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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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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.

Mileage: 170200