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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

State Inspection and a Curbed Wheel

I took delivery of the E46 a full six years ago in April of 2006 and after the first four years, New Jersey requires an inspection of vehicles every two years. So one day late last month I took the car to the inspection station. Little did I know at the time that simple (and free) process would cost me $350.

As vehicles enter the facility the lane width is restricted on one side by steel poles to protect the building and pre-formed concrete curbs on the other. The machine that dispenses tracking tickets is positioned about 10 feet in the air to accommodate all the Stupid Useless Vehicles (SUVs) so as usual I was forced to pull up dangerously close to the machine to reach the ticket. After I took the ticket I instinctively tugged the wheel to the right as I pulled away. Unfortunately, at this point I experienced what we call in the aviation instruction business as "negative transfer". Not used to the ratio of the steering box of the E46 and not fully aware of how unusually narrow the lane was I pulled too much and shortly thereafter heard a crunching sound coming from the right front wheel as it impacted the concrete curb.

Either my anger management was working that day or I'm just getting too old to give a shit anymore (perhaps a little of both), because I only let out a couple choice words before I got out and inspected the damage. It turned out to be surprisingly minor but quite obvious so I resolved at that point to buy a new wheel, get this one repaired, and re-deploy it as the full size spare I have wanted since the car was new.

On the upside I discovered one of the benefits of a pinched state budget - the state inspection process is now considerably less invasive. On OBD II vehicles they only perform an emissions check by connecting to the OBD port. If the DME reports all the emissions systems are functioning correctly (and this is generally the case if the Service Engine Soon (SES) light is not illuminated and the vehicle has gone through the requisite number of drive cycles to test most or all of the emission subsystems), the process takes only a couple minutes and the vehicle will pass the inspection. All of the safety inspections including undercarriage evaluation by mirror, and physical tests of the suspension, brakes, lights, wipers, and horn have been discontinued.

It's pretty clear that the requirement for an emissions inspection remains only because they are a condition for the state to receive federal highway subsidies. I wonder what would happen to the mandate for vehicle inspections in general if that were no longer the case. I have always thought that vehicle inspections were a needless waste of time for people like me who maintain their cars but I have tolerated them because I assumed what might happen if we eliminated inspections for the vast majority of the population who view their cars as nothing more than a necessary evil and seek to minimize expenses by deferring maintenance. Only time will tell if my fears are realized. In the meantime I'll be on the lookout for hoopties and steering well clear of them.

Remounting the Tire

Last week I ordered the new wheel and it arrived in a few days. My cost after discount was around $350 which was significantly less expensive than the last wheel I bought for this car. After cleaning the E36 last weekend I decided to jack up the E46 in the garage and bring the damaged wheel and tire to my technician for remounting on the new wheel first thing Monday morning. I'd normally consider this a trivial process but I I had never jacked up the E46 before and was concerned about my ability to properly support the car safely for several days if necessary. I wasn't about to rely upon my hydraulic jack alone for what should be obvious safety concens and I couldn't very well swing the jack handle in the confines of my tiny garage in any case, so I had to figure out another solution.

I had heard horror stories about the emergency jack provided with the vehicle. For those unaware, it has a nagging reputation to drop the car without warning. And it's not hard to see why. The jack's design critically depends on the friction of the surface on which it rests to keep the car in the air and that in itself is retarded. Combined with the use of a nylon threaded component I view as completely inadequate for long term reliable operation, I wonder how the design ever got off the drawing board. You would think large corporations like BMW would over-build safety equipment like this to avoid lawsuits but bean counters aren't exactly known for their long term view.

Despite my concerns I used the emergency jack to get the car high enough to insert something I trusted (like one of my 3-Ton jack stands) under the frame rail about a foot inboard of the jack pad. Unfortunately my jack stands are designed to straddle the frame rail but a brief experiment convinced me doing that would likely have damaged one of the underbody panels. So I compromised and installed the jack longitudinally with respect to the frame rail and limited the weight placed on the jack stand to avoid any possible damage to the frame rails caused by the limited contact area. I felt justified since the stand was only there as a backup. I now know the long term solution involves the use of proper flat top jackstands or adapters built for my existing stands.

With the car securely in the air I then attempted to remove the wheel. As predicted I encountered the age old corrosion problem -- I had to hit the tire on the sidewall with my bare hand several times at the 12, 3, 6, and 9 o'clock positions, grab the wheel by the spokes at 9 and 3, and then "rock" the wheel side to side to break it free. A light coating of anti-seize on the face of the rotor hat would have prevented this problem but sadly (and somewhat surprisingly) BMW did not do this at the factory.

When Monday morning rolled around I drove over to the dealer, caught my technician hanging out by the parts counter and told him of my plight. After enduring a few friendly insults about my driving skill (or more to the point, the lack of same) he collected the wheel I ordered from the parts counter, the damaged wheel I brought in and offered to have the wheel mounted by the end of the day. Later that afternoon I picked up the wheel, drove back to the garage and installed it. Mission accomplished.


First of all I feel it is my duty to tell anyone crazy enough to use the jack provided with the E46 to keep your hands out of the wheel well while you're wrestling the tire on or off the car. In particular, resist the urge to rest your hand or arm on the top of the tire. If the car falls off the jack the sudden compression of the suspension or eratic ejection of the wheel from the hub could result in a very ugly injury.

As I have indicated on my E36 blog I recommend keeping a chock or two in the trunk and chocking at least one wheel on the opposite side of the vehicle to help keep it in position and thus stable on the jack. That won't prevent the jack from dropping the car under all conditions but it may lower the probability of it doing so.

This experience convinced me I need to do a few things:

Mileage: 10400, Parts $350, Parts Saved $100, Labor Saved: $40

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Oil Service

During the months of June and July the E46 came out of hibernation to serve as my daily driver while I completed the E36 front suspension overhaul project. I really didn't want to keep the car out in the scorching heat wave we've been having lately, but I bought the E46 to serve the role of a backup vehicle and did enjoy driving it every day for nearly two months straight.

Despite completing six oil services in the last 13900 miles the service indicator had never been reset so it was showing negative 475 miles before I finally managed to get the time to conduct the oil service today. That means the service indicator recommended the first oil service at around 13425 miles, which is, of course, an insanely high interval. I still recommend an absolute maximum of 7500 miles between oil services on all BMWs...not just E46s. For proof of the benefit of changing oil more frequently all you need to do is look at my E36's M52 that is still purring along at 225K miles with nothing more than routine maintainance. That is no accident.

Pitch black oil poured out of the M54 this time around but that didn't really surprise me given its age and mileage in service. I have traditionally refilled with six quarts and I know the M54 is is perfectly happy with that level under all street driving conditions. This time I refilled with seven quarts and will likely make this standard practice from now on because with six quarts I have found that the oil level idiot light is occasionally triggered during aggressive cornering.

When it came time to reset the service indicator I had to do a bit of research since I had never done it before. Fortunately, it turned out to be as simple as this:

  1. Press and hold the odometer reset button
  2. Insert the key in the ignition and turn to position 1
  3. Keep holding the odometer reset button until "Oil Service" appears. During this wait the first option called "test" will appear.
  4. Briefly release and then press and hold the odometer reset button again until the word "reset" appears. This may take a few seconds.
  5. Briefly release and then momentarily press the odometer reset button once again, and then wait. The display should eventually show "end". The service indicator is now reset.

Following this procedure the oil service indicator and mileage were no longer present but the inspection service indicator replaced it, showing the inspection due at 15545 miles. And yea, despite the car being two years out of warranty I expect to petition my dealer to pay for the Inspection anyway using good will money. I realize I could easily complete the inspection myself but my aim is to receive an inspection I paid for -- simply out of principle. Hint: free scheduled maintenance on BMWs isn't free...it's just built into the price of the car. Guess we'll find out if BMW will provide yet more justification for me to write the next check to Porsche.

To wrap things up I gave the car a bath and topped up the tire pressure on all four corners. The next service will involve a brake fluid flush, as that is now overdue. In order to perform that work I have to buy a couple scissor jacks and a set of flat top jacks.

Mileage: 13900, Parts: $45, Labor Saved: $100