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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Car Returns from Body Shop

Wednesday afternoon, or seven business days since I dropped the car off at the body shop, the owner called to let me know the car was done. My brother offered to make the 45 minute run to the shop late that night. Of course, the pickup wasn't without its snags.

First of all, I arrived to find the car filthy. Even in near pitch black conditions I could see dust over everything and a lot of fine scratches in the clear surrounding the repaired area. I assumed the car wasn't washed because after several weeks of well-above-average temperatures we had a 24 hour cold snap and it was near freezing the entire day. I also figured that some Menzerna finishing polish and my Porter Cable orbital polisher would be enough to remove the fine scratches, so I considered this a non-issue.

The shop owner noticed the Check Engine light and asked me if I wanted him to clear it using his diagnostic system, and I agreed, because I figured it would save me a trip to see my tech. Afer I turned the key and the warning lights in the gauge cluster went out I found the Check Engine light dark as expected, but I was surprised to find the airbag warning light glowing bright red in its place. I assume the warning was tripped because the shop may have had to disconnect the airbag to get the door panel insulation out of the way while R&R'ing the door handle trim.

Why, exactly, the shop's analyzer wasn't able to clear this code is beyond me, but it's true to say that unless you have a BMW OEM analyzer like the GT1 at your disposal, you're working with a reverse-engineered solution, and they never work exactly as expected. Fortunately, in this case the airbag warning is merely an indication that the system has been tampered with and does not mean that the system is disabled as a whole. Even with the airbag warning light illuminated, any airbags still connected and in good working order will fire if commanded. I had planned to take the car to my tech the following morning to clear the Check Engine light anyway, so I this really didn't change anything. I accepted the car.

My brother had brought his '01 E39 530 out for the trip, so when traffic permitted, we took the cars into their element. After nearly 45 minutes of driving on all types of roads, from local country twisties to high speed straights on the interstate, I came away convinced that the car drove better than it had in years. The results of the swaybar service weren't the product of my imagination after all.

Get by with a little help from the BMW GT1 Analyzer

When I arrived at my dealer the following morning, I found my technician working to repair the top of a new Imola Red MZ4 roadster -- the same model roadster I flogged at Spartanburg last year. Apparently it's top refused to lock properly and had blown open at speed. Not exactly a problem I'd care to have in a $50K+ car but these things happen in the first few years of a new model (which explains why I buy at the end of the model run, but that's neither here nor there).

While I waited for him to finish, I peered over his shoulder and watched in amazement as the GT1 diagnostics analyzer displayed the state of the top in real time as it went through its motions. I mean, damn. EVERYTHING on these cars is monitored by the computers, and those computers talk to the GT1 with a verbosity that makes aftermarket analyzers look like children's toys. There's no way in hell you'd get that kind of information from any aftermarket analyzer, simply because BMW considers anything beyond the standard OBD II interface proprietary.

"How much is a GT1?", I queried. He lamented, "about eleven grand, but you don't want this one...BMW is coming out with a new tablet system in about 18 months.", as if to imply that I could justify buying one. I mean, I do have a hand in maintaining three BMWs now, but something tells me I'd have to service a lot more to justify that cost. Maybe if I wind up opening a BMW / Porsche shop (that is to say, after I buy a Porsche) I can justify all the cool toys. :-)

In any case, I explained the fault light situation to my tech and he told me to bring the car around to the bay so he could clear the fault codes for me. About five minutes later, we disconnected the GT1 and the job was done. The gauge cluster was refreshingly free of warning indicators and I was quickly on my way to work. Sure beat having to go through the normal channels to have this minor issue cleared up. Have I said lately that my tech is a cool guy?

Working by the Warmth of a Kerosene Heater

That night, I decided to get the car back into form quickly and tackle several tasks:

(Image: Comparison of old and new E36 microfilter)I raced home as I watched the outside air temperature gauge creep toward the freezing mark because I knew that I needed to wash the car before I did anything else. After I finished flirting with frostbite, I pulled the car into the garage, fired up a kerosene heater I keep around for such occasions and got to work.

While polishing the vehicle I soon realized that some of the surface dust wasn't just dirt. It was overspray. And there was a LOT of it. In fact, while the finishing polish successfully removed the surface grit and fine scratches, some overspray remained. I attributed that to the fact that I was using a very fine finish polish and not a more aggressive cutting polish as normally specified for the task. This would do for now, I reasoned, so I applied some Menzerna FMJ to protect the finish and then took care of the other tasks. I finished around 11PM and slept the sleep of the victorious.

Microfilter Replacement

As the owner of any recent BMW should be aware, the cars come with a fine particulate interior air filter. These filters are fine enough that they need to be replaced on a regular basis. For the E36, BMW recommends every 15K miles, and that has proven to be a rational interval in my experience.

I originally planned to replace the microfilter during the holiday break, but soon realized it made little sense to do that and then contaminate the filter with body shop dust which smells like...well...a body shop, so I postponed the task -- until this morning.

Rather than spew about that here, I figured I'd write up a DIY article on it. What I will say is that I'm glad this job doesn't have to be done but once every 15K miles, because it's a royal pain in the ass. I can also say that I'm glad that BMW fixed this abortion of a design in the E46 -- it's microfilter is simple to replace by comparison. Look for the article soon.

Mileage: 137890, Parts: $27, Labor Saved: $50