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Monday, July 22, 2024

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Thursday, April 4, 2019

Long Time No See

For all of those who have been waiting, wondering, and emailing me to ask if I'm okay, rest assured that I am. I've just been extremely busy with things other than my BMWs, both of which now are low-utilization vehicles. If you're wondering what I've been doing the better part of the last year, read this. Rest assured I have not abandoned this blog and don't expect to for as long as I own the vehicle.

Trims Installed

As the vehicle has been largely retired since last July and remained garaged throughout the winter I haven't had much to report, but I did finally receive the drip moldings from BMW and installed them. Well, to clarify -- I had my tech install them, since my DIY attempts utterly failed.

I remember installing a couple sets of the original parts and they fit to the vehicle's mounting flange smoothly and easily, but that was clearly not the case here. While the original trims required only a bit of lube to press them onto the flange these parts would engage with the flange and then stop dead. I was able to get them started in a few areas but I was never able to press them on all the way, for fear of bending them.

After discussing the matter with my technician and examining the parts closely we concluded that the old parts were shaped like a "U" whereas the new parts were more like a "V" and even at the big end of the "V" the parts were physically smaller . You don't have to be a manufacturing or production specialist to realize that this is likely caused by a simplified (and less costly) manufacturing process. And normally I'm all in favor of that if it results in an equivalent part but that's clearly not the case here.

The new parts are now installed but they simply don't look like the originals and mine are subtly bent in a few places. That is obviously a consequence of wrestling to install them. I do not blame my technician for this. I blame BMW and the failure of the company to perform a proper inspection of the parts to ensure conformance to the original design specifications. I've been so busy that I haven't had time to rock the boat, but I do plan to have the parts guys get in touch with BMW Classic to tell them their new supplier sucks and their parts are garbage. We'll see what happens.

New Battery

For the last several months, every time I walked into the garage I noticed that the Battery Minder was defaulting to Gel Cell mode, even after resetting it to Wet Cell mode several times. It does this to protect the battery against overcharging when the battery refuses to take a proper charge. I know from experience that this occurs around the time one or more of the cells reverse and the ampacity drops significantly. This is usually accompanied by a sluggish turnover of the starter and I found that to be the case as I turned the key to move the vehicle out of the garage a few days ago.

As I knew what was going on I just decided to replace the battery. A quick call to my parts department revealed the battery was in stock so I asked them to hold one for me. I threw my portable tool kit in the trunk and took the car over to the dealer. $164 later I walked out with a new battery and brought it over to my car which was parked in front of my tech's bay. I quickly pulled out the old battery, replaced it with the new one, and hauled the old one back to the parts department to serve as a core. For this reason I didn't have to pay a core charge. Following the battery swap the starter turned the engine over swiftly as expected and I headed back to the garage to put the E36 to bed once again.


I was glad I replaced the battery in the E36 because a couple days later I had to use it on a mission. I had recently hit a pothole the approximate size of the Grand Canyon with my GTI on the way home from the airport (I am so glad my tolls and taxes are used to keep the roads in great shape...*sigh*). This resulted in a noticeable bulge in the sidewall so I decided to buy a new tire from Tire Rack and have my technician install and road-force balance it. Why ask my BMW technician to do this work? The simple answer is it's not work that is specific to any brand and I knew I would pay less for the work due to the relationship I've built with my technician and my BMW dealership over the last 20 years. The twist is that my local VW dealer from which I purchased the GTI went out of business six weeks after I bought the car and the next closest dealer is over a half hour away.

Incidentally, if you're wondering why my VW dealer closed, it's simple. They weren't selling many cars. My technician related that he knew someone who worked in finance at one of the remaining dealers and that they said they too were having difficulty selling new vehicles and were selling used vehicles to make ends meet. Sadly, the VW emissions scandal is taking its toll. Of course this explains why I was able to get such a great deal on my GTI. Am I concerned about support for the vehicle? Of course not. But servicing the GTI, should it require service beyond my abilities, will no doubt be less convenient, at least in the short term.

After feining ignorance about all things "barfegnugen" my tech mounted the wheel assembly to the Hunter tire machine and made quick work of the swap. The end result? 8 pounds of road force and 1 oz of weight. The interesting thing I learned at this point is that the 2018 GTI uses the same tire pressure monitoring technology as my E46 -- specifically, rather than using expensive and failure-prone battery powered sensors inside the tire it relies on the existing wheel speed sensors and some basic physics to determine if one of the tires has gone flat. My technician thought that was quaint, as BMW abandoned the simple solution back in 2007. Despite the M cars now reporting internal tire temperature (admittedly a perk), I told him I'd just as soon stick with simple, proven systems that require less maintenance over time. Plus, on the track, an IR thermometer is a more appropriate tool to check tire surface temperatures.

Stock Stereo Amplifier Kaput

The first thing I noticed getting into the vehicle the other day was how few speakers were actually producing sound. All of the front speakers are now silent and I think only one speaker in the rear was working. Clearly, I need to do something about this.

(Image: Rendering of basic mechanical model of OpenOBC replacement)

I am entertaining the idea of pulling the amp to inspect and repair it if possible, but I am also considering buying a refurb from Ebay simply as a stopgap, since I don't know how long it will be until I can install my new audio system. Of course, this summer would probably be a good time to do that, provided I can reserve some time in my brother's climate controlled garage, but I still expect to be flying like crazy all summer and not have a lot of consecutive days off. And even if I have days off I have several big engineering projects underway that will take priority over car stuff so I guess I'll have to play that by ear -- no pun intended.

A Replacement for OpenOBC

Speaking of engineering projects, one of the projects I started earlier this year was a replacement for the OpenOBC logic board which was produced for a short time and became unavailable in 2012.

While I'm not prepared to discuss the project in detail yet some of my plans have been outlined on the long-running OpenOBC thread. There appears to be growing support for the work so while I haven't committed to producing anything other than a prototype, the probability of a short production run is increasing. If you own an E36 and are interested in purchasing one of the boards that may result from my efforts, please let me know. I will use your feedback to gauge interest and prioritize my work efforts.

Mileage: 271000