently installed on the car and commit myself to a long job I decided to use some of the old rubber side mouldings I'd saved. The directions on the bottle indicated that I should use a poly brush to avoid brush marks. That struck me as odd because most dyes would not be affected by this, but as I opened the bottle it became clear that this is more of a paint than a dye. Don't get me wrong...it may have dye in it, and as as far as paints go it's fairly thin, but it's not the watery consistency of Rit or similar dyes. Since I did not have a poly brush handy and really didn't want to make a special trip to the home center to get one just to sacrifice for this experiment I used the only thing I had -- a spare paint roller with a 1/4" nap.

I shook the product for 10-15 seconds before I opened the container and poured a bit of it on the end of the roller. I then smoothly and carefully applied the product over the length of the trim, and let it dry about 30 seconds before wiping off the excess and taking care to avoid the combination of pressure and direction of travel that would tend to produce any "brush marks". The result is shown in the picture. If it's not obvious, the old, faded trim is on the left and the newly "restored" trim is on the right. Judge for yourself.

I'm not convinced this trim restorer product is the best solution available, but the improvement is notable in spite of the fact that some brush marks are visible in the finish. The overall tonal quality of the trim is more uniform and given a shot of Aerospace Protectant I'm sure it would look like new. Of course, the trim on which I experimented has a smooth finish while the front and rear trim I endeavor to restore has a grainy texture that may not take to this process as well...that is unless I were to apply it with an airbrush or similar. The product directions (such as they are) do suggest spraying it to avoid brush marks. Fortunately, I have a need for an airbrush to touch up some rivets on the airplane following some airframe repair work so I may buy one and use it for a second experiment on the remaining trim piece. Something tells me I'll wind up ordering new trim in any case, but at least I can order it with a clear conscience knowing that I made a best effort to repair it.

Mileage: 159000, Parts: $30

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rear Trim Restoration

Following last weekend's experiment I decided to apply the Leatherique Rubber Black trim restorer to the rear bumper trim. I started the process yesterday and did everything necessary to clean and prep the trim to remove any wax or protectant left over from last year's detailing sessions. I applied the product and feathered it out for a uniform appearance as I did last weekend. The textured trim actually took the product better than the side mouldings. I let it dry overnight and was completely satisfied with the results, right up to the point that the product started to come off on my hands while reinstalling the parts this morning.

This confirmed my suspicion that Rubber Black is, in fact, a paint and not a dye. That's not to say that there is no dye whatsoever in the product and that the trim isn't permanently darker at this point, but seriously -- if I wanted a surface covering to mask the problem rather than a dye to penetrate the trim material I would have bought a can of Krylon.

I managed to cover the blotchiness now apparent in the trim with some 303 Aerospace Protectant, and expect to purchase new trim parts eventually. I already had plans to do this so as long as I can get the vendor to give me a credit for the Rubber Black product I'll just chalk it up to experience and remind myself once again that there is no free lunch in this world. You want to repair faded trim? Buy new trim. You want to keep the trim looking new from that point on? Regularly apply a protectant with UV protection like 303 Aerospace Protectant. Simple as that.

Aux Cooling Fan Bearing Failure

Some time ago I realized that one of the reasons my A/C compressor was making a lot of noise was because the aux fan wasn't running. That turned out to be caused by the failure of the low-speed fan relay. I commented at the time that I was happy to save the cost of a new aux fan because the OE part is surprisingly expensive, even by BMW standards. Even with the aux fan repaired at the time I still noticed a bit of noise coming from the compressor but it was far less noticeable than before.

Today while doing my weekly under-the-hood inspection I decided to run the A/C for the first time this season. The compressor exhibited the typical low-level rumbling (marbles in a foam lined can) sound I have come to accept from this 10 year old unit, but what I did not expect to hear was a short scraping / grinding noise that seemed to reoccur every 30 seconds or so. I kneeled in front of the car, peered through the grill and watched the aux fan start up normally and then generate the noise as it shut down abruptly. I know that the fan is supposed to cycle as needed, but it's supposed to coast to a stop -- not grind to a halt in little more than one second. I removed the cover on the top of the radiator to gain access to the fan, grabbed one of the blades and gave it a tug. That clearly demonstrated the source of the noise -- bad bearings. The motor is shot and needs to be replaced before it gets too hot or before I use the A/C.

I spent a good half hour searching various BMW parts houses online to find the best price. The OE part from Tischer is $515 with their usual awesome discount -- a good price for the OE part but still excessive for what is basically a two speed fan. Bavarian Auto advertised an aftermarket equivalent (possibly OEM but I'm not sure) for $320. I decided that it was worth going with an aftermarket part to save $200 but I nevertheless continued searching for other prices.

That's when Google stumbled on well-known BMW specialty house Koala Motorsport. I didn't even know they sold individual BMW parts (Brett, owner of Koala, is more known in the industry for his differentials) but was pleasantly surprised to find greater savings there. Brett's price? $250 including shipping, or about half the price of the OE part. The thing that convinced me to buy from Brett? Unlike most BMW parts houses that just say something stupid like "BMW fan assembly" in the part description field, Koala's product description included a reasonably sized picture so I could compare my part to theirs and a comment that could only come from an experienced BMW technician like Brett: "This assembly includes the main mounting shroud, which becomes brittle with age and may not survive the fan replacement process". That simple statement (plus another that confirmed what the specific part number included) made the sale.

I should have the fan assembly later this week and expect to do the installation next weekend. I pulled the TIS description for this work and it appears that I'll need to remove the bumper cover to get at it. Should be an interesting project.

Mileage: 159260