Category Archives: Maintenance

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.

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!

When to Replace Your BMW’s Suspension

BMW may stand for the ultimate driving machine, but even the ultimate driving machine is subject to the wear and tear that comes in the course of everyday motoring. Depending on how often you drive your bimmer, your attitude behind the wheel and the road conditions your car sees, it will have different maintenance needs.

While most suspension components aren’t typically considered wear parts like your brake pads or clutch, they will need replacing if you keep your BMW for a long time. How do you know when it’s time to swap your worn suspension components out for new ones?

Signs of a Worn Suspension

The easy answer is when it feels sloppy and disgusting. Of course, there are varying degrees of slop that a driver will live with depending on their needs for the car. What one person might interpret as bad, another could view as an extra plush ride.

Your car’s springs control forward and rearward motion, while shock absorbers locate the wheel and help the body roll left and right. A car that rocks fore and aft when performing mundane maneuvers like a simple stop is likely in need of new shocks, springs or both.

Why a Warn Suspension Is Risky

While some authorities will tell you to replace shocks at a particular mile mark, that isn’t entirely accurate. It’s more about how the shock absorber performs, and performance will degrade more quickly in a car that is driven more or carries heavy loads frequently.

If you choose to keep running suspension components that are on their way to the scrap heap, you could end up doing more harm than good. Bottoming out and overloading suspension components can cause damage to your car’s bodywork or sensitive mechanical bits.

If you’re not sure what your car needs to resolve unacceptable suspension behavior, go to a professional mechanic for advice.

OEM or Aftermarket Replacements

It’s safest to replace the equipment on your BMW with original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts because they are the same ones BMW used in the original design. However, some owners will want to use different parts to imbue their BMW with a more performance-oriented ride. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you have to do your homework to make sure the parts you get will deliver what you want.

Often, people choose to install coil-over suspension kits that ride more stiffly and can alter the ride height of the car. These upgrades will give a more aggressive look and increase the vehicle’s grip when cornering, but the tradeoff could be a harsher ride during your daily commute.

The internet is a great place to do your research if you think you want to tweak the way your car handles. While shocks and springs are some of the most critical components, there are also additional suspension components that may wear down, or that you might want to replace. These include anti-roll bars, A-arms, rear trailing arms and even bushings.

If you’ve waited to maintain the suspension on your BMW, get the job done right so you can be safer and more confident on the road.