Tag Archives: diy

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!

Take Your BMW Wrenching to the Next Level

Working on your own car is one of the joys of ownership, and many BMW owners have some working knowledge of how to repair their cars, but just how comfortable are you turning wrenches when the stakes are high?

Mechanics spend years learning the ins and outs of specific BMW models, so when you begin life as a Bimmer enthusiast, don’t feel bad if a few trips to the shop are required. Over time, you can work on enhancing your skills. Stay with it, and a few years down the road you could be bolting whole cars together in your garage!

Entry-Level Jobs

No matter what kind of car you drive, saving money on maintenance and repair bills is an attractive idea. This is why many car enthusiasts choose to perform small jobs like oil changes and spark plug swaps on their own.

You will need a basic set of tools to pull off even these tasks — your car is not a snap-together model. For a few hundred dollars, you can pick up a basic set and a crawler to allow access below the vehicle. Don’t forget a quality set of jack stands — without them, you can’t raise the car off the ground safely.

Stepping Your Game Up

Once you’ve learned the basic layout of your BMW and how to find everything when the car’s in the air, you can begin to tackle tougher jobs. Maybe you’d like to install some upgraded suspension components or change out an old and failing radiator.

The more advanced jobs you’ll take on will require better access to the car. To give yourself better access and visibility when performing these jobs, a lift makes a great investment. If you know you will use it, you will recoup the money on jobs that would have required a mechanic’s facilities down the road. In some cases, you can even use a lift to add some parking space.

Advanced Procedures

When you’re comfortable making changes to individual components and performing routine maintenance, you can begin to consider doing more advanced jobs. There are classes available both for BMW-specific applications, and general engine work, you should attend if you’re going to do these jobs.

More advanced work might include complicated engine repair such as changing a camshaft or bottom-end component, or it might be making considerable modifications. Many enthusiasts talk about wanting to do an engine swap on their BMW, and while it’s certainly possible, you’ve got to know what you’re doing.

You Should Also Buy Some Orange Clean

Or GoJo — whatever pumice-derived cleaner you like best — because when you achieve this level of mechanical knowledge, all your friends are going to come around wanting your help. Hey, you live this stuff anyway, right? And if times get tough, you can always find work at a shop.

There are many reasons to begin doing your own work on your BMW. Start today and become a part of the movement keeping these timeless cars alive and well on the world’s roads.