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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

State Inspection

I knew I might get the car into a state during the upcoming interior overhaul that might preclude taking it to inspection before the end of the month so I decided to take care of that yesterday in advance of the work I had planned for the weekend.

Fortunately, the car passed with flying colors and I even received an indirect complement on the car from one of the inspectors. While trapped in the little ventilated cage they put the owners in "for their own safety" I overheard the inspector in the next lane asking the guy working on my car for the model year. He followed up by saying "98, huh? Wow...that looks really good!" Of course, I don't really give a crap what people think of the car I drive -- I drive it for my own personal gratification -- but it's nice to see that the car still presents well after all the blood, sweat, tears and, of course, money I've spent maintaining it.

Interior Overhaul - Day 1

After washing the car and spending some time helping my brother prepare one of his vehicles to be wrapped for advertising purposes I began work on the interior overhaul project.

Naturally, I started with the easy stuff first including removal of the visors, the sunroof switch panel, oh-shit handles and the light assemblies that are press-fit into the headliner. I had hoped to salvage the passenger side visor clip but as I rotated the visor down to gain access to the screws at the mounting point the clip disintegrated in a familiar fashion. In all my years I've never seen plastic become this brittle before, but I suppose there's a first for everything. The fact that these cheap and failure-prone parts are no longer made by BMW in my interior color irritates me to no end (and yes, I'm planning to call BMWNA and bitch for all the good it will do), but I consider myself lucky that I was able to order new clips at all.

(Image: Old headliner removed and resting against side of E36)I then carefully removed the A, B and C pillars, knowing full well they are no longer available from BMW and any ham-fisted approach on my part would likely lead me down a road involving more time and money.

To remove the A pillar trims I grabbed the piece with two hands positioned near the top and middle of the part, squeezed the sides in a bit to get a good grip on it and tugged straight away (i.e. perpendicular to) the piller itself. There are two long plastic "fingers" built into the trim that upon installation are inserted into metal retention clips in the pillar itself. These are located near the top and middle of the pillar trim, while the bottom of the trim is retained to the vehicle only by its fit into the relief built into the dashboard, so once I freed the two clips, I just pulled the trim up and out. Unfortunately, a portion of one "finger" on each A pillar trim stayed behind with the metal retention clip in the body so I have some concern that I will need to buy new parts or they will not fit properly when I reinstall them.

To remove the C pillar trims I first removed the light assembly (which is simply press fit) and then inserted several fingers of one hand into the hole facing upward toward the top of the trim to support the piece as I attempted to use my other hand to grab the top edge of the trim before pulling straight out. This revealed two fasteners near the top edge of the trim. I then pulled the top of the trim away from the pillar enough to get a look at another couple of fasteners at the base of the trim. What I didn't realize until I completely removed the trim is that the "fingers" are molded such that the trim should be pulled toward the center of the vehicle, not perpendicular to the pillar as is the case with the A pillars. I have no idea why BMW did this, but I'm sure the same particle physicist that replaced tried and true screws with these God-forsaken one-time-use fastening methods was responsible.

The B pillar trims were still helping to hold up the headliner so I removed those at this point. I first removed the small half-moon shaped plastic trim that covers the seatbelt retaining nut and then removed the nut using a 16mm hex socket. I then removed the small T-shaped handle that allows vertical adjustment of the seatbelt by pulling it straight out and off the post on which it mounts. I then used a technique similar to that used on the A pillars to "squeeze and pull" the top of the trim off the car. What I didn't realize until I removed the first trim, however, is that the bottom is retained by an "L" shaped plastic clip that mates with a slot in the pillar and so I pulled the top of the trim away from the pillar too far before pulling the trim upward, and that wound up severely bending the L clip. Fortunately in this case, the bottom of the trim is largely retained by the side panel so I don't expect this to be a big problem.

Sadly, while I was looking more closely at the B pillar, I noticed that the center section of the driver's side rear panel (what would be the rear door panel if this was a sedan) had partially delaminated. Since I'll have the rear seats out to do the parcel shelf shortly, there's no time like the present to fix that with some five minute epoxy. Scope creep anyone?

With all the obvious parts retaining the headliner removed I gently wedged my index finger under the door seals and walked my finger along the length of the seal as I pulled the headliner down and out from under the seal. With both sides done and the headliner clearly loose on all four sides I sat back for a moment wondering why the headliner hadn't fallen down yet. Then I looked straight up at the sunroof opening and realized that the "synthetic strip" that lines the interior sunroof opening isn't just cosmetic -- it helps mate the headliner with a flange on the sunroof cassette. I couldn't get a good grip on the strip from the inside of the car so I fully opened the sunroof, stepped outside and grabbed it from the top. One good tug pulled the strip away from one side of the opening and the other sides followed easily enough. My brother was unassumingly sitting in the passenger seat so as the headliner dropped away at this point his head conveniently cushioned it's fall. What else is a brother for? :)

Before starting work today I did some additional research to determine exactly how to extract the headliner from the car. One comment I found online read "it's hard to describe how to remove the headliner. You'll figure it out when you get there". And that's not far from the truth. I moved the seats all the way aft and reclined the seat backs until they hit the back seat. The passenger window was already down for ventilation purposes so at that point all I needed to do was rotate the front of the headliner toward the passenger door. Common sense led me to realize that I needed to keep the right side of the headliner (facing aft at this point) up near the top rear corner of the door frame while I kept the left side lower than that, but higher than the dashboard. At this point I stopped and thanked the German designers and engineers since the headliner easily cleared the frameless door. I can't imagine how this job is done in the sedan. Good luck to you guys.

All in all, this is not the nightmare most people make this out to be. I wouldn't care to do this every day and I'm still nervous about installing the new part, but I did make a point to play around with the old part, pushing it in and out and generally experimenting with it to ensure I would be able to install the new part without bending it. Of course, you know what they say about the best laid plans...

After some brief cleanup, I left for the day. I lost track of time during the process, but my brother mentioned I had been working for about an hour and a half. Felt like two hours to me, so I'll go with the latter estimate. That's no doubt higher than book but, as usual, now that I've done the job once I could probably do it again a lot faster.

Tomorrow I plan to go back to the garage and do the following:

  1. Remove, repair and reinstall the driver's side side rear panel.
  2. Clean and function check the sunroof
  3. Install the new external sunroof seal and do a water leakage test.
  4. Install the new rear window seals
  5. Install the new parcel shelf.
  6. Test and then permanently install the iPod adapter.

That's actually more work than it at first appears so I'm not sure I'll get it all done, but it's a plan.

GTI Evaluation Leads To Visor Clip Epiphany

Yesterday I found myself stuck in traffic in front of our local VW dealer so I decided on impulse to scoot in and take a look at the latest generation GTI. I've always had a thing for the GTI and in fact once owned a 2001 VR6 (with a stick, of course). In spite of some initial quality issues typical of VW at the time and a crappy dealer (thankfully since defunct), I really enjoyed the car and regretfully sold it in 2002 after the parasites on Wall Street got finished ass-fucking the tech industry on which I depended for my survival.

I found only 4 door 2011 leftovers as well as one used 2010 2 door on site, but that was enough to survey what VW had done in the last two design cycles and I was reasonably pleased at what I found. Unfortunately, VW no longer provides a normally aspirated or VR6 engine option (even in the upcoming R model), but that's life with the eco-nazis in control. The plaid cloth seats are considered the base trim but I actually like them more than the otherwise well-done leather. The fact that the cloth is lighter and ultimately cheaper to replace in the long run is a definite plus. Hey BMW, you listening? A cloth option (a la E30 M3) in M colors would rock. P.S. Alcantara sucks.

Anyway, back to the point for this segment. After sitting in the car a few minutes and investigating the tactile response of all the knobs and buttons I looked up at the visor and rotated it to reveal a visor clip very similar to that on the E36. I couldn't help but smirk. I pulled the visor out of the clip and saw the same type of electrical contact used in the BMW part to illuminate the mirror. I couldn't tell whether the part would fit the E36 but no sooner than I considered that as an option I realized parts from the E46 might work as well. The reason I didn't consider it earlier is because I figured the visors themselves might need to be replaced as well to make it work. Since today's work revealed that mine are in worse shape than I thought I am not opposed to replacing them if necessary.

Mileage: 212035

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Interior Overhaul - Day 2

Unfortunately I didn't get a ton of time to work on the car today but I did manage to do a few things: replace the sunroof seal, replace the rear window seals and pull the parcel shelf so I could take it and the new part home and ready it for installation.

To replace the rear window seals I pulled the bottom seal first and then the top seal. The bottom seal came off without any hassle, but because the fit of the top seal is tight to begin with and 14 years of exposure had turned the rubber into plastic, I found the top seal didn't really want to come off the window easily. About 5 minutes of determined pulling, twisting, and tugging managed to remove the seal without any damage to the paint or the window. With the seals removed I used a hose to clean out the area and then used some Goo-Gone to clean off a kind of unspeakable crud that had formed under the window.

Because the new seals were quite flexible (well, except for the bottom seal which actually integrates a metal reinforcement), installation of the new seals was easier than removal of the old seals. All I had to do was correctly center the seal on the window and use the bottom legs of the seal as a handle or lever of sorts to pull the seal around the top two corners of the window. I'll admit I wasn't perfect with the alignment the first time so I had to pull the sides up, slide the seal over a bit and then reinstall it, but within 5 minutes I had the new seal in place and it hadn't looked this good since I picked it up in 1998. Many thanks to the people who wrote to tell me I could do this without pulling the window.

Removal of the sunroof seal involved fully opening the sunroof, marking the center of the opening by placing a piece of painters tape adjacent to the seam in the existing seal, and then pulling the old seal off the opening with brute force. The double-sided foam tape used in this application is very resilient so a bunch of it remained behind on the metal lip. The best technique for removing what remained turned out to be good 'ol elbow grease. I used my thumb and index finger to roll over the foam and that caused it to lift up and take a majority of the adhesive with it. After about 10 minutes of that technique my fingers were begging for a break but I managed to get the job done. I then used some Goo Gone to remove what remained of the adhesive and then wiped the area with some denatured alcohol to prep the surface and promote adhesion of the new tape.

It turns out that BMW provides only about 1.5" extra material and one edge of the seal provided to me looked as though the adhesive had been compromised by removal of the orange protective tape. For that reason I simply started using the other side and walked the seal around the edge, pulling the orange protective tape off only an inch or two ahead of my work. The seal is perfectly shaped to mate with the metal edge so it didn't take much effort to ensure that the top of the seal remained flush with the edge. Once I got within a couple inches of the seam, I pulled out a brand new (and exceedingly sharp) razor blade and used a piece of cardboard perched on the edge of the recessed sunroof panel as a cutting surface to trim the seal to length. To ensure no gap in the seam I cut the seal about 1mm too long and "squeezed" it together. I finished up by closing the sunroof and inspecting the seam between the seal and sunroof panel for gaps. The result: a perfect fit.

To finish up today I decided to pull the parcel shelf. To remove the existing shelf I had to fold down the rear seat backs, pull the side bolsters off, pull out the four plastic rivets holding the black plastic trim piece to the parcel shelf and then remove the headrests before pulling the shelf forward and out of the car. The headrests, incidentally, are retained by metal clips that are only visible if the forward edge of the parcel shelf is lifted up in the vicinity of the headrests about 2". I used a hook tool to remove the clips and set them aside in one of my zip-lock bags for safe keeping. At that point I realized that I would have to remove one or both of the side panels to allow the shelf to move forward, but since I was short on time and didn't care about the old shelf, I just bent the shelf up about 6" from the driver's side as required to clear the side panel. Once the panel cleared the recess built into the side panel and the shelf came forward I noticed that the other edge of the panel came free of the recess in the passenger side panel. This convinced me that in order to install the new panel all I would have to do is pull the driver's side panel, and of course, I need to do that anyway so it's no inconvenience.

I also spent a bit of time cleaning the exposed sunroof tracks in an effort to determine whether I could eliminate all the noise exhibited by the sunroof but was unsuccessful. I also noticed that as I actuated the sunroof motor the tubes housing the bowden cables that actuate the sunroof panel were moving back and forth about a quarter of an inch. I'm not sure if that's normal, but I think it's an indication that the cables need to be pulled out and lubricated. Since I have no intention of doing that and putting the sunroof at risk without a backup on hand, I think I may just bite the bullet and buy a new cassette and sell this unit after I clean it up. That will afford me the opportunity to learn more about the sunroof, take some detailed pictures for the site, and get the car back in service as quickly as possible with a smoothly running sunroof that should prevent the need to pull the headliner for another 14 years.

Driver's Side Tail Lamp Assembly Failure

A few months ago I kept experiencing an intermittent "1 brake light fail" message on the OBC. When I'd restart the car the problem would go away. I eventually got fed up with the problem and decided to replace the bulbs on the theory that one of the filaments was a little flaky. That fixed the problem (or so I thought) so I went on with my life and didn't think much about it. That is, of course, until driving over to the garage today when the warning message appeared on the OBC display again. When I arrived I put a weight in front of the brake pedal to keep the brake lights on, went around to the back of the car and confirmed that the driver's side brake light was out.

I opened the trunk and pulled the protective cover on the tail light assembly in order to pull the offending bulb. The filament was intact but I did notice some corrosion on one of the terminals in the bulb socket so I cleaned that up with a pen eraser. I reinserted the socket into the tail lamp assembly and the brake light went on for a moment until I took my hand of the socket, at which point it flickered off. I grabbed the handle of the bulb socket and rocked it up and down. Sure enough, as I moved the socket the lamp alternately turned on and off. I pulled the socket again and took a good look at the mating terminals built into the tail light assembly only to find one of the terminals deeply pitted and corroded. I attempted to clean up the terminal with some abrasive cloth to no avail. The damage is done.

I subsequently inserted the socket several times and never was able to get the bulb to illuminate again, probably because the stupid design of these parts limits the contact area between the socket and the tail light assembly terminals to an area roughly 2mm in diameter, which is, not surprisingly, the size of the crater that has been been carved out of the terminal in the tail light housing due to corrosion or arcing. I may be able to fix this, at least temporarily, by applying some solder to fill in the hole, but I didn't have enough time today to remove the tail lamp assembly. That's first on my list when I return to the garage, but that won't be until next weekend because I'm taking Labor Day off.

Just kidding. I'll be working on other projects. Such is my life.

Mileage: 212050, Materials: $20

Monday, September 5, 2011

I managed to get a bunch of work totally unrelated to BMWs done today so I finished out the afternoon by doing a bit more on the project: preparing the parcel shelf for installation and repairing the tail lamp assembly.

Interior Overhaul - Day 3

Next up was the tedious task of preparing the parcel shell for installation. Using my dremel and carbide plunge cutting bit (the same one I bought to cut the new driver's door panel during the recent driver's door overhaul) I cut the four holes required for the headrest posts as well as the two holes required for the speaker grills.

To make sure I got the alignment correct (as this is clearly a measure-three-times-and-cut-once task) I mated the two parts and used the old shelf as a template as I outlined all the holes with a fine point marker. I also outlined the speaker cutouts with blue painter's tape to ensure I would stay within the lines. With the dremel running at near full speed I made reasonably quick work of cutting the holes undersize and then spent a good amount of time shaving the edges to bring them out to the tape lines for a near perfect fit.

Unfortunately, during all the test fitting I managed to break a majority of the retaining clips off the back of the speaker grills. It wasn't really my fault as the plastic is simply too brittle after 14 years of baking in the sun. My parts references show the grills are still available from BMW and the prices are reasonable too so I plan to buy new grills this week to round out the overhaul of the parcel shelf.

Tail Lamp Assembly Repaired

I removed the tail lamp assembly by first disconnecting the wiring connector and then removing the four 10mm nuts with captive washers. A light push on the lamp sockets from the inside popped the tail light assembly free of the vehicle and I took it home for further troubleshooting and repair. Once there, I confirmed that with the bulb and socket in place there was no continuity in the brake bulb circuit.

Upon removal of the socket I confirmed the problem: a severely degraded contact and the telltale signs of arcing (see the discolored plastic in the vicinity of the contact). I immediately assumed I could repair this by flowing some solder onto the contact but I knew that in order to promote good adhesion of the solder I had to remove the impurities on the surface of the contact. I accomplished this with a quick and gentle application of a small stone disc chucked in my dremel. Unfortunately, too much of the contact had already been burned away so this resulted in a small hole in the contact. To correct that problem I flowed enough solder at first to simply close the hole and then added just a bit more to create a small dome of solder sufficient to enhance the contact area by closing the gap between the contacts. After things cooled down I inserted the socket and performed another continuity test to find the circuit working as expected.

While I had the dremel handy I used a small polishing wheel to clean up the socket contacts but it's clear that one of the contacts has been heat damaged so I plan to order a new socket this week and hopefully prevent any additional problems.

Mileage: 212050

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Interior Overhaul - Day 4

This week I received several new parts including the FSU, sunroof cassette, and new speaker grills. The visor clips and third brake light grill are still on the boat.

The new sunroof cassette came preassembled with a new roof seal (something I'd considered buying for the old cassette had I decided to reinstall that) and pre-greased, so the only thing I should need to do is install the repair kit used to mount the interior panel, function test it, and then install it in the car before reinstalling the metal panel. Needless to say, I am quite nervous about installing this unit correctly, since breaking it would mean another delay and yet more money. My technician was on vacation this week so I expect to corner him this week to get more information before proceeding with the installation.

With my 20% discount the new speaker grills were $14 each and the sunroof panel repair kit only $38. The parts manager (a guy I've known forever because he worked at the dealership long before the ownership change in 2006) took considerable pity on me as he discounted the cassette by 25%, shaving a full $200 off the $800 retail price of that part. I've said it before, but it's nice to have friends in high places. :)

I also pulled the trigger on a iPod Touch 32GB and that should be here late this week. I briefly considered buying the Nano to save money and because its small size would have allowed me to stealthily install it in the ash tray, but at the end of the day I couldn't justify spending nearly two thirds the cost of a Touch while giving up what I wanted most -- a parametric equalizer that I could use to tweak the acoustics on the fly. The perk for me is that the Touch is not just a music player...it can do everything an iPhone or iPad can do, except make calls on a cell network, and I can use it anywhere WiFi is available. So, in my opinion, the Touch is clearly the better buy.

Interior Overhaul - Day 4

I went over to the garage today with the intent to install the repaired brake light assembly, parcel shelf, and FSU. I definitely made progress today, but for various reasons, I didn't get as far as I'd hoped.

I figured that the installation of the brake light assembly would be a nice way to ease into the work day so I began by cleaning the recess in the body that accommodates the brake light assembly before installing it. A quick test verified that the brake lights were now working. At this point my confidence and OCD combined to produce an overwhelming desire to remove the passenger side assembly in order to clean behind it. Just as when I removed the driver's side unit I found a bunch of crud packed behind the assembly so I grabbed the hunk of dirt and debris, tossed that outside where it belonged, and cleaned both the body and the assembly, paying particular attention the weather stripping that seals the assembly to the body. A couple minutes later I reinstalled the assembly and reconnected the electrical connector. However, when I pushed down on the brake pedal to verify the installation, I realized that the passenger side brake light no longer worked. Doh!

I turned the headlamp switch to the parking light position and walked around the back of the car to verify that the tail lamp bulbs were illuminated so I knew the electrical connector was properly seated. I decided to pull and reattach the electrical connector a few times on a hunch that the connections might be slightly corroded but that had no effect. So I pulled the connector off one more time and inspected the contacts more closely to find them covered with a green coating typical of highly oxidized copper. Lacking any contact cleaner in the garage I decided to use some emory cloth I had on hand to clean up the contacts.

The trick was tearing off no more than about 3/8" of the 3/4" wide cloth and rolling it up tightly so I could insert it into each contact and spin it around several times as required to remove the oxidation. That process noticeably cleaned up the contacts so I reinserted the electrical connector, performed another test, and was greeted with properly functioning brake lights. I wanted to get moving on other projects so I didn't bother to clean up the driver's side contacts but I expect to do that, wash all the contacts out with some contact cleaner and then sparingly apply some Noalox or other suitable anti-oxidation compound to prevent similar problems in the future. Why BMW didn't use a properly sealed connector here is beyond me.

With that task more or less complete I moved on to the parcel shelf -- only to realize that some of the small pieces of foam necessary for the installation were missing. So that meant a trip over to the local big box store to pick up some vinyl foam weather stripping. That took a good 40 minutes but I knew the lack of this foam would probably result in various creaks and rattles so it was worth the effort. At that point my brother came over to ask me to help him remove the seats in one of his cars so that ate up a solid half hour. By the time I got back to the garage I realized that I had yet to remove and repair the driver's side rear panel as required to install the parcel shelf so that was next on the list.

To remove the panel I had to remove the rear seat cushion, open the rear quarter window, and pull the quarter window weatherstripping up and away from the panel. As I surveyed the panel to ensure I would remove it without damaging it I noticed that it was fit loosely to the vehicle. From my work on the door panels I was quite familiar with this symptom and naturally assumed the upper support piece had separated from the panel itself. Interestingly, this worked to my advantage, as it didn't take much effort to pull the panel directly forward and away from the body. As the panel came away from the vehicle I confirmed my suspicion: the support had remained attached to the vehicle. It was at this point that I thanked myself for buying a couple extra tubes of 5 minute epoxy the last time I was at the box store.

I carefully pulled the upper support away from the car and took it and the panel outside for a closer look. The first thing I noticed was a bit of water staining on the leather. That could only come from a leaking window, yet a closer inspection of the weatherstripping did not reveal any obvious problems with the seal integrity. A quick application of some leather cleaner / conditioner did wonders for the overall cosmetic condition of the panel so I decided to proceed with the repair. First I pulled the panel inset away from the base of the panel enough to inject just the right amount of epoxy into the joint before compressing the two pieces and holding it for a few minutes until the epoxy set. Next, I mated the upper support with the car once again and installed the panel in a manner that allowed me to mark the front and rear edges of the support on the panel, before once again removing everything and bonding the support to the panel with another tube of epoxy.

I was pretty much out of time at this point so I decided to do one small job before leaving for the day: figure out how I would route the cables for the iPod adapter. The instructions point out (wisely, based on my reading online) that the adapter interface box needs to be mounted somewhere easily accessible just in case it is necessary to conduct a hard reset of the device or change one of the dip switch settings. After surveying the center console, I figured that would not be a good place for the unit for reasons of clearance and accessibility.

I pulled the adapter cables from the box and uncoiled them to get a feel for their length. As it turns out, the thicker and longer of the two cables that connects the CD changer wiring in the trunk to the interface box is sufficiently long to reach the glove box so I could install the unit in or near the glove box easily enough. But I also confirmed that I could mount the box in a small space currently filled with foam near the front corner of the rear seat and then route the iPod cable up through the center console. I'm not sure which I'll do yet, but I plan to think about it this week...which is probably the only benefit of my slow progress on this project: no rash decisions I'll regret later.

Mileage: 212050, Parts: $1030, Materials: $20, Parts Saved: $216

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Interior Overhaul - Day 5

This morning I spent more time researching the sunroof cassette installation procedures. I printed out all of the relevant documentation from the TIS but found that it although it clarifies several operations it does not contain all the details I'll need to integrate what I have, at least without pulling and analyzing the workings of the old cassette. So that's the plan.

In the interest of making some progress in the forward direction I went to the garage this afternoon with the purpose of installing the new parcel shelf and generally reassembling the rear of the interior. As I attempted to install the shelf by inserting the passenger side first to work around the fact that the passenger side rear panel was still installed, I could not get the shelf to align properly. The driver's side kept binding on something, and in the process of pushing and tugging I heard a small ripping sound. I glanced over and found a sharp edge on the rear quarter window locking assembly and noticed that it had created a small but noticeable rip in the fabric on the edge of the shelf. After I was done belting out a good tune of explicatives and my blood pressure returned to normal, some test fitting of the C pillar trim revealed that the rip would be completely hidden by the panel. Good news in the end, but so much for shortcuts.

I decided to scrap my original plan of attack and remove the passenger rear side panel because this would allow me to install the shelf by pushing it directly aft. In what has become an almost comically predictable turn of events, the upper support of the panel separated as I removed it so that sent me off on another hour long repair project. Fortunately the inset panel in this case was still nicely attached to the base so I only needed a single tube of epoxy to reattach the support. While that was curing I successfully installed the shelf. The challenge this time was simultaneously mating the four rear alignment tabs with the slots in the body. The key is putting one hand between the clips on the right and the other between the clips on the left, pushing down sufficiently with both hands and then pushing the part home. The first couple of attempts resulted in one or two of the clips being above the slots, but I eventually got the job done.

There are two tricks to installing the headrests properly. First is to make sure that the retaining clips are installed with the flat or straight portion of the clip facing forward. It is possible to install them with the round portion facing forward and they'll even make a reassuring "click" sound as they're sent home, but the reality is the round part of the clip won't properly engage the slot milled into the sockets welded into the car or the posts themselves. If that happens the posts will just pull out. The second trick is to pull the headrest posts from the padded headrest component (bet you didn't realize you could do that, huh?) and insert them individually into the sockets in the body. This will make it far easier to determine that each post is fully seated in its socket and properly retained. If the posts aren't fully seated the posts will come out even if the retaining clips are installed correctly because the slot milled into the post will be on the wrong side of the retaining clip. The kicker is if you experience this installation error the posts will come out easily enough but now the retaining clips will prevent them from being reinstalled. Don't ask how I know this.

Next up was the black plastic trim piece that helps hold down the front edge of the parcel shelf. The trick to installing the trim piece is to first engage the retaining clips molded into the part before allowing the top of the part to come to rest on top of the front edge of the parcel shelf. The reason this is a "trick" is because it wasn't obvious to me that the clips even existed (the part must be flipped over to see them) and because it's entirely possible (though obviously incorrect) to install the part without the clips engaged.

To finish up, I applied some leather cleaner and conditioner to the side panels, bolsters and rear seat base before reinstalling everything. With the seat backs in their upright position I applied some more leather conditioner to them and the end result is presentable -- cleaner and slightly softer leather throughout. The headrests are completely baked, however, and beyond repair. I will be replacing them at some point in the future.

Words to the wise: before folding either rear seat back forward without the seat bottom cushion installed, be sure to put a pillow or some other cushion (I use an old comforter) over the seat base or two things will happen: 1) a really persistent and sticky "gook" will contaminate the leather, and 2) the metal electrical box (an accelerometer used to fire the airbags, if I recall correctly) will leave a lasting impression on the leather. I found this out last year and the seat is only now returning to normal.

The most challenging part of the overhaul, replacement of the sunroof cassette, is up next.

Mileage: 212050

Friday, September 16, 2011

Interior Overhaul - Removed Sunroof Cassette

Today I set about to remove the sunroof cassette from the car so I headed over to the dealer for a briefing from my technician. I found him working on an old Z3 and waited in line for access to his vast repository of knowledge. I brought my iPad loaded with pictures as well as the repair kit to serve as visual aids and got to business.

The most important piece of advice he gave me was to actuate the sunroof manually with the emergency allen key when I was preparing the unit for installation because, as he pointed out, the motor has more than enough power to wreck the cassette if something binds. I had heard this before so this wasn't exactly news, but it was helpful to hear him confirm my suspicions.

He also encouraged me to scribe the locations of the metal panel adjustment "wedges" before loosening the nuts on the rear of the panel. When I asked him about the BMW instructions to use Loctite 270 (otherwise known as "red" Loctite) on the front adjustment bolts he quickly dismissed that and told me that he has never applied Loctite to any such fastener and they have never come apart.

And while looking at one of the pictures of the seal that covers the rear half of the cassette I asked how to go about ensuring that the seal mates flat with the underside of the roof. He recommended using his tool of choice...a pick. Now why didn't I think of that?

When I asked him how long it would take him to install the new cassette and reinstall / align the metal panel just in case I chickened out, he said somewhere around two hours, assuming I installed the headliner, etc. All I would have to do is bring him both cassettes. He was quick to point out that the new cassette would fit in the trunk if I folded down the seats, which is not exactly something you'd find in the TIS. What can I say...my technician is a wealth of knowledge. I need to find a way to clone him before he retires.

On the way out, I decided to pick up a new brake light socket from the parts guys before heading over to the garage to remove the cassette as follows:

  1. I started with the sunroof closed (what BMW calls the "neutral" or "zero" position).
  2. I then tapped the sunroof open button for an instant...just enough to put the rear of the metal panel about 3 mm below its normal setting relative to the top of the roof.
  3. I carefully retracted the fabric panel back into the cassette, exposing the fasteners holding the metal panel to the cassette. BMW puts warnings all over its documentation that this panel should be moved gently and NOT forced in any way.
  4. At this point I planned to scribe the cross bar with the current locations of the alignment wedges, but I found they were already marked. I guess my technician was in here at some point that I can't recall. This is not an essential step because ultimately the wedges will be adjusted as necessary, but I can see how having them marked will get the panel in the ballpark.
  5. I then removed the three nuts at the rear and two bolts at the front of the metal panel using a 17mm hex socket and a T25 screwdriver, respectively. The right front side disconnected from the alignment pin without any effort, but the left side remained attached until I coaxed it apart. BMW says to push the metal panel up at the rear sufficient to disengage the pins at the front but I didn't see how doing that would help. A side-to-side motion did, however. I then set the panel aside in a safe location.
  6. With the metal panel removed, I moved the fabric panel back into the normal position (fully closed) and actuated the sunroof motor to place the unit into the vent position before moving it back into the neutral (fully closed) position in preparation for removal. BMW documentation makes a point to approach the "zero" position with some longer travel of the sunroof motor, no doubt to eliminate any hysteresis in the motor or limit switches.
  7. BMW instructions indicate to remove the electrical connectors, drain tubes, and one center bolt from the sunroof motor, followed by the fasteners at the front of the cassette, then the sides, and ultimately the four bolts at the rear corners, so that's what I did. To prevent the drain tubes from falling down into the body (unlikely, but conceivable) I wrapped the ends with some blue painter's tape and affixed the tail of the tape to the nearby body structure. Probably a bit of paranoia on my part but better safe than sorry.
  8. At this point, I got into the back seat and decided to use a little "body english" to help remove the cassette. I slouched down in the rear seat, kept my right foot on the floor for stability while I stretched my left foot up between the front seats to apply pressure to the front of the cassette. Then I spread my hands apart to straddle both rear corners of the cassette before disengaging the rear metal retaining clips. A small tug rearward and the cassette slid out of the slot in the front of the body. I lowered the cassette and balanced it on the front seat headrests while I extricated myself from the vehicle and easily maneuvered the unit out the passenger door. With the metal panel removed I found the cassette to be surprisingly light...perhaps only 15 pounds.

Total time was about two hours. I spent a good part of that time reading (and re-reading) the BMW documentation on this process and taking pictures. I know I could do it a lot faster next time (and by all that is holy, there better NOT be a next time).

All things considered, I found the cassette to be in relatively good shape, though the tracks and various components were quite dirty...no doubt because the grease attracts all kinds of grime over the years. The only thing out of place I found was a small black plastic washer-like part. I found it resting on the fabric panel but I don't know where it came from. It did look like it had broken off something, so perhaps this entire process wasn't exactly a wild goose chase. I may have caught something just about to break. With the cassette out of the car I took some time to take pictures and take some measurements that I hope will help align the new cassette to the zero position prior to installing the motor. I think that may be the most critical part of the entire installation process.

Next step: preparing, aligning, and installing the new cassette. If all goes as planned, I hope to do that tomorrow.

Mileage: 212050

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Interior Overhaul - New Sunroof Cassette Installed

This project has been leading up to one significant event -- the installation of the new sunroof cassette -- and I'm happy to say I completed that task today.

I began by comparing the old and new cassettes and closely analyzing the BMW instructions that indicate how to adjust the cassette to what BMW calls the "zero" or "neutral" (closed) position. The instructions note a dimension of 322 millimeters (12.67 inches) between the forward end of the rails and a particular point on the carriage that supports the crossbar. When I measured between the designated points on the old cassette I came up with 12.5" or maybe a little under that. Since I knew that the old cassette worked, I decided to use that measurement for the new cassette.

I originally assumed that the cassette came from BMW fully closed, but that was in error. In fact, the cassette is fully open and I needed to move the motor from the old cassette to the new, and then use the emergency allen key to drive the cassette drive mechanism to the zero position. By examining the old cassette I then figured out how to install the "repair kit" including the rails that drive the fabric panel. With that done, there was nothing else to do but install the cassette.

Incidentally, I chose to install the fabric panel after I installed the cassette simply to reduce the weight of the cassette and to make it less likely that I would accidentally put my foot on the fabric during the installation. In retrospect, this was a risk because of information I heard about the manufacturing tolerances of the new panels being out of spec, but I quickly compared the new fabric panel to the one still installed in the old cassette and found the shape to be identical. I think it's important to point out that the fabric panel is NOT flat by design, and I can understand how too much curvature in the panel could be a problem, but in this case it turned out to be a non-issue.

To install the cassette I got back in the rear seat in a slouched position and used my left foot to guide the cassette into the slot in the front while I secured the two rear temporary latches. One of them wouldn't hold, so I just loosely installed the two screws in that side and eventually the other side. I then used a right angled pick to make sure the gasket around the rear half the cassette "fanned" out correctly, sealing the cassette to the roof. With that done, I followed the remainder of the BMW instructions to secure the front screws, side screws, and then the two screws at each rear corner.

This seemed like a good point to install the fabric panel so I did that with ease. Nothing to really say about it except that the driver's side rear edge must be properly mated with the plastic piece that ultimately connects the panel rail to the cable drive system. Ten screws later, the panel was secured to the new cassette drive assembly. The passenger side rail, by the way, is not driven...it's used only to support that side of the fabric panel and keep it aligned with the track. In spite of the fact that my comparison of the old and new fabric panels suggested the part would work as intended, I decided to run a full travel sanity test of the sunroof using the emergency tool. That test confirmed that the fabric panel did not cause the sunroof mechanism to bind. With that critical information in hand, I decided to proceed with the powered test.

Before I did that, however, I needed to realign the motor to the zero position. Why? The motor WAS in the zero position when I removed it from the old cassette but since I used it to manually drive the new cassette to its zero position that meant the motor was not where it needed to be. To fix this inconsistency I had to remove the motor from the new cassette, attach the electrical plugs, and then activate it to let the motor seek the zero position. BMW's instructions warn about approaching the zero point from a distance due to hysteresis in the motor so I pressed the concave button deeply to activate the one touch open feature. This caused the motor to run for a while and come to a sudden stop. I then pressed the convex button to activate the motor in the "close" direction and found that (as usual) I had to press and hold the button to keep the motor in continuous operation until it stopped...right at the zero position. I reinstalled the motor using all three screws and then took a break to help my brother with one of his cars.

Upon my return to the garage I threw caution to the wind, put the key in the ignition, turned it to apply power, and then momentarily pressed the concave button to open the sunroof. I did this in several short bursts until the fabric panel fully retracted and the motor stopped on its own at the open limit. I then pressed the convex button to close the sunroof in one shot. The motor naturally stopped at the zero point and everything looked to be aligned, so I pressed it one more time to put the sunroof into tilt mode before once again returning it to the zero position.

I finished up the day by replacing the vinyl trim piece that's glued to the underside of the metal panel and then reinstalling and aligning the panel. This seemingly simple task took me almost 2 hours -- a bit over an hour to remove the trim piece and the resilient glue residue it left behind (acetone isn't perfect for this job, but it works) and another 20 minutes to get those *#@$! forward mounting rails connected to the panel. I figured I might encounter problems reinstalling the panel given the issues I had removing it, but I didn't think it would be this annoying. Still, the job is done and a sanity test of the sunroof worked PERFECTLY. It is dead silent during operation and the tubes that hold the bowden cables no longer shift left and right when I actuate the sunroof. The end justified the means in this case, and overall, I'm glad I spent the money to overhaul the sunroof.

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now, but the project is far from over. This week I have to order a new exterior sunroof seal since the foam is not sticking in the corners (!) and I also have to figure out what pillar trims I'll need to buy from BMW and how I'm going to recover them. Next weekend I plan to install the headliner, FSU and iPod adapter and return the vehicle to service. I don't expect the pillar trims to be ready for installation for a few weeks but I don't really care since they're cosmetic in nature.

Mileage: 212050, Materials: $5

Sunday, September 25, 2011

FSU Installed

First job of the day was to install the FSU. This turned out to be old hat, since I had already removed the lower portion of the dashboard previously during my steering wheel upgrade. Despite the existing FSU working normally for the moment, I replaced the 14 year old part with the new, revised unit. I completed this task in about 30 minutes and can say it's every bit as easy as people make it out to be.

About the only advice I can give (short of a DIY) is to be careful with the top left side of the lower dashboard panel. It hooks into the dash in a way that can be damaged if you lack patience and just try to pull the panel without holding and guiding it in just right way. As a friend says, it's just like a woman...you have to know how to handle her. Take your time, be gentle, and the part will come off in one piece as intended.

iPod Adapter Test

I decided to perform a test of the iPod adapter with my new iPod Touch. I simply removed the CD changer, attached the cables to the vehicle harness and connected the iPod to the unit. while leaving everything in the trunk. This test proved the unit works as advertised, but only with Apple's built-in music player. When I switched the unit into "direct" mode and tried to launch the EQU application I planned to use I found the volume to be artificially low. When I quit EQU and went back to the native music player the volume returned to normal. I'm not sure what's going on yet, but the test established that all the components work together so I plan to install the unit permanently when time allows.

Interior Overhaul - New Headliner Installed

I began the day's work on the interior overhaul project with the simplest of tasks -- installing the third brake light grille onto the parcel shelf, thus completing the overhaul of that component.

I then attempted to fix the problem with the exterior sunroof seal so I fully opened the sunroof and looked closely at the corners. Sure enough, the seal adhesive had refused to grip to the inside corners of the roof so I pulled the seal away as best I could and used a blue (low-lint) towel soaked with a bit of acetone to further clean the metal before reattaching the seal. That worked...for a couple hours, anyway. By the time I had finished the headliner installation and returned to look more closely I found the seal separated from the corners in at least two places again. Best I could tell was that the seal was under tension, which means I stretched the seal too much as I pulled it through the corners. I won't make that mistake again. Incidentally, I would have installed the new seal today but the parts guys ordered the wrong part. The new one is on order and I expect to install it next weekend.

Before I started installing the headliner, I decided to do a few more last minute sanity checks. First, I blew some compressed air through the sunroof drain lines just to make sure they weren't clogged. With the car doors open and the car in the garage, I could clearly hear the air escaping from the bottom of each drain line so I finished that task confident that should water enter the cassette, it would find its way out of the car. Next, I hand-checked the torque of all the fasteners used to hold the sunroof cassette to the body, and, finally, used my bright LED mag light to closely inspect the interior cassette seal to ensure it had fanned out properly. I found a few inches that were rolled over so I used a pick to fix that.

It was about this time that I realized I had yet to cut the additional holes in the headliner required to insert the sun visor lamp assemblies so I looked at the old panel and attempted to brainstorm a way to transfer the holes to the new headliner. I had thought about "spooning" the old and new parts like I did with the parcel shelf but I instinctually discounted doing that because the back of the old headliner was quite dirty and I didn't want to risk transferring any of that dirt to the pristine new part. My brother wandered into the garage, saw my predicament and wisely suggested something I hadn't thought of: using very thin painter's plastic as a "condom" for the new part. And as luck would have it, I happened to have a huge roll of the stuff in the garage left over from some of my painting projects around the house.

So I cut a suitably large piece of the plastic, laid it over the new headliner, placed the old headliner over it, and used a razor blade (two, actually, since one dulled pretty quickly cutting through the fiberglass substrate) to outline both holes on the new part. With the lines drawn in the fabric of the new part, I set the old headliner aside and continued cutting the new headliner until I worked all the way through the substrate. A quick test fit of the light assemblies confirmed that the holes were cut properly.

An impulsive person would have grabbed the new headliner and tried to shove it into the car at this point. Not me. Instead, I reached for the old headliner and brought it over to the car for a rehearsal of the installation process, the goal of which was to determine the exact series of motions and angles I'd need to use to get the new part through the door and past the two main obstacles to the process: the dashboard and the shifter. This turned out to be a very good idea, because during the first few attempts I kept hitting the shifter with the front left corner of the headliner. I'm pretty sure the corner was already delaminated from the start, but I certainly didn't spare it any abuse the first few tries. However, I did finally manage to figure out how to hold the headliner and shift and rotate it in one smooth motion. With that "muscle memory", I managed to swap the old part for the new one and install it quickly and easily without hitting anything. Whoever coined the phrase "practice makes perfect" wasn't kidding.

As you may recall, I managed to remove the old headliner without removing the seals from around the front doors and rear quarter windows. These seals constructively support the edges of the headliner, so while I was able to remove the old headliner without pulling the seals, the rehearsal convinced me that if I were to have any chance of getting the headliner up without interference, the seals needed to be pulled down and pushed out of the way. So I took a few minutes to do exactly that.

At this point the headliner was supported by the rear seat headrests and sloping down in the front because the front seat backs were reclined. So I raised the seat backs and that, in turn, raised the front of the headliner. This also provided the clearance necessary to get into the back seat for the next phase of the installation. But first, knowing full well my installation technique would leave me short a few hands and unable to reach very far for anything, I took a couple minutes to stage the parts and fasteners I'd need at all four corners -- the oh-shit handles and their philips screws were placed on the parcel shelf near each speaker grill and the visors were placed on the dashboard with their screws on the center console.

While it's not obvious by looking at the headliner, either in the pictures I've provided or in person, the rear edge of the headliner is actually formed to hook around a metal flange built into the roofline. So I got into the back seat, pulled the headliner aft of the flange, pushed it up and then forward. Then, I put my left leg between the front seats and put the tip of my foot under the metal brace that helps secure the sex light assembly to the headliner. Now, if you're conjuring up the mental image here, basically I'm using my hands and feet to get this job done. Imagine, therefore, the trickery necessary to keep the headliner from slipping off the rear flange while I repurposed my hands to load up the screwdriver and install the handles. I won't bore you with the details here, but let's just say I cursed more than a few times at the spring-loaded nature of the handles. Those made an otherwise simple job an order of magnitude more difficult.

With the rear of the headliner now in place, I extricated myself from the rear seat while keeping my left hand under the headliner and sliding it forward so I could move into the front seat as necessary to fasten the front of the headliner. In this position I was able to lower the headliner slightly as required to thread the various sun visor electrical connectors through the corresponding holes in the headliner. As I looked more closely at the connectors I saw an opportunity to use them as a means to hold up the headliner while I preloaded the screwdriver and attached both visors. Total time up to this point was about 10 minutes, and it was not a fun 10 minutes, I can assure you. Still, I was quite relieved to be at this point so I took a quick break before installing the synthetic strip and calling it a day.

Pillar Trim Experiment and Gahh Fabric Swatches

Last week I decided to purchase new A and C pillar trims from BMW for the whopping sum of $295. As mentioned earlier, they were no longer available in beige, so I had to pick another color. Since I had plans to recover them I could have purchased them in gray to save a couple bucks (believe it or not, these parts actually vary slightly in price based on color) but I settled on black so I could conduct a simple experiment. In a last ditch effort to avoid the expense and hassle of recovering the parts I held them in place to see if I could tolerate the look.

As expected, the E46 ZHP interior has conditioned me to accept the contrast of the black pillar trims in relation to the dark beige dashboard and parcel shelf, but I didn't like how they contrasted with the much lighter beige headliner. While it's true that people have done worse things to these interiors and some people might actually consider the contrast cool looking, I just wasn't digging it. So the plan remains to find an appropriate fabric and recover them.

Toward that end, I ordered fabric and leather swatches from Gahh and expect them later in this week. If the fabric checks out, I'll order a couple yards. I'm not sure whether I'll recover the trims myself or pay my local upholstery guy to do the job, but both options are on the table. Incidentally, the leather swatches are for the front seats that I plan to do next year. Gahh has a couple different beige leathers in stock so this will help nail down the specific color I'll need when the time comes.

Mileage: 212050, Parts: $295