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.