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Monday, December 22, 2014

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Monday, September 1, 2008

Oil Analysis All Clear

(Image: Blackstone Labs oil analysis report, August 28, 2008)As expected, the oil analysis came back clear, and I'm beginning to think I could easily run this engine for another 100K miles provided I keep up with routine maintenance of the oil and coolant. The chief concern I have at this point is a failed head gasket, but they usually fail because people don't change the coolant, so I should be in good shape there. We'll see over the next few years I suppose.

Trip to HazMat

I couldn't quite believe that I had managed to collect almost 20 gallons of used motor oil, ATF, and coolant over the past year but that was the tally I gave to the HazMat facility when I made an appointment this morning. I asked the attendants why they were open on a holiday and they said that they were required to be open at any time the nearby landfill was open in case they had a spill over there and needed to clean it up.

I was originally under the impression that I could not throw BMW paper oil filters and oil soaked paper towels and rags into the household trash but the attendants told me that was okay and refused to take them. They did agree, however, to take a metal oil filter I removed from a John Deere tractor because they apparently recycle the metal. I told them I thought this was a bit strange since the paper oil filters can still hold a lot of oil that can leach into the groundwater but it was pretty clear they didn't make the rules.

Trivia for the day -- this one county facility collected over a million pounds of hazardous waste that was recycled or otherwise properly disposed of...and that's a million pounds that didn't wind up in the landfill contaminating our ground water.

Rear Swaybar Bushings and Endlinks

While normal people were out on their decks flipping burgers and dogs on the grill this fine Labor Day, crazy BMW owners like me were using this holiday as an opportunity to catch up on some work that got swept under the rug. Of course, I'm referring to my rear swaybar (ahem, "stabilizer bar") bushings and endlinks.

I bought the parts for this job last year when I did the front swaybar, but stories online of DIYers having problems with the press-fit endlinks scared me off at the time. The odd "loose" feeling in the rear end at high speed I've experienced recently prompted me to tackle this before I take the car in to see my technician for a test drive to get his opinion. I'm pretty sure the problem is bad trailing arm bushings, but I won't know until my technician uses his 30 years of experience, puts his ear to the road, so-to-speak, and gives me his diagnosis.

I gathered what information I could find from online resources as well as the TIS and started work around noon today. I expected to be done in around two hours but I ran into a snag. In short, I somehow managed to strip the threads on one of the new brackets used to connect the endlink to the upper control arm. I was not pleased.

I knew that the car was safe to drive in that condition because there was no way in hell that nut was going to pull out the remainder of the threads, but I'm never one to do things half-assed. So I cursed a few times and then attacked the nut with a reinforced cutting disk attached to my Dremel. In about 10 minutes I managed to cut the stripped nut off and remove the swaybar again. The original bracket was still in great shape so I cleaned it up and installed it on the new endlink, reinstalled the bar, torqued the fasteners as best I could and breathed another sigh...this time one of relief.

(Image: Stripped threads on a rear swaybar endlink bracket)The strange thing about stripping the nut is at no time did the fastener on the left side bracket "tighten up" as the bracket and control arm mated. I mean, this "tightening" is obvious when it occurs on the bushing brackets, for example, since you literally can't turn the fastener with the same torque anymore. But that didn't happen here, and the kicker is the VERY SAME THING started to happen with the old bracket I reinstalled on the left side to replace the damaged new bracket, but this time I didn't go so far as to pull out the threads. I simply stopped turning the fastener when I saw the anti-twist nub on the bracket appear in the adjacent hole in the control arm. Was the bracket fully mated with the control arm? I think so, but there was no way in hell I was going to destroy another bracket to test the theory. Frankly, I think the brackets are defective and should be made of a much harder steel so this doesn't happen, but I don't expect BMW to acknowledge that in my lifetime.

That little headache aside, the job went more or less as planned and the car seems to be a bit more "smooth" in the rear as a result. The effect so far appears quite subtle, much in the same way the front end quieted down when I replaced the front end links and bushings. The rubber bushings in the end links were definitely cracked, but still surprisingly flexible. The support bushings on the car were in pretty good shape too and were still quite pliable, though they were slightly worn and compressed a bit near the edges just like those I removed from the front swaybar. I'm not sure if the new parts will really make a difference, but if after some additional driving I can articulate the change(s), I'll document them here.

The best tip for this work came from my technician, who pointed out that if I couldn't get the car high enough off the ground to get the swaybar near vertical as required to snake it out from under the car, I'd need to remove the two rear rubber isolation muffler mounts from the body and pull the muffler down a few inches. He promised this would provide the clearance between the bar and pipes needed to minimize the angle at which one is required to rotate the bar to remove it. And sure enough, it worked exactly as he indicated. Have I said lately my tech is a cool guy?

Book labor for this task reportedly 1.5 hours, or about $180 with tax at my dealer, which means most master BMW techs could get it done in half that time. When I looked up at the clock as I began to put the tools away I realized nearly three hours had passed. Forty-five minutes of that time, however, was required to correct the stripped fastener and I spent at least 15 minutes cleaning up afterward, thus I wasn't far off from the book labor figure. I expect the "customer" will be pleased with my bill. :-) I'll call this job $65 in parts and Labor Saved of $180.

I'll be swamped with other things this week as I return to the salt mine, but I hope to update my existing Swaybar Service DIY with this new information as soon as I'm able. Look for that.

Mileage: 165200, Parts $65, Labor saved $180

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Swaybar Update

After driving for a week with the new rear swaybar endlinks and bushings I have to say that the car is much better behaved than I thought it would be, considering that the old parts didn't look that bad. The improvement is easily on a par with the results from the front sway bar service I conducted last year. The entire rear of the car seems "quieter" than before...and I mean that in a NVH (Noise, Vibration, Handling) sense, particularly at speed.

Turns at up to 80 MPH are definitely more predictable, particularly as I make the transition from braking before the turn entry to the throttle and quickly but smoothly steer into the turn to carry the car through the apex. At cruise, small bumps and cracks in the pavement don't transmit as readily to the seat of my pants, so the entire car feels smoother and more in control. That's probably why I had the confidence to bring the car up to 110 MPH on some smooth and straight road. I still find it truly amazing what this 11 year old car will do. It was designed in the early 90's and still blows the doors off of most of the new stuff out there today.

Surprise Brake Job

(Image: Gauge cluster annunication for brake pad wear)While driving to work earlier in the week I applied the brake pedal to slow down (believe it or not, I do slow down on occasion) and saw the red brake wear indicator illuminate. As I continued the drive to work I contemplated what could be wrong. The brakes weren't due for at least another 10K miles, so I initially assumed the indicator was in error. After I pulled into the parking lot at work I got out to inspect the brakes and much to my surprise found the pads worn down to a level that would trip the wear sensor. I immediately took this as a sign that I have been working too hard and I resolved to order the parts and do the job this weekend.

Later that night, following the usual check of realoem.com and the ETK for part numbers, I placed an order with Jason at Tischer BMW via mileoneparts. To the usual complement of pads, rotors, retaining screws and wear sensor I added two caliper guide bushing repair kits. Caliper guide bushings allow the caliper to slide smoothly, and worn (or greased) bushings can cause the caliper to bind up. Since it's hard to inspect the interior of the bushings I decided to file this under the heading of preventative maintenance. Needed or not, they would be replaced.

I completed the brake job this afternoon and found it went mostly as expected. The left front rotor didn't want to separate from the hub but a couple shots of WD-40 in the lug bolt holes, a 10 minute break, and some not-so-gentle persuasion with the dead blow hammer did the trick. Needless to say, I spent some extra time cleaning off the hub before wiping on a fresh coat of anti-seize in an effort to prevent this next time.

The only other snag came about when I tried to press the piston back into the caliper bore using my old woodworker's clamp. The right side eventually pressed in but the left side simply wouldn't budge. I didn't happen to have a c-clamp handy so I quickly changed clothes, hopped in the E46 and shot over to Home Depot to pick up a 4" c-clamp which ultimately worked like a charm. This task is all about leverage, and you need lots of it to work those pistons back in far enough so the thick new pads will fit over the rotors. Once I managed to push both pistons back into the calipers I checked the level of brake fluid in the reservoir to find it very close to the maximum level. As regular readers may recall, I intentionally left the fluid near the minimum level in anticipation of this during my recent brake fluid flush, so that worked out as expected. As we pilots say while training to fly in instrument conditions (in the clouds by reference to instruments only), the two most important things are the next two things. Translated: it pays to think ahead.

As for the shortened brake life, I think this is a simple consequence of running 18" wheels. It's not so much the weight as it is the mass farther away from the center of the wheel that places extra demands on the brakes. In that respect I will look forward to November when I plan to install my set of 16" winter wheels and tires.

Book labor on brake jobs are 2.0 hours per axle or $235 including tax at current dealer rates. Retail OE parts cost $278, but Tischer's discounts got that down to $221, or a savings of $57. I also bought a can of brake cleaner ($5), a pair of throw-away gloves ($2) and one tool (the c-clamp, $8) to complete the task. And for record keeping purposes, I also bought two jack pads for $21. They were not strictly needed for this task, so I'll file those under "extra parts". Total DIY savings: a bit under $300. Not bad.

I took some extra pictures this time around so expect an update to my Brake Job DIY soon.

Mileage: 165475, Parts $221, Extra Parts and Materials: $28, Tools: $8, Parts Saved: $62, Labor saved $235