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.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Another repair finished

I received the power window relay over the weekend. I installed it and of course, we're back in business with the power windows.

I also received a couple packages of small light bulbs for the instrument cluster. I went through the cluster and replaced them all - the ones that were not burned out had that brown gunk on the inside, so it will only brighten them up. I also went through and replaced the bulbs on the climate control system too. There are four bulbs there in total, and three were dead. Once I did that it was literally 35 minutes of work to get it back all together again and on the road. That included time to run up and down the stairs to grab tools, and to look in the service manual for the proper torque on the steering wheel retaining nut.

It bears mentioning that this car has proven to be pretty easy to work on. For example, the back side of the instrument cluster has several connections coming from the chassis. I was thinking that I would have to go through and label each wire, so I didn't get them mixed up when I reinstalled it. It turns out that not only were the wires labeled and numbered from the factory, but they also corresponded to the connection, by number, that was stamped to the back of the cluster near each connection. It really seems like they designed this car to be serviced easily. Fine by me.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


With the power windows, there is one big relay in the passenger footwell that runs them. I took it on faith that the relay was the problem. I wasn't really thinking before, but there are actually three other perfectly good identical relays in the same location that would work for the power window circuit. for giggles, I went and moved one of the working relays to the socket for the windows. Voila. Windows worked fine. At least I know that the part that is on its way will actually fix the problem. I also have the instrument cluster completely out for when the new light bulbs arrive next week.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Let the repair season begin

About a week ago, I put together a list of things that will need to be addressed this spring. Turns out, that now that the BMW is well out of warranty, I'm starting to look beyond the manufacturer recommended maintenance schedule and look for other trouble in that car as well. Frankly, I never really thought it was a good idea to go 15K miles between oil changes. So, after some research, I found a few things that could use some preemptive replacement. You cannot look at a service shop with a BMW less than $600, so I think it's time I try and spend some effort with dome DIY there too. Most ambitious will be replacing the water pump, legendary for its ability to fall apart at exactly 60K miles.

As for the roadster, the power windows managed to stop working today. Don't know why. It is NOT fuse #5 - I checked it, and that was the culprit for the electrical problem from last year. Remember - that fuse also runs most of the instrument cluster. Since it's both windows that failed at the same time, I am going to assume that it's not either switch or motor, but instead the relay that runs it all. I am taking this with enough faith that I have ordered a replacement (not cheap), which should be here soon. I don't know if it was the weather, or the extra time I had this afternoon, but since I was chasing electrical stuff, I thought I would finally get around to replacing burned out instrument cluster lighting. While I'm back there, I'll check the ground connection as well, since that can lead to really strange problems impossible to diagnose. Here are a couple of pictures...

At least it will be hard to steal.

Rear of instrument cluster.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Couldn't wait

By my read the weather this winter has been none too Seattle-like. It seems like we've had unusual amounts of sunshine, so I took it upon myself to hijack my wife's help in taking off the hardtop. As I thought, the rear post was definitely stuck on the defective latch, but I put together a makeshift tool (an allen wrench taped to a screwdriver) that would provide enough leverage to push it out of the way. Once the top was off, I went to the gas station, dumped some engine treatment into the tank and drove around the beach for a few minutes. Definitely looking forward to warmer weather!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Trouble ahead?

Following up on the windshield wiper nozzles - my cleaning technique worked like a charm - it's the first repair I've been able to do without actually having to buy replacement parts. Good times.

It turns out that a neighbor of ours got himself a 1985 380SL about two months ago. I went over to his place yesterday because he was having problems with the hardtop, similar to the stuck top issue I had last year. Truth be told, I thought I had fixed the issue (by lubricating the cable and mechanism), but it returned, so now I use a long skinny screwdriver to release the catch when I need to get the soft top down. Shame on me for being too lazy to fix the root cause of the problem. In any case, with the hard top in place, the screwdriver trick doesn't work because there isn't enough clearance. I found this out on my neighbor's car, and I'm going to bet that I'll have the same issue. This irritates me because someday soon the sun will shine continuously and I'll want to darn top off. It's probably too early to fix it now though, because it's still darn cold out.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hardtops and Windshield Washers

It's sunny. Time to wash.

I put the hardtop on the car back in October, but I've never had the chance to actually clean it. It sat in a closet for a number of years before getting use this winter, so it was a good opportunity to get it cleaned and put a coat of wax on it. My able detailing and repair assistant is pictured above, as she helped me out quite a bit today.

The windshield washer fluid nozzles stopped working this week, so I popped them out of the hood. They are currently in an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner, trying to get the gunk out. I disconnected the tubes, had my assistant push the washer button while I ran fluid into a cup. It worked fine, but there was a lot of dirt in the fluid - maybe from the tank? In any case, that gunk seems to have gummed up the nozzles. We'll give the jewelry cleaner a shot, and if it doesn't work, I've already found replacements online that I can get easily.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Just checking in

Not much really happening - the bathroom is done. I won't post any new pictures because the one of the shower is pretty much the best view. Since then, I sweat pipes for the first time, replacing a hose bib that had gone bad at the house. Other than that, I felt it was important to update the blog before Google takes it away from me.

I am starting on a list for 2009, and the Benz will be part of that for sure. I really miss the sunshine right now and am looking forward to the days when we can cruise again. The immediate plan calls for a thorough exterior detail, and to get the hardtop cleaned. That should be straightforward. I'm also planning on redoing the brakes. There's no warning light, but they just don't feel right, and I think it will make a big difference. It's a pretty straightforward procedure, and I think I can save a few hundred bucks by doing it myself. The existence or lack of a tax refund will determine what suspension work gets done.

Happy New Year!