Tag Archives: diy

Tools You Need for Working on Your BMW

Making the commitment to work on your BMW rather than sending it to a shop is commendable, but even with the money you save in labor, you’ll need to make an initial investment in tools. We’re not talking about spending thousands of dollars for BMW-specific VANOS adjustment toolkits from Germany, just the basics.

There’s nothing worse than getting halfway into a job and discovering you haven’t got the tool you need to fix your car. With a little bad luck, this could mean undoing all your work so you can drive back to the auto parts store. Rather than have that happen, get these essentials in your garage before you get started.

A Socket Set

Many BMWs come with a small toolkit that folds down from the top of the trunk. In it, you’ll find around 10 basic tools you can use to do basic jobs on your car, including box wrenches. You only need to try removing a battery with a box wrench once to learn the value of a good ratchet and socket set.

A Torque Wrench

The service manual says those head studs should be tightened down to 100 ft. lbs., but, hey, if you guesstimate, what could go wrong? The answer is, quite a bit. Instead of being unsure and putting expensive BMW parts at risk, get yourself a torque wrench so you know when you’ve tightened things to the proper spec.

An Air Compressor

An air compressor is a particularly handy tool for cars that do weekend warrior duty at the track. It’s easy to let air out of your tires, but how do you air up without visiting a gas station? Install a compressor in your garage and you’ll be able to stiffen up those sidewalls before your track session. Just make sure you allow them to cool before letting air out — you could damage tires if you don’t wait.

A Multimeter

Why isn’t that new head unit you installed working? Should you be worried about the life left in your alternator? Is that broken window switch just not getting power, or is something else wrong? These questions and many more can all be answered by the handy electrical multimeter, a tool all car do-it-yourselfers should own.

A Work Light

Is a light a tool? We say yes. When the sun goes down and you’re still knee-deep in a project, a work light lets you get the job done. Besides, if you fail, all the people at cars and coffee are going to give you crap about BMW reliability. Actually, they’ll probably do that anyway — but the point remains, don’t be that Bimmer owner.

An Impact Gun

When you’re working on suspension components, wheels have to come off. When you’re working on other components, sometimes you need to get to suspension components. Impact guns make this easy, and they can remove or install a whole lot more than just wheels. Plus, they make the coolest sound of any car tool, so who wouldn’t want one?

This list will get you off to a good start, and there are many more wise additions to your toolset you can make from here. Equipped with a solid set of tools, your BMW repairs will be cheaper, your bond with your car will be stronger — and, most importantly, your bank account will be fatter.

Why You Should Work on Your Own BMW

Taking the plunge into BMW ownership is intimidating to many enthusiasts. Maybe you’ve always wanted to experience what it’s like to drive a well-appointed car with fine-tuned handling dynamics, but are concerned the maintenance costs will drive you into penury. Horror stories about the cost of parts and all the things that break are usually just that — stories.

Yes, the cost of maintaining a BMW is going to be greater than the cost of maintaining a Toyota Camry, and the driving experience is going to be more rewarding, but this isn’t the kind of life decision that keeps your kids from going to college. One of the best ways to offset these maintenance costs is by working on your BMW yourself.

Where to Begin

We always recommend you have a mechanic inspect a car before you buy it. That one simple step can save you a fortune in repairs. Assuming you don’t end up owning a lemon, you can begin to service your BMW on your own on day 1.

Like any car, your BMW has an oil cap, wheel lugs and spark plugs that all need to come off and on every so often. It has fluids that need to be replaced, and a battery that will also eventually need to tag out.

Every time you pay the dealer to do these things, you’re adding approximately $60 per hour in labor, and probably an extra premium on the parts. Just because there’s a roundel on the hood doesn’t change the basic procedure — if you can change the oil on a Bronco, you can change the oil on a 3-series.

Getting Organized for Projects

One of the best ways to make working on your own car simpler is to have a usable workspace. Usually, that means getting your garage organized and having the right tools.

A good garage for car projects should be well-ventilated. It should ideally have a sealed floor that will keep spilled fluids from staining, and a power door with modern safety measures, such as a manual override and a laser sensor to make sure nothing is blocking the door.

You’ll also want to have a few cleaning supplies like microfiber towels, window cleaner, automotive detergent, and wax. A penny saved on detailing is still a penny saved on owning a Bimmer.

Advanced Repairs

When you’re feeling more comfortable and perhaps have bought a factory service manual, you can attempt more involved jobs. Online resources like forums offer a wealth of knowledge and step-by-step DIY instructions from people who’ve actually done these projects, so be sure to read up.

As you become more involved in the car community, you’ll meet other people with common interests. The car community tends to be very friendly when it comes to trading favors and sharing information, which is another way you can keep the costs of owning a BMW from draining your bank account.

In the end, a little common sense is the best tool you have when working on your own car. We don’t recommend jumping into the hobby on an unloved early-production 8-series. The truly rare and exotic models will be more expensive to maintain — however, many of BMW’s finest works are easy to find, cheap to buy and simple to work on.

My Buddy Found this in an M3’s Oil Pan…

You don’t need to be a Nobel Laureate to know that E46 M3’s have a few issues. Let’s see, there’s Vanos, rod bearings, and cracked subframes to name a few. But when these cars work, oh man are they the bestest. I wrote that last sentence like a twelve-year-old, because that’s what an E46 M3 does to me; They make me feel like a kid again. I get all giddy inside and all I want to do is put my hands all over it and go fast. It’s one of the car fountains of youth. I’ll own one someday.

It was yesterday, however, when my friend on the other side of the country set about to take up a mountainous task: Changing an E46 M3’s rod bearings. It’s not his own car, but a friend’s. He used his own as a guinea pig to rather good success, as so he told. And now he’s applying his talents to another specimen. Hope he’s getting somewhat compensated for his journey to Mordor…But, this article isn’t about rod bearings though.

So I’m at work when he sends me the photo above. The caption? “This was in Harper’s oil pan…” Yikes. Doing the rod bearings does require dropping the oil pan. Normally, you should only have oil in there, not metal parts. These look like 9mm bullet casings though. What could they be from?  My friend has pointed to the Vanos system for fault. The car in question was bought with the prior owner stating that the Vanos had been replaced. Why was it replaced? Likely because it exploded, made obvious by the loose gaggle of parts. But, they didn’t fish out the parts that grenaded, just put new in. What are those metal pieces exactly? Could be a roller bearing in the oil pump or drive disc.

Either way, the amazing thing is that the car is fine. Who knows how long this debris has been in the pan. A win on BMW’s part for putting a shield in the pan to prevent the oil pump from sucking it up and distributing throughout the engine. That would’ve made things go bang.

I’m not saying everyone should drop their oil pans just to see if they have metal bits in there. Or you could drop your oil pan and find a gold Rolex. But maybe use it as a buying lesson. The prior owner DIY’d the Vanos, so when buying an E46 M3, make sure you really trust them as a mechanic. If the owner says he did “everything himself” but acts like a clown school dropout, maybe it’s best to walk away. The M3 in question though, it’s not giving up that easily!