Sunday, March 28, 2010

Benz Updates

There has been a lot of activity around the roadster this month. The major project was the complete rebuild of the suspension. I've been wanting to do this for some time, and I finally got the courage and the financial wherewithal to do it (thank you, tax return). Needless to say, it ended up being a major project and I was happy to have someone else with the tools, expertise and experience to make it happen.

As it turns out, most of the parts needed replacing. The car received 4 new shocks, subframe mounts, steering damper, drag link, engine mounts, rear springs, and a few other things that I've probably forgotten. They also rebuilt and adjusted the steering gear. Finally, they did a full 4 wheel alignment.

The difference, as you can expect is completely amazing. The handling and accuracy of the steering is totally improved. It makes it so easy and enjoyable to drive and was certainly worth the effort.

Moving on, I also completed the springtime oil change. The service shop also mentioned that the engine was leaking oil from the valve covers. They offered to fix them, but I went ahead and ordered a couple of new gaskets with the intention of doing it myself. I got the one on the passenger side done, but held off on the other. I really don't see any oil leaks coming from that area - most of the leaks I would guess to be coming fro the rear main seal or oil pan. Hard to say really, but to get to the other gasket would require some disassembly of the fuel system. That isn't something I really want to deal with, so I've decided to quit while I'm ahead.

Finally, I sprung for a new stereo head unit. When I ordered it, I also got an adaptor they sell to cover the new harness to the old one. A few minutes with a soldering iron and the new wiring worked perfectly. I now have FM radio (HD radio too), a CD player and an iPod connector. Fidelity is improved. It does leave me wanting a little bit better system, but this will do for now.

For the rest of the year, I'm probably looking at the annual brake fluid change, that other valve cover gasket if I get the guts, and seeing what I can do about the convertible top linkage. Otherwise, we are really for spring!

...And 5 days of rain in the forecast....

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Belly of the Bimmer...

The 325i turns 9 years old this month. At 63,790 miles, there are some good preventative things we can do. The list was on the last post, but this was the weekend to actually get it done.

A recent contribution to the BMW club magazine gave me some direction about how to tackle several jobs at once. The suggested best practice is to start with the simplest items first. This makes a lot of sense. If I get hung up on something difficult, I don't have a lot of parts for easy projects lying around. I think my wife was encouraged to see the items disappear from the floor piece by piece over the course of the weekend.

Friday afternoon I went ahead with the oil, air filter and cabin filter changes. I must be getting good at this, because I got it all done in 50 minutes.

Today, I started in with the fuel filter (the next logical task, because it can be done in isolation, unlike the water pump). The secret here was to get the car as high off the floor as comfortable. The filter is connected by rubber hoses and clamps (very different from the Benz) and working them free after 9 years proved to be a challenge. Rather than depressurize the system like I did on the Benz, I just opened up the gas cap, and it's important to be aware that there will be some fuel spray when the first hose lets go. How exciting! I've been getting crummy mileage around town as of late, so maybe this will help. The fuel that came out of the filter was very clean, so that's a good sign.

The next job was the water pump and ancillary projects. Step 1: Drain the coolant. I got some of it, but unfortunately, the block drain plug is in the most bizarre position imaginable. Somewhere behind the alternator, above the steering link, and in front of the exhaust manifold. I actually purchased a special wrench with a swiveling head, but no luck. It wasn't imperative, so I moved on.

Step 2: Fan removal. This was easier than thought as well. I actually purchase a set of special tools to make this happen. One tool is a thin strip of metal to hold the pulley still while you slide a thin 32mm wrench to loosen the fan. Once the fan comes off, it all lifts out of the engine bay.

Step 3: Belt removal. Very straightforward, no problems.

Step 4: Removing the pulley from the pump and the pump from the engine block. All simple.

At this point, I also tried to disconnect the hoses from the thermostat to replace it. Removing the hoses was real tough and I was hesitant to try too heard for fear of breaking something. Given that the water pump itself was in very good condition (I only replaced it for cautionary reasons and to upgrade to a metal impeller) and I was on a bit of a roll, I decided to dispense with the thermostat replacement and will hang on to it just on case.

Step 5: Replace pump, reinstall pulley. Easy.

Step 6: Replace belts with new ones. This was a little tricky, as you had to thread the main over 5 pulleys with one hand while holding the tensioner at bay with the other. Juggling is easier, but it got done.

Step 7: Replace fan. Worst part of the job. There is little to no room for your hands, and you have to spin the fan onto the new pump 1/16th of a turn at a time. I ended up trying from the bottom and calling in my wife for support. After a few minutes of swearing, my wife politely suggested that when I moved to the bottom of the bay, I needed to try and rotate it back on in the opposite direction (it's reverse threaded and confusing enough as it is). Voila - Her idea and helped worked.

Step 8: Replace intake ducting

Step 9: Refill coolant system. Messy and a little disconcerting the first time you do it, but relatively simple.

At this point, it's time for the ultimate test - starting it up and seeing what breaks. A 20 minute test drive to check proper operating temperature was a great success!

I haven't done a proper coolant flush in 5 years. What I added today probably helped, but that will need to be done by a professional. The thermostat can wait until something breaks, I figure. I spent roughly $400 on parts, and estiamte I saved about $5-600 on labor.

And speaking of professionals, the Benz is actually at the local indie shop getting some suspension work done. That will get a post of its own.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Spring is near. Time to get in gear.

Yep - I'm breaking my silence. Wintertime is tough or car maintenance for me. I have a carport and the floor usually gets wet in the rainy season. Thus, it's not easy to actually get out there and put together time to get work done.

Now that spring is coming, I went ahead and did my annual list of stuff to do for the cars. Turns out the Bimmer has a much longer to-do list than the Benz this time around. I went online today, and ordered a ton of parts and tools.

By way of background, the BMW has about 63K on it, and is approaching it's 9th birthday. Because it never got a lot of use, I didn't get to take advantage of the 'Free Service' that it came with. Also, the official BMW maintenance schedule is very sparse compared to what it was just 10 years ago. As a result, there is a lot of stuff for which the manufacturer doesn't recommend regular replacement. The purists, however, argue that it's good insurance to change some of this stuff out before it leaves you stranded.

So, Here goes...

To Do:
Oil Change (5K since the last)
Cabin Filter Replacement
Air Filter
Brake Fluid Flush

That's all pretty simple. More challenging (I think) will be the original fuel filter, and the Water Pump (They typically fail at 60K or so...).

Since getting at the water pump requires taking apart a lot of other stuff, we'll also replace the original belts and thermostat.

Finally, I'll also replace the coolant. You've gotta bleed the system to do the water pump, so why not? It's supposed to be done every 3-4 years, and I'm overdue.

I got the parts online today - $403 including tax and shipping. I'm guessing a dealer would charge me about $2K to do all of this. I also had to purchase two new tools specifically designed for taking off the fan to get to the water pump. I'm still saving a bunch of dough. Will keep this updated on progress.

For what it's worth, I think this may be the year I get the suspension on the Benz redone. That would be sweet, but keep your fingers crossed.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Long Time No See

Yes, it has been quite some time... To recap, the last time we talked, I had changed out the rear brakes for my most recent Benz project.

This seemed to work fine, except that they squealed something fierce when applying the brakes in reverse. Furthermore, the last time I washed the car, I noticed that the outboard side of the passenger rear rotor looked BRAND NEW. I figured that I would have to redo them at some point, but if you are not from around the Seattle area, you wouldn't know that we are having an historic summer. We have had temps in the 80's pretty consistently with 20-30 days at a time of sunshine. The Benz has become my daily driver, and a noisy rear brake (who cares about the rears anyway??) wasn't going to keep me from driving the heck out of it over the last couple of months.

As September arrived and Labor Day weekend saw the reappearance of typical Seattle holiday weekend rain, I thought it would be time to spring into action. I got ahold of some replacement brake shims, and took the initiative to order a new caliper for that side. Caliper failures are common in old cars, and I figured since I would have it all apart, it would be smart just to change it out, since that was likely the problem.

The replacement ended up being pretty simple. Removing the brake line was the only thing that I hadn't done, and it turned out to be a pretty easy job. All in all, it took about two hours (including time to jack up the car, and gossip with the neighbor about local real estate transactions). the brake squeal is gone, and I'll check the rotor for wear going forward. To this point, it all seems to be ok.

To top off the good fortune, it is back into the 80's and I have two road trips for client visits this week. Good news for me!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bimmer Love

As I more or less alluded to in my last post, I'm getting a little weary of making things absolutely perfect on the Benz at this point, and I'm trying to get into an active mode of not looking for trouble and replacing things. Interestingly, my daily driver, pictured above, is getting perilously close to the 60K mark. This is when things can start to go awry for these cars, so I'm trying to get ahead on some preemptive maintenance. I have changed the oil myself on the car several times already - a simple job. The recommended interval is 15K miles, but I like to do one at 7500 for grins. I was able to get this done Sunday, as well as take some time to give it a wash. I am planning on replacing the water pump (prone to failure - see previous post) belts and draining the coolant this summer. Supposedly, this is all very simple. I've built up some confidence that I can actually work on cars myself without too much trouble, and save a heap f dough doing it. Now, I think I'm ready to try some repair projects on a more modern vehicle. We will see and post pictures.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Brake Job

Well, I actually got around to installing the brake parts I've had in the basement for a few weeks. Before that, I did manage to get the oil changed. A pretty simple job, but the car does have to go up on ramps to get to the oil filter. It's a canister-type with a cartridge insert, and it's upside down, on the underside of the engine next to the pan. A little messy to remove, but not a big deal. One note - the drain plug on the pan is HUGE, so oil will run out with reckless abandon and it's important to have a big pan to drain into, or else there may be a spill. Ask me how I know.

As for the brakes, I went ahead and got new rotors and pads. I think the rotors were original. They weren't badly scored or uneven, but the other surfaces were badly rusted. Here are some pix. This is the passenger side before I got the rotor off.

Here's a side-by-side of old vs. new rotors.

The procedure was pretty much as advertised. The pads themselves had good thickness on them but they were chipped and pitted in several places. Again, I didn't know how old everything was, so I'm happy to have the job done.

That said, I did run into a big problem getting the old rotors off. the manual and other reference sites say, 'Remove rotors with a couple of taps from a dead-blow hammer.' I think I may have redefined 'couple' and 'taps' for the purposes of this job. It basically required be lying under the car and beating on the backside of the rotor with that hammer until my hand was shaking. It did come loose after about 15-20 minutes per side.

Once they came off, the job was simple to complete. The test drive worked well - I get no brake squeal or anything like that (well, a little when backing up in reverse, so I may eventually redo one pad that I think was the problem) so things must be ok.

Now, I did the rears first, because it is the less important axle for automobile brakes. The jury is out at this point about the fronts. I may just wait until they are obviously bad, and just leave well enough alone. I feel fortunate that I haven't had any repair go terribly wrong - I haven't had to resort to an emergency tow somewhere, but maybe I'm just pressing my luck at this point.

I do have a couple of projects for the 325i anyway...


Thursday, April 16, 2009


There have been a few happenings in the auto-repair world. I'm starting to get some confidence in my DIY skills, so I went ahead and purchased the repair manual for the 325. Needless to say, it is a far more complicated car, so I'm trying to be very measured with what I'll attempt. For example, there is a complete electrical diagram in the manual for the BMW. That portion of the manual itself is nearly 500 pages. There are an additional 60+ pages of codes for the on board diagnostic computer. Though there is much on that car I'll never touch (or really need to), I did want to pick something up to get some help with the preventative maintenance I could be doing. As expected, parts are also pretty easy to come by and relatively inexpensive if you shop around. The car turns 8 on Sunday (yes, I remember these things), and there are a few common points of failure that could be taken care of as the car approaches this age. I have also found that many of the tools needed to work on the BMW are common to the Benz.

Thus, here is my scratchpad of things that need to be done or checked out and that I'll work to complete this spring:

Water Pump - My version has a pump with a plastic impeller, and they are notorious for giving out right about now. There is one special tool I need to do the job, which I think is well worth the dough. While I do that, I'll replace the coolant and accessory belts.

Oil Change - It's due, and I have done this myself already. Very easy job to do.

Brake Fluid change - Uses the same fluid type and bleeder adapter. Why not do both cars at the same time?

Fuel Filter - I did it on the Benz last year. Pretty simple.

Suspension Overhaul - Not by me, but would still like to get it done.

Brakes - I don't know if or when the brakes have ever been done. I took a good look at the discs, and they are definitely old, grooved and somewhat pitted. Brake jobs are good to know how to do anyway, so why not give it a whirl on the third car? I'm going to start on the rear axle so I can work out the bugs on a less important system, and I was already able to find most of the parts locally. I do have some locking bolts on order from the dealer that are being shipped from California. I question the need for new ones, but these are an important safety item - it's not how fast you go, it how qickly you can stop. While I do the front axle, I may also replace the wheel bearings at the same time, depending on my level of courage.

Brake Fluid - part of the yearly maintenance.

Oil Change - With a suspect timing chain design, probably wouldn't hurt.

Differential - It's leaking. Not too much, so I'll probably just add fluid. Resealing the thing doesn't sound like fun. I had to do this on the BMW, and it was $400. I think keeping it full of fluid will suffice for now.

Fuel Smell - If I drive it more, it smells less. I think I have my answer there.

Excess steering wheel play - Again, not a high priority. Maybe I'll have it looked at when I get it aligned and the suspension redone.

Convertible top fix - One of the cables that pulls the top latch doesn't work right. There is a fix I saw online, but I usually resort to a screwdriver to fix it. I'll keep this a low priority.

I'll keep posting pictures and methods as I get to them.