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Monday, May 27, 2024

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Driver's Door Overhaul - Complete

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

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

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

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

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

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

Less is More

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

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

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

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