May 082016

As a home mechanic the most important tool is knowledge. You need to know when to take a task on yourself or when to let someone else tackle it. You also need to make sure you make the right decision when buying a vehicle in the first place. There are many factors when considering buying a car. You can buy a new one and let the dealership take all the risk. This is a great decision for most but comes at a premium. For me if I don’t feel like I stole it then I don’t feel good about the deal. Ever since parting ways with my Corvette I have driven whatever I could get my hands on. I drove a Protege I paid pocket change for, loved the high MPG. Then, I purchased a newer car for my daughter and inherited hers, a Ford Taurus. Finally, after taking care of the rest of the families car needs I decided to get a car for myself.

I sold all the extra cars and purchased a car on impulse. When I say impulse I mean I only stalked the car listing for 3 weeks and spent less than 10 hours of online research. When I pulled the trigger I felt like I stole it, just how I like it. A car can be a very personal thing and people tend to pick cars that match their personality. Considering how much time we spend in our cars, owning the one that fits you is an important factor in enriching your life. When I took my first test drive of my target car I knew I had found what I had been missing in the years since I sold my Corvette. This was a win and I was happy.

But only for about a month. The car was a one owner low mileage car and even though it was an older car it was obviously well maintained. Online research revealed there were very few weaknesses to worry about. I thought I had really hit gold. Then the fuel pump died. Not cheap but an easy fix. A day later a more troubling issue, a knock sensor stopped responding. The computer was complaining and the car was drive-able but in limp mode. I have never heard of a knock sensor failing but the part was cheap so I bought one and installed it. Installation was very time consuming so I was hoping never to do that again. Unfortunately it did not fix the issue. After a lot more troubleshooting I found that the computer was at fault. The computer is supposed to tell you what is wrong, if you can’t trust it how can you trust anything. A new computer can get towards $2000. My steal of a deal was stealing money right back. Lucky for me there is a company online that sells reconditioned computers for under $500. The experience was great and car was back to normal. I will give them a shout out here:

So two months in, half has been in limp mode and an additional $900 out of pocket. This is a loss for now. I plan on squeezing all the enjoyment I can get out of this car now, it owes me.

Here is the culprit. A 2001 BMW 330Ci. I am not a fan boy but this car scratches the itch.


 Posted by at 9:45 pm
May 182015

Act 4a – Cliche or not, information truly is power. In our last episode I was waiting for a diagnostic computer to read codes from the cars on board computer, specifically the Digital Motor Electronics (DME). The DME  controls all key aspects of the engine’s operation, ensuring optimum reliability, maximum performance and the lowest possible fuel consumption and emissions. This includes the pesky Variable Valve Timing (VVT) System that refuses to work for me. The typical OBDII code reader, which I already have, will read codes but they are translations of what the DME is reporting. Much like translating German to English, I don’t speak German. In this case it reports the code P1056 which translates to a generic VVT issue. I replaced parts based on a faulty VVT system without success. The new code reader, the Creator C110, returned the code 2A3F which translated more precisely to NO power to VVT system. This is useful information. A short troubleshooting session later revealed that the VVT system has its own power connection from the main distribution box and that somehow I had blown the internal, non-replaceable fuse. There are zero visual indicators that this fuse is in tact or blown. Lucky I know how to use the good old Fluke multimeter and sure enough the fuse was blown. So, here is a reason that most home mechanics tend to steer away from a car like the BMW. Almost all the parts are stocked at the dealer and not at the chain auto parts stores. I found the part I needed online at my now trusted parts provider for $59. I have nothing but good things to say about their site, customer service and very thorough tech articles so far. I wanted to get the car going so I was willing to spend a little extra money at the dealer to get it the same day. They did have the part in stock, cool. They wanted $177 for it, not cool. So I wanted almost a week for the part to be shipped from California.

Act 4b – It took about 10 minutes to install the new distribution box and with much fanfare the car started and ran perfectly. The ease of the fix makes all the earlier lessons all that more painful but I am just happy to get the car back on the road. Another cliche that comes to mind now, haste makes waste. If I would have just waited for the correct diagnostic computer to start it would have saved me a lot of heartache and money. I am going to keep telling myself that this was all a really good learning experience until I convince myself that it is true.

Bonus – While waiting for parts I decided to clean up someone else’s mess, namely the front bumper which had suffered what carfax describes as minor damage. It is obvious that the bumper was replaced and painted, poorly. Paint was peeling off of it at an alarming rate. I decided to try out Plasti Dip for the first time. If you are not familiar with this product, it sprays on like paint but finishes as a rubber coating that can be peeled off without damaging the finish underneath. I made it easy on myself and pulled the bumper off and removed all the accessories before masking and painting. Like any paint job, prep work is key to a good finish. I am really happy with how easy it applied and how nice the finished product looks.

Spray on thick coats, just the way I like it.


Plasti Dip application


A nice durable finish.

Plasti Dip Results


Thanks for sharing in my misery and triumphs. I promise to report on some cool, fun stuff next time.

 Posted by at 8:35 pm
May 092015

I decided to treat my wife to a “new to her” car once my son started driving so he could inherit her old car. Her soccer mom days are over and there is no need to chauffeur a car full of kids around anymore so she wanted something sporty. I began to search for cars of the coupe variety. Along with my own personal set of filters, less than 75000 miles and less than 10 years old I had a nice selection to choose from. One car stood out and with confidence I took her for a test drive. I surprised her and shortly with her approval we drove away in a 2007 BMW 328i cabriolet (hard top convertible). I will admit the car is too nice for me, I like stiff, rattle your teeth, rubber meets the road sports cars myself. I don’t mind a computer controlled engine but this thing takes it to another level. Everything was fine for the first 6 months. I was able to take care of a few annoyances like burnt out bulbs and cup holders that don’t open but we noticed a small oil leak. Doing research like always revealed that this is a very common occurrence and that there are three major areas that leak: Oil filter housing gasket, valve cover gasket and of course the oil pan gasket. All these will leak, not a question of if but when. The next several paragraphs are hard to write since I have to admit to poor decisions, bad practices and an utter lack of knowledge concerning the modern BMW.

Act 1 – When diagnosing oil leaks you start at the top. Cleaning the engine and tracing the highest point of oil after running for a while will get you to the culprit. This got me to the Oil Filter Housing Gasket. No problem, it’s at the top of the engine and consists of three bolts. Two bolts came off easy but the third which required a swivel socket would not budge. So I ended up stripping the head. I don’t feel too bad about this one, I had the right tools and the right plan but the bolt was just too snug. Since the bolt was hidden I needed to remove the intake manifold so I could get the right tool on the bolt. Gasket replaced, oil leak resolved and the extra cost was one new bolt and two hours of labor.

Act 2 – With one leak fixed the joy only lasted about a month before the next leak started to show itself. Following the same procedure I was able to easily identify the leak as coming from the valve cover gasket. You know that feeling when you diagnose a problem without a doubt and you know you exactly what you need to do and what the results are going to be when you are done. Yeah, me too, but oh what a fool I turn out to be. I order the valve cover gasket, you have to order everything online for this car unless you want to get it from the dealer and even then they usually don’t have it in stock. I will plug here, they have all the parts and really helpful tech articles too. So armed with the parts I need and a plan I dig in. Things go relatively well, there are a lot of parts to remove and electronics to unhook just to get to the valve cover but nothing too daunting. The entire job takes about four and half hours. Note, the same job on my corvette only took twenty minutes. Proud of my accomplishment I go to start the car and to my surprise it does not start. Blood pressure starts to rise but I forge on. I retrace my steps, collect codes and hit the internet. All signs point to a fault in the valvetronic system, what the heck is that. More research later, ah, it’s a fancy replacement for a throttle body. That’s cool, it’s just a solenoid motor, sensor and relay. I don’t know how but I must have broken one of these parts on the way in or out. Blood pressure still rising I spend the next six hours trying to diagnose and re-diagnose this theory. I finally give in and just order the parts. $450 dollars later they are on their way. So begins a long week of waiting with a car that doesn’t run sitting in the garage, reminding me of my failure.

Act 3 – The parts arrive and I get excited again. I have faith that the car will run again, today! Once again my hopes are dashed. I start replacing parts one at a time, easiest first until I replaced them all. To get the sensor in the valve cover has to come off. Well hell, I already know how to do that. It comes off easier, everything gets easier with practice. The sensor sits above the timing chain and in my hurry I don’t see all outcomes and the worst happens. I DROPPED A BOLT INTO THE ENGINE!!!! I want to scream. I want to cry. But instead I grab my light and see if I can find it. I must have an angel looking over me because I find it and after creating an 18” magnetic screwdriver retrieve the bolt from a pinch point that prevented the bolt from making it to the pan. I take a break at this point, grab a drink and meditate on how I came to this point. All fingers point at me so I stop contemplating and return to the garage before I destroy my confidence completely. I begin to put the valve cover back on, a job not too dissimilar from a large game of Operation with greasy hands, but something is in the way and I have to retreat. On the way back out I hear a very distinct “tink, tink” sound. I DROPPED ANOTHER BOLT INTO THE ENGINE BAY!!! This time I feel vindicated, the bolt is pinched into a sleeve that is part of the valve cover. They are not supposed to come out so easily. I may have screamed but I did not cry. This time all my treasure hunting with mirrors and lights come up empty. I search blindly in the only place left, the fan shroud and bingo, I find it. Drink, meditate… return to the garage and finish the job. The car still does not start. Same symptoms, same codes. Six more hours of diagnosis and re-diagnose, grasping at straws and I have no ideas. An advanced diagnostic computer is on its way so for now this is a “to be continued”

I think every story should have a happy ending and this one will too, it may take longer and more money than it should have but I don’t give up and will continue to carry on. Act 4 should come next week whether it is a conclusion or not.

This smiling face keeps me just lighting the whole thing on fire:

wife and bmw

 Posted by at 10:05 pm