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Friday, April 18, 2014

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Gahh Fabric and Leather Swatches Arrive

The Gahh fabric and leather swatches arrived this week.

The headliner fabric swatch has a noticeably different surface texture and color as compared to the new headliner. In fact, it looks much like the array of domestically available headliner fabrics I saw at my upholstery shop, except that the foam backing is 1/8" thick rather than 1/4" and the weave of the fabric is tighter and of generally higher quality. I don't think the fabric is ideal for my application, but I may not have a choice in the matter. I plan to contact BMW Classic this week to see if they can help source the correct fabric.

The leather swatches were a different story, fortunately. Taking into account fourteen years of bleaching courtesy of our neighborhood fusion reactor, the seats in my car nicely match what Gahh calls "sand" while, for the sake of comparison, the light beige inserts in the two-tone door panels closely match what Gahh calls "light sand". I can definitely see ordering new leather seat and headrest covers in "sand" from them next year.

Incidentally, Gahh's policy is to charge $15 for up to four swatches and then reimburse the customer when they make their first order. This explains why I picked up the leather swatches now. I fully expect to order something from them, so I'm considering the swatches "free".

Interior Overhaul - Wrap Up

Yesterday I picked up a new sunroof seal and two E46 beige visor clips at the dealer. The parts guys told me that the black E36 visor clips I ordered are now officially backordered, which they suggested is BMW-speak for "they're no longer in production but we haven't updated our system with "ENDED yet". That means they may come in, but most likely will not. So I bought a couple E46 clips based on a hunch that they would work in the E36. Unfortunately, when I looked more closely at the E46 parts list, I realized that E46 visor clips do not come with an electrical contact because the E46 visor lights are wired differently. So the good news is I was able to get two visor clips in a color that perfectly matches my interior, and they are built more solidly than the E36 parts. The bad news is the electrically correct E36 parts are MIA and if I use the E46 parts my visor lights will no longer work. I've used those lights a handful of times in the 14 years I've owned the car so I'm not exactly in tears right now but I must admit the loss of functionality offends my OCD.

Today I went to the garage to wrap up this phase of the interior overhaul. The ultimate goal for the day was to return the E36 to service so I got to work replacing the sunroof seal. I went into this expecting the same hassle I experienced removing the original seal but as it turned out the seal just pulled off quickly and easily (especially in the corners) and took all of the "new" adhesive with it. Still, I didn't want to waste another seal so this time I brought out the heavy guns -- a blue towel and a can of brake cleaner, which is known to be an outstanding, if not exactly environmentally friendly, solvent. I gave the towel a few shots of cleaner and then carefully wiped the entire vertical edge of the roof panel. I paid particular attention to the corners and managed to remove a bit more adhesive residue left over from the original seal.

When I was at the dealer yesterday I met up with my technician to say thanks for all the advice and I mentioned that everything went very smoothly...except for the sunroof seal. When I relayed the fact that the seal failed to adhere to the corners and seemed to be under tension, he knowingly smiled and reassured me "Don't worry about it....the guys down in Spartanburg are doing the same thing to the new X3's". The proper technique, he noted, was to "push" the seal into the corners rather than pull it around like I did. This is a very subtle difference in technique but it's clear that one technique works and the other doesn't. So today I used the "push" technique to install the new seal with outstanding results.

I should also point out that it is very easy to accidentally install the seal too high and in retrospect I did that on the last seal. This time I used a finger running along the roofline to ensure that the seal didn't ride up and the end result is far better in appearance. In fact, it looks exactly like the seal my technician installed many years ago. There is obviously some technique involved with the installation of the sunroof seal and it takes some practice to get it right. So if you're planning to install the seal yourself, best buy two. If you get it right the first time, rest assured that the backup part will keep in storage since it comes vacuum sealed.

With the seal out of the way I installed the E46 visor clips quickly and easily. As expected, they matched the screw pattern and pulled the front of the headliner up into its intended position. My visor lights didn't work, but all things considered I was happy that I was able to achieve an original-equipment look. Just as quickly, I cleaned up the B pillar trims and permanently installed them. Then I temporarily reinstalled the original A and C pillar trims. I found the A pillar trims easy to install but the C pillars were a pain in the ass because of the interference of the quarter window locking mechanism (yes, even with the window open). I'm still not exactly sure what the best technique is here but I expect to get a lot more practice on those old trims before I subject my new parts to any abuse.

I decided at the last minute that the rear of the metal sunroof panel was too high so I went through the ritual required to push the fabric panel back and adjust the wedges to reduce the panel height. Since the process requires opening the sunroof until the panel drops below the roofline by 2-3mm and it's ill-advised to move the sunroof mechanism while the fabric panel is pushed back into the cassette, this winds up being a trial-and-error process. Fortunately, with my wedges now squarely in the center of their adjustment envelope, I got the job done in one shot and the result is absolutely perfect.

For those really interested in the technical specifics here...there is no precise "one size fits all" wedge setting because as the sunroof mechanism approaches zero position, the height of the crossbar changes. Put another way, if the full adjustment range of the wedges does not bring the sunroof metal panel to the proper height, that's a pretty good indication that the sunroof mechanism is not at the true and correct zero position. Now, in the case where the metal panel is being removed for other reasons (say, a fabric panel replacement) but the sunroof mechanism is not being adjusted (meaning, the position of the sunroof mechanism is not changed), that's where the process of scribing the current position of the wedges on the crossbar comes into play. That simply helps avoid the trial-and-error approach to the metal panel alignment process.

To finish up the day I cleaned the interior before washing both cars, putting the E46 to bed and driving home in the E36, victorious. So with the exception of the sunroof panel and pillar trim recovering effort, I'll consider this phase of the interior overhaul project finished. Parts and materials totaled $2285. I didn't keep strict time records because time was the least of my concerns while working with thousands of dollars of potentially irreplaceable parts, but my guess is I invested around 30 hours including research. I don't know what a pro would have taken to do the same job but I think 15 hours is pretty conservative estimate. At an independent that's $1200 and at the dealer it's just under $2000, so as usual I'll just average it out and call it $1500 labor saved.

By the way, the old sunroof cassette is now for sale. If you're interested in it, let me know.

Mileage: 212050, Parts: $295, Parts Saved: $56 [Project Totals: Parts: $2285, Labor Saved: $1500]

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fabricated Custom Rear Window Sunshade

After spending a metric shitload of money refurbishing the upper half of the interior and contrasting the fresh fabric on the parcel shelf with that of the original, faded part, I decided to get serious about sunshades in my car.

I have traditionally used those flexible, collapsible sunshades simply because they are more convenient to store behind the seats, but they don't fit the rear window particularly well because when fully expanded they take on the form of a rounded rectangle. Thus, they don't reach into the corners, and because of the interference of the third brake light enclosure, they always leave a good portion of the rear deck exposed to the sun. This will no longer do. I have long used custom-fit sunshades in airplanes so I got the idea this weekend to produce a custom rear window sunshade from commonly-available Reflectix foil backed insulation. I found a 48" wide x 25 foot roll at Lowes for the reasonable sum of $45.

I thought for a time how to cut the material to the exact dimensions of the window opening and upon closer inspection observed that the inside edge of the black border around the window pretty well matched the interior dimensions required for the part. I quickly figured out that I'd be better off developing a paper template than cutting the material directly, so I walked out to the car with a small stack of 8x11 copy paper, a roll of blue painter's tape, and a pair of scissors and got to work.

I started on one side of the window, aligned the piece of paper to the inside edge of the black border, and then applied a small piece of tape to hold the paper in place. I then added more paper, cutting it as required to conform to the window border, until I had paper fit around the entire window. To enhance the strength of the template before I removed it from the vehicle, I filled in the holes in the center of the template with more paper and tape. I then carefully removed the template from the car, took it inside and laid it over a 27" x 48" section of insulation. How did I come up with 27 inches you ask? That's the height of the window as measured at the center of the window, from the top to the bottom moldings.

While working my way around the edge of the paper with a sharp scissor I decided to tweak the cuts in a few places to ensure I wouldn't undercut the piece and have to start over. In less than two minutes I had the prototype shade complete and took it out to fit it to the car. I found the bottom of the shade mated perfectly with the third brake light housing and reached far enough down into the base of the window to protect the rear-most edge of the parcel shelf. It also fit conveniently into the small notch at the top of the window frame produced by the rounded edge of the headliner. I wound up cutting a few millimeters of the top of the shade to make it easier to remove from the notch but that was about it.

I used the shade all this week during some of the last warm days of the season and am pleased with the results. The shade is easily installed and removed within seconds and it conveniently rolls up to save space. Works for me!

Toybox Update

Several people emailed me to request a progress report on my brother's toybox so I figured I'd tease you with a few more pictures. Since the last report in late August, the roofing, siding, and garage doors have been installed so the structure is officially weathertight. My brother energized the primary electrical panel and a nearby receptacle required by code. Other wiring including a smaller subpanel has been installed but not energized due to a lack of time. The dry wells that were required by the town to accept runoff have been dug but not completed.

Next, the floor will be etched and sealed, and the electrical and security system wiring completed in preparation for insulation, sheetrock, and paint. My guess is that we probably won't see the lift installed until the end of the year, but the structure is now weathertight and power is available, which means it can be used for impromptu repairs, which is particularly comforting given that the cool air has arrived and winter is just around the corner.

Mileage: 212820, Parts: $45

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Back to Winter Tires

I couldn't quite believe my eyes, but in the course of less than 12 hours, yesterday's forecast for 50 degrees and a rainy nor'easter here in New Jersey morphed into what would become our first hit of freezing temperatures and the first snow of the season. We don't normally get snow this early in the season so it caught everyone off guard, including me. We received the requisite high winds and rain, combined with about a 1/4" of ice pellets and snow yesterday, and today I woke up to find the car covered in about an inch of snow. Nothing big, but enough to convince me that winter had unceremoniously arrived and I needed to swap my PS2s for the Winter Sport M3s pronto.

(Image: E36 receiving its first service in the new garage)I have made it practice to replace my winter tires after two seasons because by that time in service the rears have typically worn down to or below the winter wear bars. However, after I closely inspected the tires I noticed that the rears were very slightly (perhaps 1/16") above the winter wear bars and the fronts were characteristically worn on the edges more than the center, but the center tread was well above the winter wear bars. In short, the tires were in reasonable condition so I decided to put these tires into service for another season and pocket the $800 in tires and mounting charges...at least until next year at this time.

So today I wound up doing the swap in my brother's toybox -- my first work in the new building. The lighting wasn't operational yet so I simply left the garage doors open and got to work in the balmy 40 degree air. It took me a little extra time because I had to haul all the necessary tools including my compressor down there but I eventually got the job done. I then washed the summer wheels before I put them and all the tools back in my garage. I would have preferred to leave some of my tools down there but the building will be soon cleared so the floor can be etched and sealed. No point in getting ahead of ourselves.

On a side note, the PS2s have worn far better than I anticipated this season, but I've attributed that largely to the fact that the car was taken out of service for two months earlier this year. The good news is that should allow me to get a full season out of the tires next year without hitting the wear bars. Time will tell.

Oil Service

I also realized a couple weeks ago that my odometer was creeping up on the 4500 mile mark since my last oil service, so I dropped by the dealer to pick up an oil service kit and conducted a routine oil service today. I decided to skip the oil sample this time around but expect to take a sample next time. I cleared the INSPECTION service indicator with my homemade reset tool by shorting pin 7 of the 20 pin connector to ground for exactly 11 seconds, started the engine, made sure the oil pressure light extinguished within a few seconds, closed the hood, pulled the car off the ramps and went home for the day.

Steering Wheel Noise

Over the last few months a noise and associated vibration in the steering wheel has developed that occurs whenever the steering wheel is turned rapidly, which is pretty much every turn at low speed (in my neighborhood, parking lots, and such). The noise was intermittent at first, but now it's gotten to the point that it's annoying me so I may have to pull the wheel and do some further troubleshooting. I had plans to address this next spring during the front suspension and steering column overhaul, but you know what they say about the best laid plans.

Surprise Garage-Warming Party

The best part of the day didn't have anything to do with the BMW, aside from the fact that I happened to be working on the car in the new building at the time. My brother's wife had pulled me aside last weekend to tell me she was planning a surprise "garage-warming party" for him today. To keep the secret while doing all the planning and even putting my brother to work sourcing the tables and chairs for 40 people, she told him that the party was to celebrate the birthday of one of her daughter's friends.

We had talked about my need to do some work on the car earlier in the week so he asked if I could come over early today and help him set up the tables and chairs. While doing this he openly questioned why his wife would actually want to have a party for a bunch of kids in an unfinished and unheated garage, but he wisely applied the time-worn wisdom of "don't ask the woman questions, just do what she says".

When a bunch of people including my brother's friends and his next-door neighbor appeared and encircled him at one of the buffet tables he got a bit suspicious so his wife revealed the real purpose of the gathering. The expression on his face was priceless, as was his later admission that this was the best time to hold the party in the building because in a few months it would be packed with cars as well as a lift and there wouldn't be any space to put the tables. Ain't that the truth!

Mileage: 213290, Parts: $45