Sunday, December 14, 2008
I had originally planned to do some flying for the first time in two months today but the high winds combined with the after effects of a large snowfall and ice storm at my intended destination put the kibosh on those plans. I decided instead to sleep in, have a lazy winter breakfast consisting of some sweet pomegranate juice and incredibly fattening blueberry waffles topped with 100% maple syrup refined in our fine state of Vermont, and then venture out to the garage in the afternoon to tackle an oil service on the E36.
I usually try to do an oil service every 4500 miles but due to weather and my schedule I didn't get around to it this time until nearly 5000 miles had passed. No harm done, of course, as my oil analysis vendor has more than once indicated I could easily add 2000 miles or so to my standard interval before exceeding any statistical averages.
And speaking of oil analysis, given the quality of recent analysis reports and the ever pressing need to meet my savings targets I decided to skip the oil analysis this time. I'll do another analysis at the next oil service in March or so, but will likely continue to alternate from now on unless something out the ordinary develops.
The oil and filter parts came to $47. While I was at it I bought four bottles of the BMW windshield washer fluid concentrate for $2.60 per bottle ($11 total) to carry me through the season. Last season I used only two bottles for protection down to 0 degrees F but as it turned out the winter was mild and relatively snow-free. This year I expect to use a bit more because we've already had an extended period of cold temperatures, our first snow of the season, and tons of precipitation (virtually all of which has been in liquid form, fortunately).
Blower Motor Parts and Prep
As I indicated in an earlier blog entry the cabin air blower motor made a bit of noise last winter but this season the noise has been far more noticeable and persistent. While visiting my dealer last weekend I spoke to one of the regular techs (but not my usual guy) about the blower noise and he was quick to point out that what I am hearing might be the result of some foreign matter in the blower housing and NOT a failed blower. I told him that it typically happens only when cold and it really does sound like a bad bearing. He quickly retorted that if this is the case the motor could possibly run for years like that. And he's probably right.
But the noise is audible from outside as well and while I'm as environmentally conscious as the next guy, I don't want it to sound like I'm driving a hamster-powered hybrid. So I broke down and ordered a new blower from Tischer (getbmwparts.com) this week. The total cost of the blower was $353. I also bought a replacement mounting clip/bracket just-in-case for $4 and I paid $12 for shipping, for a grand total of $370. My local dealer wanted $487 with tax for the same parts so I'm ahead of the game at this point by $117.
If you're wondering why I'd spend big money on the OE unit when aftermarket units are available at considerable savings, look closely at the picture. That little silver clip in the center of the squirrel cage allows one to remove the cage from the armature, while the aftermarket units notoriously lack this feature. This is necessary because only a masochist would attempt to cram this rather large blower assembly into the incredibly small access hole BMW built into the vehicle structure. The solution, of course, is to disassemble the fan, insert the pieces into the access hole and reassemble it in place. So it's a matter of saving $150 and spending an extra three hours trying to fit the square peg in the round hole OR buying the OE unit that is designed to simplify the problem. Hmmm...tough choice. Not.
Incidentally, the tech I spoke to confirmed that when the dealer techs do this job they remove the wiper arm assembly as recommended in the TIS to provide additional clearance so I expect to do that as well. Book labor is 3.1 hours so I am expecting a fairly long and tedious job. Hopefully the results will be worth the effort.
Barring total failure of the fan I've scheduled the installation for the upcoming holiday break. I have enough Kerosene to run the heater in the garage for a few days, so I figure if I can't get the job done in that time I'll just bring it to the dealer with my tail between my legs. :-)
Mileage: 169803, Parts $428, Parts Saved: $117
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Yet Another Check Engine Light
I was on my way home from a family gathering Sunday night, with the temperature in the balmy 20's, when I noticed an annunicator illuminate on the dash. Now, I'm sure you're thinking it was the one that indicates I've just won a date with the woman of my dreams. And you'd be right, but only up the point that I woke up and was unceremoniously slapped in the face with the cold reality of yet-another-check-engine-light. Hmmm. Engine is running great but yet there's a really bright and undimmable light in the cluster destroying my night vision. Let me guess (*rolls dice for effect*), it's a cat efficiency warning.
Skip forward to this morning. I got up early to arrive at the dealer so that I could catch my technician before he managed to hatch any idea of skipping out early for the holidays. As I walked into the shop and spotted my technician with the usual line forming behind him, I managed to circumnavigate the table covered with tons of cookies, donuts, danishes, and other fattening holiday treats, intent to grab my place in line. A few minutes later I had explained the situation to my tech and had driven the car into the bay.
Looking for the familiar GT1, I quickly noticed the new diagnostic tablet computers gracing everyone's bays. Pointing at one example I asked my technician "so, that's the replacement for the GT1, eh?" He sort of rolled his eyes and responded with a half-hearted, "yea, that's it, but believe it or not, they didn't provide any manuals for it, so we've been totally on our own setting it up, and none of it really works yet". Ever the glutton for punishment, he nevertheless connected the new diagnostic head to the E36's under-hood 20 pin connector and tried to get the new tablet to talk to the car. After several failed attempts I capitulated "oh well, I guess these new fangled things don't recognize cars from the Jurassic period." "Wait a second while I go get something that will work..." my technician fretted as he started to walk away, only to return a few minutes later with a familiar GT1.
As we waited for the GT1 to pull the data from the car I reviewed one of the workbooks my technician brought back from a class covering the latest engines including the twin turbo N54. I'd managed to read only a few paragraphs of a section describing the variable flow oil pump that works to increase pressure only when required by the VANOS when I heard those familiar words "It's cat efficiency, cylinders 1-3". Then it got better. "And it looks like it's happened 11 times and it first occurred 78 hours ago." "Eleven times?", I queried in disbelief. "Well, this is a common problem during cold weather because the cats don't heat up fast enough.", he offered. "Ah, I guess I can see that....and I guess I'm finally buying a new midsection". "Yea," he agreed. "Looks like it."
I walked up to the parts window fully aware of Tischer's price for the mid-section and was pleasantly surprised when the parts guy told me he would be able to get the part to me for the same price as Tischer, to the dollar -- a full 20% off. Of course if I buy locally I'll have to pay sales tax but this will be offset by the high shipping charges I'd otherwise pay to Tischer and the fact that the dealer will warranty the part. Since book labor is only an hour to swap the mid-section I plan to have the dealer do it.
After saying thanks and wishing my technician a happy holiday I left with my gauge cluster dark and my sanity remarkably intact, all things considered. Since my schedule is fairly packed for the next few weeks my hope is that the CEL will remain dark until I can manage to order all the parts required to do the job properly around the first of the year, including post-cat O2 sensors, all new mounting hardware and exhaust mounts. Unless a miracle occurs, I'm expecting a bill in the vicinity of $2500.