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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

HVAC Overhaul and Carpet Replacement Complete

After about a week in the shop for the carpet replacement and HVAC overhaul my technician called me late yesterday to let me know that the car was done. A few things came up over the last few days and we discussed them.

First of all, the compressor I ordered at the direction of the parts department (the Seiko) turned out to be the wrong unit. As I took pictures of the compressor for the blog I did notice that it didn't seem to look like the one installed on my car but I didn't raise a flag or think that much of it because it was a different make and I figured that it was intended to be attached to a mounting bracket that would be reused. It turned out that what they gave me was in fact a compressor for an E30.

After going back and forth with the parts department and having them call BMW's tech line my technician finally figured it all out and BMW revealed that the previously unobtainium Denso compressors were back in the parts system and available as remanufactured units. The plus was that the remanufactured Denso was $225 cheaper than the new Seiko; a discount I was all too happy to accept.

I mentioned I had heard Denso had sold or licensed the brand to a Chinese company and asked him to look at the box and see whether there was any label on it that would indicate the country of origin. He confirmed that it said "Made In Japan" and then pointed out that the box itself was not the typical BMW box but a Denso box with a BMW label placed over the Denso branding. He said typically BMW buys in bulk and will repackage the compressors into their own boxes. I have noticed these boxes are typically simple things with little to no cushioning as BMW assumes their logistics won't toss the parts around like UPS and FedEx do with impunity.

The Denso box, my technician related somewhat laughingly, was rather huge and constructed like they "planned to ship eggs in it". In fact it consisted of multiple levels of shock absorption and a custom molded cardboard piece in the center holding the compressor. The point to take home is this came direct from Denso into BMWs part system, so it's probably among the first of a new shipment to refill the distribution channels. Future units will probably be provided in BMW's own boxes.

Given that he had had gone back to the Denso and I was originally told that the expansion valve must be mated to the compressor I asked whether he had to change the expansion valve as well. He said he confirmed with the tech line that the expansion valve part we had would in fact work with the Denso. This begged the question: so why the different expansion valves? My tech recalled that the first few years of the E36 shipped with R12 systems and that might explain it. As I recall reading some time ago that the expansion valve is among the components that must be swapped during a R12 to 134A conversion that seemed the most plausible answer.

Another issue that came up related to the new door seals. While the original seals had been flattened by years of compression by the door and window, the new seals were quite bulbous and therefore pushed out against the doors and windows. This resulted in two undesirable effects: first, the doors required exceptionally high force to close reliably, and second, the doors would pop open quite loudly and violently when unlatched. Rather than risk any damage to the windows my technician adjusted the doors such that they sit a bit proud of the car and told me to bring the car back to him in a month or two after the seals have "laid down" a bit, at which point he would readjust the doors to bring them back to their normal position. Frameless doors are wonderful, except in scenarios like this.

A minor issue: while working on the compressor he noticed that the main accessory belt looked a bit ragged so he replaced it. I was of course aware the belt was at its life limit and had planned to replace it after the car was returned but it's just as well he addressed it. Once less thing for me to do.

Wrapping up our phone conversation he mentioned that a few people passing by the car in the shop made favorable comments about its condition but wondered about the state of the seats. It's not hard to understand why -- they are an eyesore, no doubt about it, and are contrasting to a greater degree given the refresh in other areas. I told him I planned to replace all the leather next Spring and solicited his feedback about how to go about repairing the driver's side seat back foam which is now made of unobtainium. He suggested it should be possible to cut out the damage and insert a new piece of foam but even if I am able to repair it he recommended swapping the backrests to provide the best support. The driver's side foam is tired and the passenger foam comparitively new. That's a great idea and I will likely do that.

Taking Delivery

Always thinking ahead, my technician put the old ratty floor mats in my trunk rather than risk getting any dirt on the new carpet. I purchased new floor mats long ago but didn't bring them with me so he lined the footwells with some of the semi-sticky-plastic BMW places in the footwells of the new cars delivered to the dealer. Hopping in the car for the drive home I felt like it was 1998 all over again and I was taking delivery of my baby once again.

Just before I left, my technician said that he had to drive the car around a bit longer than expected to purge the cooling system of all the air and eliminate the burbling noises typically heard within the interior as the air bubbles run their way through the heater core. His comment? "The car drives very nicely." Indeed it does and it should, considering that its underpinnings are basically new at this point. With the E46 driving experience still fresh in my mind the drive home in the E36 reminded me why I will always love this car. I have long said if I could buy another new E36 I would do it in a heartbeat, but because that option is no longer available I did the next logical thing: buy it a second time, part by part.

I knew going into the overhaul that it would be the best time to replace the original throttle cable that I felt had grown quite difficult to modulate due to normal and expected wear of the cable's inner lining. I'm happy to say this is one of the first things I noticed as I pulled out onto the road. The throttle now requires less force to open and is more eager to close as well, making it far easier to modulate. This was an easy and inexpensive fix that I can highly recommend for all E36 owners.

Arrving home I got out of the car and walked around the front of the vehicle. The first thing I noticed is that all the noise coming from the front of the engine that I attributed to the compressor and clutch (with the A/C on or off) was gone. Although I won't need the A/C until next year this observation alone has justified the money I spent.

Before I went back to work I removed the protective plastic in the footwells, vacuumed the interior and then installed the new floor mats. While removing the mats from their packaging I noticed tags indicating manufacturing date (2010) and the stock pick date (purchase date, effectively) of 2012. Needless to say these have been taking up space in my home for longer than I ever imagined, but they are now in the car and a perfect compliment to the new carpet. The perk? While the new carpet had long since off-gassed (i.e. it has no "new carpet smell"), the new floor mats are another story. They have a mild and sweet aroma that will no doubt percolate into the vehicle in the coming weeks, giving me just a hint of "new E36". I'll take what I can get. :)

Daily Driver Status

Someone recently sent me a message on YouTube about my last video update and asked the obvious question: "Now that you've done all this work are you planning on retiring it as a daily driver?" As I had disabled comments on the video, YouTube's shitty messaging system didn't allow me to reply so I'll do that here for the benefit of all wondering. The answer is "sort of". The car is still my daily driver but "daily" really isn't the right word anymore.

I now work from home and have put a grand total of 2500 miles on the car since April -- a far cry from my usual annual rate the last 15 years. Naturally, my fuel and routine maintenance costs have dropped like a stone. As long as I continue to work from home I expect to get several years out of my tires. I also no longer need to worry about driving to and from the office in shitty weather, so while I was planning to wrap my winter wheels with another set of Dunlop Winter Sport 4D I see no point in that now. The existing tires will easily handle minor snow events and if a major one shows up on the forecast I'll just stay home with the car safely under its protective cover.


Although I no longer report financial information and have no intention to change that policy I will make an exception in this case for those that want to get a feel for the cost of this work to determine if it's worth DIYing or paying someone else to deal with the enormous hassle of these tasks.

The total book labor for everything I had done was 20.4 hours and my technician reported he had about 20 hours in the job. The interesting thing is I learned the dealership does not have a fixed hourly rate anymore. The rate is, quite oddly, dependent on the length of the job. Longer jobs are billed out at progressively more cost. In other words, the first hour might be $100 but the 5th hour might be $125. This makes absolutely no sense to me. I mean, what's the point? Are they trying to encourage smaller jobs that they can get in and out faster? Who knows what lurks in the minds of financial types other than evil. At the end of the day my technician managed to negotiate on my behalf with the bean counters who ultimately agreed to charge me a flat hourly rate for the job.

The initial total was $3000 but they discounted that $600 and I wound up swiping the credit card for $2400 and change. A good deal for all the work he did, and quite frankly a steal given that I have access to one of the most knowledgeable and friendly techs in the business who still values and supports the kind of relationship with his customers that BMW is trying its best to destroy every day as it transitions to a volume car manufacturer.

Next Up

Sometime in the next few weeks I'm planning to complete an oil service and install my winter wheels. The oil service is a bit ahead of schedule in terms of mileage but it's exceeded the acceptable calendar time. Given how dirty the engine is running these days I view the expense as necessary and warranted. Until then...

Mileage 261500