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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Hydraulic Tensioner Parts Received

After going through couple revisions to the parts list, this week I ordered and received the parts required to convert to the hydraulic tensioner. Here they are:

Part Number Arrow Description
11287838797 1 Hydraulic tensioner kit, includes baseplate, pitman arm, hydraulic tensioner and the hardware to fasten these components together.
11281748131 2 Adjusting pulley
11281730532 3 Metal mud guard for adjusting pulley (installs between adjuster and pulley)
07129905534 4 Fillister head screw (torx bolt used to fasten pulley to tensioner)
11281727159 5 Plastic protection cap for front of adjusting pulley
07119904532 6 M8x105 hex bolt
07119904533 8 M8x50 hex bolt
11287835130 7,9 Flat washer (Qty 2 Required, one used with *532, one with *533)
07119904115 10 Wave washer (used with *252)
07119904252 11 M8x35-8.8-ZNS hex bolt
12311713143 12 Plastic protection cap (covers M8x105 hex bolt, arrow 6)

(Image: Closeup of parts associated with the hydraulic accessory belt tensioner)While the baseplate, pitman arm, and hydraulic tensioner are available separately, they cost significantly more that way, so if doing the conversion the kit is the way to go.

Unrelated to the conversion project but included on invoice was a new idler pulley. I bought this simply because, where one pulley is on its way out, the other is sure to follow. It's not really hard to understand why these pulleys wear out. Since they're half the size of the crank pulley, when the engine is cruising at 3000 RPM these pulleys are actually turning at 6000 RPM! Next time your RPM needle is kissing the redline, keep this math in mind. The pulleys take a beating and don't last forever. Based on my experience, all pulleys should be replaced along with the belts at 60K. As previously disclosed, my most recent failure occurred at 72K.

Retail for the conversion parts is $320 and my cost was $255, or a savings of $65. Of course, I spent another $39 on the new idler pulley (11287841228), which brought the total right back up to $320 including tax. Sometimes I just can't win.

I had planned to install the tensioner at the same time I put the door back together this weekend but as it turned out I'm still waiting for the coded door handle assembly to come in from Germany. The parts guys called over there and confirmed that it should ship this coming week, so if that happens I expect to do all the work next weekend. In the meantime, I'll be enjoying the E46 and it's 6800 RPM redline. And that's hardly an inconvenience.

Mileage: 208880, Parts: $320, Parts Saved: $75

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hydraulic Tensioner Installed

(Image: Closeup of parts associated with the hydraulic accessory belt tensioner)

While I had planned to finish up the driver's door overhaul two weeks ago, after waiting almost three weeks for the door handle assembly to arrive I was informed that there were 40 open orders for the assemblies and BMW was waiting for their supplier to deliver new parts to them for coding. On Thursday I was told that the assemblies had arrived at BMW, they had started filling the orders, and I should see the new handle, fully coded, sometime this coming week. I have all the other parts I think I'll need for the job, so that means I should be able to wrap this up next weekend and get the E36 back into daily driver mode.

News of the delay, of course, left me with more than enough time this weekend to complete the hydraulic tensioner swap. I found the task old hat at this point, but that's not to say it was without its purplexing moments, however, including a bit of head scratching trying to figure out exactly how to mount the tensioner to the block. As it turns out, the hydraulic tensioner baseplate is secured to the block using three threaded holes. It abandons one of the holes used by the mechanical tensioner and and selects another hole, as yet unused.

When I attempted to test fit the bolt into the "unused" hole, I found it would not thread in more than 2-3 threads before stopping with more resistance than I could overcome with hand pressure. I took that as a sign to mean I had to clean out the threads, which I did quickly with a combination of brake cleaner, some Zep lube, and about ten attempts to alternately screw and unscrew the bolt into the block until it fully seated. After that, it was pretty much plug and play. Lacking any official torque specs, I just tightenend everything to feel, which is exactly what I did during last year's accessory overhaul.

The picture shows the three holes in the block used for the hydraulic tensioner (arrows 1, 2, and 3) with the bottom hole (arrow 3) being the "unused" hole I had to clean out (Note: this is the "before" picture). For orientation, note the crank pully / balancer on the left (arrow 4) and alternator on the right (arrow 5). Sorry for the non-centered picture...it was difficult to take pictures accurately with the camera wedged in the small space between the engine and radiator.

After I reassembled everything short of the engine driven fan, alternator cooling duct and airbox, I started the engine for the first time in three weeks. Once I verified the new tensioner and pullies were perfectly quiet, I shutdown the engine and wrapped up the job.

Book labor for this task is reportedly 1.2 hours and I completed the task in about an hour and a half, but I wasn't exactly interested in rushing. I'll translate that into $155 labor saved.

Mileage: 208880, Labor Saved: $155

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Door Handle Assembled

When the new driver's door handle assembly came in I found it in the expected condition and, best of all, my key turned the lock so I knew they had coded it correctly. Still, something didn't look right, however. I managed to kick a few extra synapses out of their deep slumber and then realized that the handle assembly does not come with the two microswitches required to complete the overhaul.

The first microswitch meshes with a cam on the rotating lock assembly and performs two functions. First, and most obviously, it triggers the central locking system to lock all doors when you turn the key all the way to the right. Second, if you hold the key in that position for more than a few seconds, it activates "convenience close" and closes all the windows and the sunroof. The other microswitch contacts a portion of the door handle so that when you lift it the interior lights turn on and (assuming the temperature is at or below freezing), the lock heater is activated. And yes, if you didn't know that, try it next winter when your lock freezes. Mine did several times last winter and it was great using this feature. Less than five seconds after pulling the handle the lock turned. I love it. Anyway, back on topic...

I pulled two part numbers off the side of the microswitches. The handle microswitch turned out to be 61311387028 and the central locking system part was 61131387631. While the parts guys easily found the *028 part, they could not initially find the *631 part in the system. Some searching ultimately revealed the part had been superceded by 51218208423. If you know the significance of the first few digits of BMW part numbers, that last one should have jogged your noodle. If you look up the *423 part in the book, the depiction of the part is nothing more than the microswitch itself (no pigtail or other info) and the description is "Left microswitch door catch". When the microswitches came in, the *028 part looked exactly like the one in my car but the *423 part looked like it belonged elsewhere on the car, and indeed it does.

If you look closely at the door post that is installed in the body there is a small button of sorts that is triggered as the door swings by it on its way to mate with the car. This is designed to cause the window to lower a very small amount so that the overpressure that would normally result from closing the door does not cause the window to bend slightly outward and contact the body trim. It's a complicated solution to a common problem with frameless doors, but it works.

In any case, the *423 part came with the microswitch embedded in an assembly needed for the door catch application so it threw me for a loop until I realized that this was BMW's answer to improving the efficiency of their inventory. The microswitch and pigtail itself can be used in either application -- it's just that it must be removed from the assembly needed for the door catch application. So that's what I did.

One other thing to look out for, assuming you're crazy enough to pull this thing apart is that the small plastic bushing (Arrow 3 on picture) is not available separately from what I can tell and is most certainly not included with the operating rod that connects to it. My bushing was not inserted in the location shown and as a result the operating rod was nearly worn half way through. The bushing shown came installed as pictured in the new handle assembly and I ordered a new operating rod to replace the worn part.

If you're wondering why there are two separate part numbers for what on the face appear to be nearly identical parts, you asked the same question I did. As confirmed with a volt ohm meter the *423 part is normally open and the *028 part is normally closed. Simple, eh?

Construction Here and There

As I've been visiting my dealer on a regular basis in the last month I've been watching the construction at their shop with interest. They pulled the old concrete floor out, replaced all the soil contaminated with hydraulic oil from the old-school lifts, and just recently started setting the tubs that enclose the new Rotary in-ground lifts. As you can see from the picture, the installation is pretty much as one would expect: they dig a deep hole (about seven feet from what I can tell), suspend the lift to the height of the finished floor and then backfill the hole with concrete to encase the lift. The plastic "tub" shown is completely sealed and indeed Rotary cites that as a selling point. If the lift starts leaking hydraulic oil, it will be retained in the tub and thus protect the environment. Of course, I'm pretty much a fixture around the dealership so the running joke is that one of the bays has my name on it. Access to the lift in my brother's toybox notwithstanding, I could only wish that were the case.

And speaking of the toybox, after a bit of a slow start, construction is proceeding nicely now. The foundation is up, multiple utility trenches have been dug 300' back to the house and the provisions for utilities including a natural gas generator have been laid and approved. The "bathtub" consisting of 2" thick foam insulation and a vapor barrier has been installed and the position of the lift has been determined. A couple 18" deep and wide holes have been dug directly below the post locations so this, in combination with a six inch slab, will effectively put two feet of reinforced concrete below each lift post. Complete overkill, of course, but it seems a wise thing to do considering we'll be lifting 10000 lb trucks on occasion. Pex for the heated floor is next and after that is approved the slab will be poured. From there, basic framing should take about a month. After that, it's anybody's guess as to how long it will take to wire the building and generally prepare it for use, but the hope is that it will be ready in some form by the end of August.

Longacre Racing Analog Tire Gauge

I have long equipped my cars with inexpensive ($15) electronic tire gauges to quickly verify tire pressure on the road, but wanted a high precision gauge to use in both my automotive and aviation pursuits. Some searching revealed favorable reviews of the Longacre Racing Model 50403 gauge so I decided to take a chance. I received the unit today and am pleasantly surprised at the build quality and features of this unit:

I asked Longacre where the gauge is made. They responded "the gauge itself comes from off shore and all other components are from the states. We manufacture the bleed assembly in our Monroe, Washington facility. All repair work is done in Washington as well."

While at $46 I wouldn't call it inexpensive, it's a quality, accurate piece that should be with me for a long time. If you're wondering, I bought mine from Amazon. Note: if you click on this link and ultimately buy the product, a small portion of your purchase will go toward my site support fund. This is a great way to donate to the site if you've found it helpful!

Mileage: 208880, Parts: $60, Tools: $46

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Driver's Door Overhaul - Complete

I managed to complete the driver's door overhaul today. The good news is that I managed to get everything back together and tested. Well, mostly. About the only thing I couldn't test was the lock heater, but I'm reasonably confident it will work. I guess I'll find out next winter.

The bad news is the assembly process took me about three solid hours. While I was surprised at the fact that I retained my composure for a vast majority of this tedious job, one element of the assembly process really got to me -- the operating rod that connects the interior door handle with the lock. Because the design is completely brain-damaged, it's difficult enough to mate the rod and lock outside of the door, but it's a certifiable pain in the ass inside the door. And guess what -- it's not possible to preassemble the two components outside the door and then insert them because they won't fit through the comparatively tiny hole in the door.

The solution to the problem was rather crude -- after installing the handle assembly and then the lock assembly, I inserted the rod into the door and then bent the rod as required to achieve the angle necessary to land the hook-shaped rod end into the lock lever. That is an order of magnitude easier said than done. And don't even think of asking me for specifics on exactly how and where I bent the rod. It was all by feel and intuition. And to tell the honest truth, I got lucky -- after countless tries and curses, I pulled and tugged and the rod fell into place.

I'm happy, however, to report that the extra effort I took to mark where the adjustment plate mated with the trolley paid off so I can officially communicate that it is NOT necessary to loosen or remove the rear window guide to complete this task. I simply reassembled the trolley and plate, tightened the screws just enough to create friction between the parts, and then used a screwdriver levered against the rear window guide or door frame as required to push the plate where the marks indicated it needed to go. I then tightened each screw down by feel and tested the results by pulling the window up manually and closing the door, carefully at first to ensure it wouldn't hit the window trim. It was perfectly aligned.

On the whole, the overhaul produced the expected results and then some. The external door handle no longer exhibits that "notchy" feeling as I pull it to open the door and the key lock turns smoothly and without slop. The bonus is the overhaul completely changed the way the door sounds when it closes. Rather than an odd rattle or kur-chunk, it closes firmly, smoothly and solidly -- just like it did when it was new. And last but not least, the task afforded me the opportunity to apply some "persuasion" to the small metal tab that blocks the slider on the door handle assembly (which is apparently present only on coupes). So the next time I have to remove the exterior door handle trim (and you just know there's going to be a "next time"), it should be a hell of a lot easier to access the slider.

As for costs: Considering how most of the new guys at the dealers these days have never even seen an E36, much less worked on one, I have a hard time believing they would have been able to do what I did in less time, but I'll just write this up as 3.0 hours labor saved, or $384. The entire driver's door overhaul project cost (hold on to your ass), $1073 in parts and a pittance ($30) in supplies. But it's done and I'm glad it did it.

Less is More

After hopping back into the E36 I realized something: the E46 is, by all measurable standards, the "better" car. The amazing suspension makes the car a true "point and shoot" at any speed -- especially those that risk jail time. Because the DME is smart enough to kill the engine for the brief instant it takes the transmission to shift, it does so without shocking the car or its driver, particularly in manual mode. And the performance package cams and exhaust make wonderful music all the way from the throaty idle to the 6800 RPM redline. But that's the problem. It does everything so well that driving it to its very high limit of performance is almost effortless.

Don't get me wrong -- I love the E46 and really enjoyed driving it the last month while the E36 was out of commission, but when I took the first turn in the E36 and felt the body lean I instinctively grinned ear to ear. I wish I could describe why the E36 is in some respects more fun to drive than its newer sibling, but it just is. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I actually have to work to get the car to perform and thus it makes me feel more engaged as a driver. No matter what it is, my brief time without it convinced me I will have a very hard time letting go of it when the time comes. When will that be? Who knows. But rest assured I plan to enjoy it while it lasts.

Barring any more surprises, the next project is the front suspension overhaul.

Mileage: 208880, Parts: $210, Labor Saved: $384