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Friday, December 19, 2014

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Cracked Windshield

Last Sunday I was cruising down the Garden State Parkway enroute to my mother's shore house to get together for mother's day when I took a small stone in the window. I didn't see the stone coming so it must have been pretty small, and didn't see any obvious damage so I considered myself lucky. After lunch I decided to give the car a bath. As I made my way around the car and approached the windshield I did a double-take. What I thought at first was just a stream of water flowing down the window I soon realized was a continuous crack in the center of the window extending from top to bottom.

You might think that I freaked out at this point, but in all honesty I just shrugged my shoulders, considered this a stroke of good luck, and finished washing the car. Why good luck, you ask? Simple. It needed to be replaced anyway. After being subjected to the commute for nearly four years, the window was heavily pitted and would practically turn opaque when driven into the sun. Because the window was thoroughly cracked, I knew its replacement was guaranteed by the insurance company and, given my $100 comprehensive deductable, my out of pocket cost would be reasonable.

The fly in the ointment, however, was the fact that about a year ago I'd switched from State Farm to Allstate and I didn't know how they would handle the claim. When I called my agent, they quickly transferred me to Allstate national, who then put me on hold for about 5 minutes. They then took my information, asked me a few questions about the state of the window, confirmed that it qualified for replacement vs. repair, and then suggested they would transfer me to their preferred repair company, Safelite.

Now, I'm sure that Safelite knows how to do this job just as well as anyone, but all things being equal I told the Allstate rep that I preferred to deal with DuRite. Allstate quickly transferred me to DuRite and DuRite's rep, Mike, took my vehicle information including VIN, confirmed my request for OE glass, and told me they'd call when it arrived to schedule the repair. The glass is expected in on Monday so it appears I'll put my fourth windshield in the car sometime this week.

While I had Mike on the phone I asked for a quote to do the rear window since one of the heater circuits is non-functional and the trim surrounding the window is disintegrating. The current plan is to do this work while the car is down for the front suspension overhaul. The cost? $550. Are you SURE you want to own an old BMW? :)

New Driver's Side Door Panel Arrives

After several weeks of commuting with a door panel that has insisted on making really noticeable and annoying rattling noises every time I go over a bump in the road, on Thursday I decided it was time to bite the bullet and buy a new door panel and a new tweeter pod to replace the part that had cracked several months back.

The parts guys took serious pity on me and gave me a whopping 36% off the door panel ($665 retail, $425 my cost) and a cool 40% off the new tweeter ($158 retail, $93 my cost). Those are the highest discount levels I've ever received on any substantial part I've ordered from them (i.e. not counting simple fasteners or wiper blades), and that's the good news.

The bad news is that BMW stocks and ships exactly one door panel part number in beige and that panel has no cutouts for the tweeter and midrange pods. A couple of the techs confirmed that this is the way it's done and I'll have to take a knife (and/or a dremel) to a brand-spanking-new $425 door panel to install the drivers. The upside is that the circumference of the pods is embossed into the rear of the panel to serve as a guide so I won't necessarily be cutting "blind". In spite of this, I can assure you that I'm not looking forward to that nerve-wracking task. Anyone want to come over and do it for me? :)

I'm also disheartened, but not surprised in the slightest, that BMW's interior subcontractor has done nothing to fix the moronic design of these door panels in the last thirteen years. For this reason, I plan to proactively apply two-part epoxy to all the "weak" areas of the panel in an effort to prevent its failure as long as possible, but only time will tell if my efforts will be for naught.

Mileage: 208200, Parts: $553, Parts Saved: $305

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fourth Windshield Replacement

The weather last week turned out to be rainy and unpredictable so DuRite suggested we replace the window this week. My schedule wouldn't permit doing the work at home so they were kind enough to drive the extra 30 minutes to my office and replace the window in the parking lot.

I honestly didn't expect any surprises, but as usual, reality thwarted my utopian view of the world. Upon removal of the old window, the installer and I noticed areas of rust exposed as the old adhesive was pulled out of the window channel. Virtually all of the rusty areas were in the window channel hidden from view with the window installed, but one area near the top left corner of the window had progressed to bubbling of the paint to a point just outside of the trim line. I simply hadn't noticed it until now.

We couldn't do anything about the rust at this point so they applied some conversion primer to the affected areas and installed the window as usual. While I don't expect the rust to progress too aggressively, I now know I'll need to bring the car to a body shop at some point in the next couple of years to pull the window and fix the rust properly. And yes, because of the encroachment of the rust into the exposed area of the roof line this will likely mean shooting the entire roof and blending into the pillars. Oh joy!

Incidentally, I thought ahead and ordered new cowl cover clamps and grommets and I'm glad I did. One of the clamps broke upon removal, and a closer inspection revealed that two of the grommets had gone missing, which meant that the clamps weren't gripping as tightly as they could. BMW sells the clamps (61-71-8-108-613) and grommets (51-13-8-124-389) as separate parts, but only in bags of 10. The clamps retailed for $4 each and the grommets an astounding $11 each (!). Once again, however, the parts guys took pity on me so the total was "only" $54. Fortunately, my insurance company should reimburse me for this. I just need to go through the process.

Interior Repair Quotes

I've been trying to figure out whether I could financially swing repairing the interior this year. A few weeks back I got quotes for new front seat leather consisting of seat and backrest sections. With BMW OE leather the total came to a stunning $1100 for the driver's seat and $900 for the passenger seat because the driver's seat needs new foam padding. Naturally, I decided to research alternatives. It appears that Gahh provides covers of equivalent quality for approximately $500 less so I am likely to go that route. I hadn't priced out the headrests with OE parts, but Gahh wants an extra $200 for the set or $1700 total for two new front seats.

Earlier this week on my way to work I stopped at the upholstery shop recommended by my technician. This is the same shop that replaced the leather covers on my driver's seat back in 1999 so I knew the shop had the requisite experience with BMW seats. The owner quoted me $270 to replace the leather on each seat ($540 total) provided I R&R'd the seats myself. He also told me that he'd need the seats for a bit over a week simply so he could interleave this work with the other jobs going on in his shop: understandable given that he appeared to be a one-man-band.

While I was at it, I asked for a quote to refinish the headliner and he came up with $400. Given the fact that this is about $50 more expensive than the OE part, the fabric was not guaranteed to match the OE fabric remaining on the pillars, and this would undoubtedly add several days to the project, the choice was simple. I plan to buy the OE headliner and be done with it. So it appears that if I replace the front seat leather and the headliner, I'm looking at around $2600. That's a bit too rich for my blood at the moment, so I intend to put that work off until next year. The upside is that I expect the interior work to complete the bulk of this "slow-motion restoration" so I see light at the end of the tunnel.

Additional Driver's Door Parts

For the last several years the driver's door lock and door pull have not felt nearly as smooth as those on the passenger door so I decided to buy some parts to address the issues at the same time I replace the door panel.

First up is what BMW calls a "lock repair kit". While keys and some lock components for BMWs are typically coded in Germany, the lock repair kit is generic to all vehicles and therefore shipped from one of BMW's domestic warehouses. The kit comes with a bunch of numbered pins and BMW leaves it up to the technician to code the new lock by disassembling the old lock cylinder, obtaining the numbers and positions of each pin, and duplicating the same pin sequence on the new lock. My technician gave me a few tips about the process including the need to use the grease included in the kit to ensure the springs don't bind up in the cylinder.

The structure of the door latch is made of metal, but a good part of its internal structure, including the "ramp" that allows for a smooth mating of the door and the door post, is made of plastic. Not surprisingly, after 13 years and thousands of cycles a deep groove has worn into the ramp of the original part and I think this is contributing to the notchy feel I get when I actuate the door pull to open the door.

I expect to complete the door repair and install the new door panel this weekend.

Mileage: 208200, Labor $100, Parts $250

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Mechanical Tensioner Noise

Back in 2007 I noticed a rattling noise with the engine at idle. At the time my technician helped me trace it to the vicinity of the main accessory belt tensioner pulley so I replaced it. Unfortunately, while that was certainly part of the problem, it didn't completely eliminate the noise so I wound up replacing the tensioner as well.

Over the last couple of weeks I noticed that the noise had returned and as usual it was most prevalent at idle and when the engine was cold (i.e. first thing in the morning). So I figured I'd cut to the chase and order a new tensioner / pulley kit and install it this weekend in concert with other work I had planned. Imagine my surprise, however, when I looked up the part number and saw the dreaded word "ENDED" associated with it. I then read the fine print and found a ray of hope -- it was superceded with a new part number. My hopes were quickly dashed, however, when I traced the new number to a hydraulic tensioner conversion kit.

For those that don't know, these engines came from the factory with either a mechanical or hydraulic main belt tensioner. The mechanical variety is the "economy" option and is typically found on non-M vehicles. They tend to fail on a regular basis (72K is an ideal preventative maintenance interval) but at roughly $70 including pulley, replacement is seldom a financial concern. I learned long ago from my technician that the hydraulic tensioner is the high quality option and they tend to last "forever". My personal experience with the hydraulic tensioner governing my A/C belt would seem to bear that out -- while I've replaced the pulley a couple times the tensioner is original with 208K miles in service. But quality costs money, and this is no exception.

This explains, of course, why I didn't convert to the hydraulic tensioner back in 2007, and as I found out during a recent visit to my friendly neighborhood BMW parts counter, little as changed in this respect. The kit (sans pulley and other assorted hardware necessary for the conversion) is now $210. While some may think I like spending money on my cars, nothing could be further from the truth. Assuming I have a choice in the matter, I'd just as soon spend $70 vs. $200, but if I want an OE solution and a quality one at that, I'll have to splurge. And it's probably just as well if I never have to hear that annoying rattle again.

On the same visit to the dealer, I cornered my technician long enough to ask him about the conversion process. He said he just had to do this on his own E46 and was kind enough to print out the service information (SI B 11 04 03) governing the conversion on the E46 and later vehicles. The E36's M52 application wasn't specifically mentioned, but the SI gave me the information I needed to order the necessary parts. I'll provide the full parts list as well as the procedure to replace it in a future blog entry.

1M In Person

I finally got to see a Valencia Orange (VO) 1M in person at the dealership on Friday. Sorry, no pictures, as I didn't have my camera, but this is what I'm talking about. This particular vehicle still had all of the usual door protection moldings on it so I knew it was fresh off the carrier.

While I didn't dare sit in it out of respect for its new owner, peering in its open window I realized that BMW managed to keep the basic design of the 135i interior intact which, while not ideal, is a huge improvement over the nightmare designed for the E9x vehicles. The downsides of the 1M interior in my not-so-humble opinion include its use of alcantara as accent material and the colored stitching. I'm not a fan of alcantara because, like all suede fabrics, it wears poorly. It also offends my OCD in that its texture produces something of an "archaeological record" of its encounters with humans. As for the colored stitching, I think it looks great on the VO car, but only because it matches the exterior color. On a white or black car orange stitching will look out of place...even tacky. In the immortal words of Yoda, "do or do not...there is no try". Either give us white stitching on the white cars and gray or black stitching on the black cars, or don't bother.

(Image: Blackstone Labs oil analysis report on 6/8/2011 at 208800 miles) I found the body kit in general a bit too aggressive for my taste (I prefer conservative, or "sleeper" styling), but taken as a whole with the widebody, the exterior design simply works. It's -- dare I say it -- refreshingly retro and more in line with BMW's roots. And I thought I'd dismiss the exterior color as too flashy, but in person I found VO dances beautifully with the sun and highlights the aggressive exterior design. Still, if I had my choice (i.e. I could actually get an allocation and pick my color) I'd likely go with white. I've never been a fan of white on vehicles, but the pessimist in me is all too familiar with the fact that black is a nightmare to keep clean and white will be easier to blend than VO when (not if) something bad happens. Next time, BMW, I command thee to offer Estoril Blue, or any blue for that matter. You limited the color choices on a limited production vehicle. I get it. Would it have killed you to offer one more color?

A good look under the vehicle revealed its M parentage, and its underpinnings are probably the most attractive aspect of the car to me. My technician confirmed that the car borrows essentially the entire M3 suspension with the exception of the front subframe, which is great from a perspective of future parts availability. Interestingly, he also mentioned that the car is actually slightly wider than the M3, presumably referring to the fender flares.

In spite of its unfortunate reliance on complex and failure-prone turbocharging and direct fuel injection systems it should come as no surprise when I say that the 1M is the only car to come out of BMW's design group in the last ten years that I would seriously consider buying. In fact, as I walked around the 1M with the E36 parked a scant 20 feet away, I selfishly wondered whether it was time to move on, put the E46 into daily service and buy a 1M to take its rightful place in the garage.

Anyone want to make this easy for me and offer to buy the E36? :)

Oil Service

They say that when you start to go crazy the first thing you lose is your sense of time. If that's true, I'm the sanest man on the planet as I realized, without so much as a glance at my maintenance schedule, that it might be time for an oil change. A quick check of my records confirmed that around 4600 miles had passed since my last oil service so I picked up an oil service kit and completed the task in less than 20 minutes.

I decided to take an oil sample this time after skipping it last time. This will give me additional trend data to confirm the engine remains in good health after its recent lead wear scare.

Six quarts plus an oil filter came to $45. An oil service is now $200 at the dealer, so that is reflected in my Labor Saved column.

6/8/2011 Update: I received the oil analysis today. All in all it's a good report but, as you can see, lead appears to have increased slightly for this sample and this is the first time fuel dilution has been mentioned. I think the lead value is still in the "statistical noise" but it may very well be the result of bearing wear typical of an engine this age and thus the "new normal". I suspect the fuel dilution is the result of ring wear but, as indicated in the report, anything below 1% is normal so I'm picking nits here. In spite of these changes, I'm still planning to skip the sample next time. Cost for the analysis is now $25 so I've noted that in the Labor column.

Mileage: 208800, Parts: $45, Labor: $25, Labor Saved: $150

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Driver's Door Overhaul Day One

The holiday weekend afforded me some time in my schedule to begin work on the driver's door overhaul so this morning I grabbed the necessary documentation and parts and headed out to the garage.

I began by mixing up some epoxy to apply to the new door panel in an effort to strengthen it and reduce the risk of it breaking the next time I have to pull it off. I have traditionally mixed up epoxy on a piece of cardboard but I found that method messy and somewhat wasteful so I decided to try using one of the irrigation syringes I stock for use in brake fluid flushes. I capped the end of the syringe, pressed the base and hardener into it, mixed the epoxy with a long stick and then inserted the plunger to apply it as I would a tube of RTV. It worked! I used fewer tubes than planned and then set the door panel aside to dry.

(Image: Cutouts in new door panel made with a Dremel) I then started work on the car by removing the old door panel and sound insulation. That was the easy part and only took me five minutes since I've done it so many times. Unfortunately, the work that followed was not nearly as easy. To make a long story short, I toiled for almost two hours and only managed to extract the door latch assembly from the door using a T30 torx socket. The time spent wasn't exactly wasted, however. I now know how the locking assemblies interact and I also know why the door handle seemed to have developed a bit more slop over the years -- the operating rod that connects the door handle to the latch assembly was worn nearly half way through. Thousands of cycles of metal-to-metal contact will do that. The good news is I found that potential problem. The bad news is I lacked the parts to fix it and will need to order them this week. And that means I'll be driving the E46 this week.

Research for this project revealed that the best way to swap out the lock cylinder is to remove the door handle assembly. I found a DIY with some decent pictures and the writer seemed to indicate it was a straightfoward process. Unfortunately, my garage wasn't built in fantasy land. The writer glossed over something critical to this process that I only discovered after I loosened the door handle assembly and attempted to remove it: I couldn't get the handle to clear the window, even with it fully up.

Now, I'm not exactly stupid, though an ex-girlfriend or two would probably beg to differ. I tried to plan ahead here with a flashlight and mirror and honestly thought it would work. And it would have if there weren't a recess molded into the door sheet metal (the same one that allows you to get your fingers behind the handle). It turns out that I need another half inch for the handle to clear the recess and I'm not getting it unless I figure out a way to remove the window or tilt the back end of the window up and out of the way.

My patience was wearing thin at this point so I decided to cut the work session short and take both door panels home so I could prepare the new panel for installation. But even that turned out to be slightly more difficult than originally planned when I realized that not only did the panel come without pre-drilled holes for the speakers but it lacked a hole for the remote mirror switch as well. Without getting into too much detail at this point I'll just say that I measured three times and cut once. The end result was a perfectly cut door panel. A dremel equipped with a new carbide plunge cutting bit spinning at 20000 RPM made realtively easy work of the process but it did take me a solid hour to complete the task. And yes, it was just as nerve wracking as I predicted.

The plan for tomorrow is to simply get the door handle assembly out of the car via whatever means possible. If it's in good shape I'll code and install the new lock cylinder before I reinstall it. Then on Tuesday I'll order the new operating rod and other parts necessary to finish this up.

Mileage: 208880, Supplies: $30

Monday, May 30, 2011

Driver's Door Overhaul Day Two

I had planned to go over to the garage mid-morning but I awoke to torrential rain and thunder. The radar indicated a group of isolated cells on the move out of the area so I figured I'd do some additional research on my predicament while I waited for the skies to clear.

(Image: Rear of the original driver's door handle assembly) This time a search on bimmerforums revealed a much better DIY that confirmed what I already knew at this point -- the window must be removed, or at least moved out of the way, to replace the door handle assembly. The problem with that article was that I couldn't figure out why he had decided to remove the rear window guide when I figured it would be a hell of a lot easier just to remove the two bolts that hold the window to the trolley that rides in the guide, particularly because the guide must be precisely aligned or the window won't mate with the vehicle correctly.

I pulled up my copy of the TIS and found the long and involved instructions required to correctly align the window and decided that I'd just as soon avoid that procedure if necessary and remove only the two T25 torx bolts holding the window to the trolley, access to which is provided by holes in the door located under the side molding. Surprisingly, I found one other article on bimmerforums in which someone said to avoid removing those two bolts "at all cost", but they didn't say specifically why. While I know the bolts are used in the window adjustment process (and I later confirmed this at the garage), ask yourself the same question I did at this point: if you have a choice of removing 6 bolts that contribute to a given adjustment in several axes vs. 2 bolts that are used to adjust in a single axis, which would you choose? Yea, I thought so.

I headed over to the garage and spent a few hours washing and detailing the E46 before getting up the nerve to try to remove the window. I expected the worst, but it only took me about 15 minutes to analyze the situation, disconnect the regulator arms from the sliders, reposition the window manually as required to remove the two bolts holding the window to the trolley, and, uttimately, extract the old door handle assembly. Needless to say, I breathed one hell of a sigh of relief at this point and headed home in the E46, victorious.

Upon closer inspection, the handle assembly looked pretty beat up. The ring that connected to the operating rod connected to the latch was worn, though not as badly as the other end of the rod. The tumbler seemed to have a lot of radial play (certainly more than the lock in the passenger door), and I also wasn't particularly impressed with the condition of the microswitch that triggers the power lock system when the key is used to lock/unlock the door. So I've decided to order a new, fully coded handle assembly as well as a new electric lock actuator while I'm in the neighborhood. I have no desire to ever go this deep into the door again, so I'm planning to fix it the right way, once and for all.

Mileage: 208880