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

  One Response to “Lessons in Humility: A play in 4 or maybe 5 acts”

  1. I enjoyed the read. Reminded me of many weekends going through the same “learning moments” about 15 years ago. Good luck next week, can’t wait for the update.

    btw – I would not think less of you if you were to call the Black forest Werkshop for a second opinion. I knew the owner, who is a BMW enthusiast, that always treated me right for way less than a dealer would charge. At least call him to talk through it.