Friday, August 5, 2011
Headliner Condition Worsens
A couple weeks ago I got in the car after work and noticed the fabric on the headliner had separated from the rear of the sunroof opening. A couple days later I was trying to pull down the driver's side sun visor to shield my eyes from the afternoon glare when the clip that holds the visor to the headliner suddenly snapped into several small pieces and rained down on me. If my anger management wasn't working I would have snapped into an equal number of pieces but I managed to calmly come up with a plan to fix the headliner and conduct an "abbreviated" interior refresh before I continue to acquire parts for the front suspension overhaul. Still, I couldn't help feeling like the evil scientist (BOO!) that tries to take Bugs Bunny's brain in the classic cartoon "Water Water Every Hare" when his plans meet with similar frustration. Delays, delays. Nothing but delays!
I headed over to my dealer today to order the parts necessary to fix the headliner. As it turned out all the needed parts were available in beige except for the small trim piece that houses the sunroof switch and covers the sunroof motor (hereinafter referred to as the "sunroof switch panel"). The ETK unexpectedly and unfortunately showed an "E" (as in "ENDED") next to the beige version of that part and a check of both domestic and international warehouses revealed none in stock. The parts guys were able to find two domestic dealers that had one each in stock, however they were quick to point out that the inventory system is not infallible and the parts may, in fact, not be present at those dealers. He placed a call to one of the dealers and they responded that their system showed they had the part but there was no bin number associated with it. Translated: they didn't know where to look for the part. They agreed to call back with the results of their search.
I had to leave before the next dealer was called but I asked the parts guys to order only that part and let me know when it comes in. Why? Because if the part comes in, I have my solution -- all OE parts in beige. If it turns out the part is not available or it arrives in rough shape, however, I'll need to choose one of three possible solutions I see at the moment:
- Take my existing parts to my local upholstery shop and have him cover everything with new fabric. Naturally, to ensure all the fabric matches I'll need to recover the A and C pillar trims. This will no doubt be more expensive than the OE parts solution and the unfortunate reality is that based on the fabric swatch books I saw at the upholstery shop, aftermarket fabric won't match the original fabric in color, texture, or thickness. While I'm sure the aftermarket fabric would look far better than what I have right now, my emphasis has always been to maintain the vehicle in "like new condition" with OE parts whenever possible so this is my least favorite option.
- Buy the OE parts in beige, have my upholstery shop cover my existing sunroof switch panel with a similar fabric and just turn my OCD gain knob down sufficiently to ignore the differences between the aftermarket and OE fabrics. This is probably the least expensive option because it would allow me to reuse my A & C pillar trims as is. But I'm not in the habit of spending craploads of money and not getting exactly what I want so this is also not a particularly attractive option.
- Take some inspiration from my E46 -- which comes with an anthracite (black) headliner and A & C pillar trims as part of the ZHP package -- and convert the E36 to black parts which are still available (at least I *think* they're available). As the E36 interior already blends beige and black components (like the dashboard and console), I think there's sufficient precedent for this approach. While this would force me to buy a few more parts including new visors and the map light assembly (otherwise known to young people everywhere as the "sex lights"), I think the effect would look great and provide an interesting perk: dirt from the cassette that rubs off on the interior trim panel would not be nearly as obvious as it is on lighter colors.
Since I need to remove the sunroof panel to replace the interior trim panel, I searched for articles and videos to learn more about the process. I managed to find a three-part video series in which the author assembles all the parts of the sunroof cassette and explains how the unit functions:
- BMW E36 Sunroof DIY Part 1 [YouTube]
- BMW E36 Sunroof DIY Part 2 [YouTube]
- BMW E36 Sunroof DIY Part 3 [YouTube]
I think you'll find the videos as helpful as I did, but I'm sure you'll share my frustration with the quality of the camera and the lack of lighting. Note: If the links no longer work, please send me email. Videos can be dropped from YouTube without warning.
I managed to divert the attention of my technician today long enough to ask a few questions. First up was my concern about keeping the sunroof motor and cassette cable assembly "in sync", which can be an issue if you remove the motor and play around with the shuttle. He said that while he hadn't worked on an E36 in some time, he believed that the motor in the later model years of the E36 is "trainable" to stop when it reaches appropriate limits in both the retract and tilt modes. I do know for sure that the motor in my vehicle is equipped with a safety feature in that it will stop if it meets with sufficient resistance, as it would, for example, if I attempt to close the sunroof with my hand sticking through it. My guess is that the "training" feature leverages the current-sensing technology that makes the safety feature work, but I could be wrong.
I then mentioned that I had planned to pull the entire sunroof cassette "while in Rome" to replace the various plastic bits that are known to break at inopportune times. He quickly suggested that even if the individual parts are still available, BMW is aware that the success rate for repair of the sunroof assemblies in E36 and E46 vehicles by dealer technicians is not high and that unless I notice some obvious problem (like a half-broken slider) his advice was to leave well-enough alone and simply clean and regrease the tracks without further disassembly. His warning was based on his observation that unless everything is put back together exactly perfectly, "you'll hear a very expensive crunch or two" that will likely require the installation of an entirely new cassette. Interestingly, this is exactly what happened to the author of the above videos.
On another note, I asked him whether he had ever seen BMW use an all metal upper steering column support bearing and he said yes, but that the current nylon bearings are actually the better choice because the older metal bearings used to squeak....probably as much as the lower column bearing (which is all metal) does in my car right now. Sadly, the upper column bearing (yes, the very same bearing I replaced back in 2007 during my steering wheel conversion) just started "rattling" when I turn the wheel quickly, so that will need to be replaced when I overhaul the steering column and ignition lock assemblies during the front suspension overhaul.
While on the subject of steering wheel squeaks, I mentioned the high pitched metallic squeak in my steering column and the fact that most people say this comes from the lower bearing. He mentioned that it could also be coming from the steering column u-joint and that shooting some penetrating lube liberally over the joint, turning the wheel, and repeating the process a few times could help determine the part at fault.
Lastly, during a discussion that wound up comparing the money I'm spending on the E36 to a new 1M, I asked him if BMW has finally figured out a solution for the high pressure fuel pump failures that plague the N54, among other engines. He said that BMW has actually bought the tooling used to produce the pumps from the subcontractor in France and is now producing the pumps in-house. Two part numbers have been produced since that change. The first was effectively a continuation of the existing design but with better manufacturing tolerances and the most recent part is a new design. He didn't come out and say that they no longer replace HPFPs but I surmised that BMW acknowledged there was a serious problem and it appeared to be headed in the right direction. Presumably, BMW is using the latest version in the 1M so I don't think the HPFP issue would be a serious concern in the purchase decision of a 1M, but they are still too new to call the issue closed. Only time will tell.
Toybox Sneak Peek
Work on my brother's toybox continues at a brisk pace now.
A couple weeks ago I helped my brother run some hot and cold pex lines across the length of the floor, the point being to bring water to the far side of the building so we could wash cars over there. I also noticed that some of the pex laid by the contractor was a bit too close to the locations of the two lift posts so I helped move them to remain outside of those areas.
The next day a six inch thick slab of 5000 PSI concrete was poured. The job required 70 yards which was delivered in several trucks spaced roughly 45 minutes apart. Aside from a flat tire on the third truck that wound up delivering the final load a little "hot" (a bit too far into the curing process), the pour went exactly as planned. The finishers did a great job making the surface as smooth as glass and feathering the slope of the concrete toward each of the three floor drains, one in front of each door as required by local code. In the week following the pour my brother tried to keep the slab soaking wet with lawn sprinklers and in the process proved that the drains worked quite well.
The framing as shown was completed in a week. Blocking, sheathing, and the roof trusses are up next. The current hope is to have the building water tight by the end of this month, but that's a far cry from finished. Electric, water and gas utilities all need to be properly terminated in the building, and lighting, heating, and security systems need to be installed. I will be pleasantly surprised if the building is completely ready for use by Thanksgiving. Time flies during projects of this nature.