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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Saturday, October 9, 2010

Oil Service and Analysis

Last Saturday I ran through a quick calculation and realized I was coming up on 4300 miles so I decided it was time for an oil service. I picked up six quarts of 5W-30 at the dealer and completed a mid-cycle oil service on Sunday. I didn't get around to sending the oil kit in for analysis this week so I won't have the data until later in the week but I expect this analysis will give me the information I need to put the lead wear problem to rest and go back to doing analysis every other oil service.

And not a moment too soon since Blackstone just raised their analysis from $22.50 (already the highest in the industry) to $25. I suspect this is a response to lower sales, as preventative maintenance practices are usually the first to go when the bottom line is under attack, but raising prices in a deflationary environment is akin to kicking the customer in the nads when he's down. If it goes up again anytime soon I'm definitely going to look elsewhere for analysis services. They don't have the lock on that market, that's for sure.

Replacement Style 30 Wheel

When I removed the snow tires back in April I set them up along the garage door so I could clean them before I put them away for the season. Unfortunately, I left one of the wheels perched in a precarious spot and accidentally kicked it as I was coming out of the garage. It fell face down into the stone driveway and that managed to put deep gouges in the metal and generally destroy the finish. I was not exactly motivated to deal with the problem at the time so I just stacked the wheels in the garage and walked away.

Unfortunately, the Pilot Sport A/S Plus have not worn nearly as well as the Pilot Sport A/S, which is really saying something since the regular A/S were not exactly known for longevity. The rears have been at the wear bars for the last month or so I need to switch to my snow tire set on schedule at the beginning of November. This implies having the set ready to go by the end of the month so late this week I placed an order with Tischer for a new 16" Style 30 wheel for $210. While I didn't want to spend that money I considered myself lucky when I clicked "submit" on the order because most BMW wheels (even legacy parts) are twice that price.

I also ordered 10 new rubber valve stems, valves, and metal caps for $47 because I can no longer trust my dealer to stock valve stems for these old-school, non run-flat tires. Five of the stems will be used to eventually replace all the stems on the winter set while the other five will replace the trouble-prone metal stems in the CSLs.

The parts should be here later this week, at which point I'll need to have my technician swap them. Had the local independent tire place not trashed the finish on one of my CSL reps earlier this year I would have given them the job and saved a few bucks in the process, but it appears I'll have to pay the dealer $40 to protect the finish of my wheels from now on.

Cluster Odometer LCD Segment Intermittent

A couple months ago I noticed that the right-most two segments of the trip odometer digit display occasionally fail to work. It's a purely cosmetic failure but annoying nonetheless. The only fix for that is a new cluster ($675) plus coding at the dealer.

I'd normally live with such a minor malfunction, but the cluster has had another more annoying characteristic for some time: uneven backlighting on the face of the speedometer and tachometer due to delamination of the gauge overlay. I read an article on one of the forums years ago that explained how to disassemble the cluster and reinstall the overlay using a special 3M adhesive but I never had the time or inclination do that. And it's probably just as well at this point.

I have yet to ask my technician whether it is possible to R&R the cluster and then drive the vehicle so I can do the work myself and drive it to the dealer for coding, but in the event I can't do that I may just do the work myself anyway and put it on a flatbed. Surely that will cost less than book labor at $128/hr, right?

Future Plans

My savings account took quite a beating this year addressing the rear suspension and accessory overhauls so I decided to postone the front suspension overhaul until the spring.

Unless something unexpected comes up I'm done spending money on the vehicle this year. The only thing I may do before winter sets in is replace the glass on both side mirrors due to delamination and a failure of the heating elements. I'm not exactly looking forward to spending in the neighborhood of $55 for each part but like the heated washer nozzles I repaired last winter the mirror heating elements do serve a useful purpose in snowy weather.

Let's just hope we don't have another winter like last year. If that happens I may just move to Florida.

Mileage: 197986, Parts: $55, Parts Saved: $15

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Oil Analysis Results

(Image: Blackstone Labs Oil Analysis Report for October 14, 2010)Blackstone returned the oil analysis results today and I have officially breathed a sigh of relief because the lead value has returned to normal. This leads credence to the diagnosis of a particle streak and gives me hope that this engine could soldier on for another 50K miles or more without needing any serious work. The downside is, as I approach 200K miles, that if I do experience any trouble with the engine the best course of action will likely be a complete teardown and rebuild...probably to the tune of $10K. All I can do is hope that by continuing to service the engine properly it will go the remaining distance.

Years ago when I started hanging around my technician's shop I noticed he used to remove the engine air filter and tap it on a clean surface. When I saw the amount of sand and other debris come out of the pleats I vowed to perform that simple task on a regular basis (every couple thousand miles, or every oil service at a minimum) and I'm firmly convinced that this practice, in combination with a new filter every 30K miles, has a positive effect on the silicon value in these results. I've said it before, but I'll say it again. I have no idea why anyone would want to run a so-called "high performance" filter and risk sandblasting the interior of their engine.

Email Trend

I figure I'll take this time to point out a trend in the email I've been receiving over the last couple of years.

I still receive the usual "thanks for the site" email a few times a week and always appreciate those because it tells me people are still getting something useful from this site, but I've noticed a disturbing increase in the number of emails I receive from people asking advice on how to circumvent proper maintenance procedures for one reason or another (usually the cost involved). A couple cases in point:

More than one person has asked me for advice regarding alternatives to replacement of the auxilliary fan. When I reminded one guy that the aftermarket unit highlighted in my Auxillary Fan DIY was a bargain relative to the OE part and a great way to save money, he openly admitted that he didn't have $250 for that part. As I tried to come up with a rebuttal I just shook my head and wondered WHY.

One guy from a foreign country that will go nameless recently asked me if I would comment on how the engine would run if he removed the O2 sensors and gutted the catalytic converters because "he couldn't afford $2000 cats on a car I bought for $3000". Regardless of the fact that his country reportedly had no regulations prohibiting this modification, I had to be blatantly honest and tell him that not only would that result in decreased engine performance but also a hell of a lot more pollution. I won't bother you with the remaining details of the exchange but this was the proverbial straw. I have to get some things off my chest:

  1. Please do not send me email asking me how to cut corners on maintenance. This website should be proof positive that I subscribe to a different philosophy so I will no longer waste my time trying to give any advice contrary to that philosophy.
  2. Just because you bought your BMW for $3000 does not mean you can afford to own it. I spend, on average, $0.25 per mile on maintenance on my E36. Do the math before you sign on the dotted!
  3. If you can't afford to spend $2000 for new cats it's time to buy a Honda, and if you don't have $250 to allocate to vehicle expenses in any given month it's time to acquaint yourself with alternate forms of transportation including public transit and/or a bicycle.

And before you email me to cry foul, keep in mind that I practice what I preach. I've long wanted to purchase a twin engine airplane, and at market prices approaching that of a nice Porsche, I could buy one if I wanted to, but I haven't taken the leap for one reason: I can't afford to feed the thing 30 gallons of 100 octane aviation gasoline per hour when gas is $5/gallon. That's $150/hr in fuel alone, and fuel is but one small cost of the total operating expenses of such an aircraft. The same could be said for a BMW.

Mileage: 198500, Parts: $25

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Snow Tire Remounted on Refinished Style 30 Wheel

Earlier this week I received my latest order from Tischer but when I first saw the tiny envelope that arrived I figured either Tischer had developed a groundbreaking way to compress aluminum wheels for shipping purposes or they neglected to include the wheel I ordered. The enclosed invoice clearly listed the wheel as one of the line items and I was charged for it yet it was nowhere in sight. Later that day I sent an email to Jason and he eventually replied to tell me that 1) as it turns out the Style 30 wheel is no longer available from BMW and 2) his people screwed up and should not have completed the order and charged me for something that did not ship. He promised to issue a credit for the missing wheel so I really didn't give the billing error another thought.

I did, however, begin to mull over what to do given that I still needed a replacement Style 30 wheel. I recalled speaking with the guys at Wheel Collision Center, a wheel refinishing shop near Allentown, PA some time ago so I browsed their website for a Style 30 wheel and called them to discuss my options.

(Image: Refurbished style 30 wheel remounted on Dunlop Winter Sport M3)The guy who answered the phone was helpful. He quickly pointed out that they had a few of those wheels in stock and could refinish and deliver one for me in 3-4 business days. He offered to sell me a refinished wheel outright for $185 or an exchange for $155. Always out for a bargin I decided to purchase the wheel in exchange, in which case they would send me the refinished wheel out of their stock, charge me the outright price, and the issue a $30 credit when they received the damaged wheel in the same box. After $20 in shipping costs plus tax I wound up with a bill for $220, $10 more than the price I would have paid BMW for a new wheel, but actually $20 cheaper overall than I would have paid Tischer to ship the new one to me. So I was ahead of the game at this point, if only by a few dollars.

The wheel arrived Thursday so I drove it and the damaged wheel over to my dealer technician Friday morning. I explained what I needed and told him that there was no rush. When I asked him what service advisor I should see to square up he said "don't worry about it...you buy enough stuff around here!". While my bank account can certainly attest to that statement I don't expect anyone to do work for me for free, yet he offered just the same. I think that says a lot about how important it is to develop a good relationship with your local BMW technician, or for that matter, good relationships with good people in general. I thanked him for the gesture, wished him a good weekend and ducked out the door on my way to work.

After running a few errands I picked up the newly mounted tire today and it looks great. In fact, that's the problem. The guy at Wheel Collision kindly warned me about how much nicer the new wheel would look in comparison to the old so I knew this going in, but the unintended consequence of this work is that I've decided to keep my old wheel for now and drive the entire set to Wheel Collision in the spring so they can straighten, refinish and color match them. After all, Style 30's are no longer available so I have an added incentive to keep them in great shape.

Check Engine Light

While on the way to the dealer today the Check Engine light illuminated again. I was cruising with the sunroof open and began to smell gasoline as I slowed to a stop at each traffic light. My diagnostic subroutine kicked in and I quickly deduced that because the engine was running smoothly and the fuel gauge wasn't dropping quickly I figured I didn't have a massive fuel leak, so I decided to continue the last ten miles to the dealer and have them look at it.

Upon arrival I asked one of the techs if he could pull the codes. He attached the latest version of the BMW diagnostic computer (Software Service Station, or SSS) and started a full read of all modules. He then instinctually walked over to the gas cap and removed it and showed me where one part of the gasket was more wet than the surrounding area. And then it dawned on me. Sure enough, I had filled up the tank the prior night, the moron at the station evidently failed to reseat the cap properly (again) and the pressurized gas vapor was leaking through the seal, condensing to some extent. The end result: a fuel system leak and a Check Engine light.

The SSS seemed to take forever and a day to complete its scan (certainly longer than the GT1 it replaced) but it eventually confirmed the fuel system leak. The tech then issued the command to reset all codes, reinstalled the gas cap and I was back on my way.

This experience has highlighted two things:

  1. The IQ and/or attentiveness of gas station attendants continues to drop and I didn't think that was physically possible. I suppose the only way to prevent this is to double-check the cap on all future fill-up or perhaps move to a state where the gubmint deems me smart enough to fuel my own vehicle.
  2. I need to buy a diagnostic solution like AutoEnginuity so I can begin to do more diagnostics work myself. At $500 for the BMW-specific package plus the cost of a laptop it's an expensive tool but no less important than anything else in my toolbox.

The Typical BMW Buyer

While my car sat outside one of the bays connected to the SSS, a couple in their 40's pulled up in the monstrosity more commonly known as the X5. They quickly managed to divert the attention of the tech helping me to tell him that they were experiencing a possible leak in one of the tires. They admitted that the left rear tire was "making noise" and they stopped a few miles up the road to fill it up, but that the tire pressure monitoring (TPM) system was still complaining.

I didn't catch the entire conversation that ensued between the tech and this couple, but the gist appeared to involve a complaint about how the TPM system worked. My ear perked up, however, when the woman concluded one of her points with the observation that this was a "fifty thousand dollar vehicle". Now pretending to be distracted with my own car I couldn't help but roll my eyes in disbelief that these two rocket scientists believed that the TPM system was obviously at fault when it in fact correctly highlighted a persistent loss or differential in tire pressure. These people obviously did not own a tire gauge and therefore did not necessarily fill the low tire up to the correct pressure or check the OTHER tires to make sure they were up to the same pressure.

The technician, obviously experienced in dealing with the moronic masses, diplomatically asked all the right questions, made all the right recommendations, and even offered to put the vehicle up on a lift for free to check for damage to the tire (he found none). I couldn't help but think of the irony here: TPM systems were mandated in this country because lots of stupid useless people bought a bunch of overweight Stupid Useless Vehicles (SUVs), never bothered to check tire pressure, and then had the balls to sue everyone in sight when their tires blew out, the vehicles rolled over and exploded. And yet these are the very same people that complain about the system when it correctly points out the fact that they are not doing even the most basic of maintenance procedures -- checking their tire pressure on a regular basis.

And now, because of what has become the "typical BMW buyer" I can't even buy a new BMW that weighs less than 3000 lbs, lacks a turbocharged engine developing less than 300 horsepower (necessary to haul all that extra weight around and meet magazine friendly performance numbers), gets more then 30 MPG and has a frickin' dipstick to allow me to check my engine and transmission oil quickly and easily. Thanks, morons. Thanks a lot.

Mileage: 199000, Parts: $220, Parts Saved: $20

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Return to Snow Tires

(Image: Closeup of Pilot Sport A/S Plus wear pattern)It's that time of year again so in spite of a blustery fall day with temperatures in the mid 50's (cold considering it was 75 degrees here last weekend), I put the E36 in the garage and swapped the set of spent Pilot Sport A/S Plus for the set of Winter Sport M3 including the refurbished wheel.

This was the first time I'd been under the car since the rear suspension overhaul so I spent some time looking around. Aside from the fact that a light accumulation of dirt had managed to reduce the luster of the new parts, I found everything in good shape. I cleaned all the hubs and applied a new film of anti-sieze before I installed the wheels, torqued the wheel bolts, and pumped the tires up to 32 PSI.

A close inspection of the Pilot Sport A/S revealed significant wear to the inside edges of both rear tires. I've always had pretty even wear on the rear tires of this car in spite of an alignment involving two degrees of negative camber so I can only assume that this was due to scuffing as a result of the misalignment in toe caused by the failed trailing arm bushings. And surprise, surprise. The left side was worn to a greater degree than the right, which is consistent with the fact that the left side bushing failed first.

MPG Trend

(Image: Out for lunch one crisp fall day with the snow tires mounted)As regular readers may recall I record some basic data every time I fill the tank including the amount of fuel, cost, and CONSUM1 and CONSUM2 numbers from the OBC. I reset CONSUM1 every time I fill up and never reset CONSUM2, so I wind up with a short and long term average.

The long term average in this vehicle has been remarkably consistent at 24.3 MPG. That was, of course, until I installed the 18" CSL reps back in 2006. Mileage dropped exactly 1 MPG to 23.3 like clockwork, no doubt because the wheels are heavier and the weight is concentrated farther away from the hub. Thus, the engine has to work harder to accelerate the vehicle and some loss of efficiency is expected.

In fact, I was getting 23.3 consistently in April and May of this year. After the rear suspension overhaul, however, I noticed an interesting trend: the mileage kept getting better and returned to 24.3 a couple months after the overhaul. I have never seen it this high while equipped with the CSLs. Since the change in gas formulation occurs around here in April I think I can negate its effects and instead attribute the increase in MPG to a loss of friction in the rear end. Not surprising when you consider that I replaced every moving part back there.

Of course, this is only a theory, and I hope to use the mileage data of the next several months to confirm it. If my theory is correct I expect MPG to increase to roughly 25 MPG while equipped with the smaller 16" wheels.

Mileage: 199283