Category Archives: Maintenance

How to Troubleshoot and Fix Weird Noises in Your Bimmer

Most of us drive our cars so much that they become an extension of ourselves — and when they start making a weird noise, we notice almost immediately. The trick with these weird noises is that they can be difficult to locate, especially if you’re trying to figure out where they’re coming from while you’re behind the wheel.

It can also end up being really expensive to take your Bimmer to the shop to have the mechanics there troubleshoot it. Here are some tips and tricks to help you figure out where those weird noises are coming from and fix them without emptying your wallet in the process.

1. Locate the Sound

Between engine noise, road noise, etc., you’re going to hear a variety of sounds when your car is running. Since some engine noises are fairly unavoidable, you may not have a problem at all. If this becomes a nuisance, using heat-resistant barriers for engines is an option for soundproofing those persistent noises.

However, you can usually tell immediately when a sound is not just routine. When that happens, the first thing you need to do is figure out where the sound is coming from.

One tool that can be helpful for locating strange sounds under the hood is a mechanic’s stethoscope. It looks like a doctor’s tool of the same name, only instead of having a flat plate at the end for hearing heartbeats, it has a long thin piece of metal that can easily be threaded into tight spaces to help you identify sounds.

Once you determine what exactly the noise is, take a look online. You can find resources to help you locate and identify it.

Once you’ve located the sound, now it’s time to troubleshoot!

2. Figure out What the Problem Is

There are so many moving parts in your car that nearly any one of them could start making strange noises when it starts to fail. The trick is figuring out what is causing the sound before the part quits completely. Knowing where the sound is coming from helps you narrow down the possible causes. Let’s take a look at some of the most common sounds and their causes.

  • Clunking or Thumping When you Turn the Wheel – This could be a sign that your CV axle, which transfers the drive train power from the transmission to your wheels, is starting to fail. This is an expensive fix – new CVs are pricey – but is a fairly simple one. Simply jack up the car, pull out the old axle and install a new one.
  • Whining Under the Hood – This is usually a sign that a bearing is going bad. Use that mechanic’s stethoscope to locate the whine and replace the offending bearing.
  • Whirring That Changes with Engine RPM – This could be a number of different things. Start by checking your power steering fluid levels and making sure they’re correct. If you’ve got enough fluid, you may need to replace the power steering pump. It could, depending on where the sound is coming from, be a sign of a bad compressor which you will need to take to a mechanic if you don’t have the right tools.
  • Popping from Under the Hood – This is another sound that could indicate a number of problems. It could be as simple as a dirty air filter, or as complicated as an internal engine problem. Start by changing your air filter, and checking your car’s ignition system – plugs, wires, ignition module or distributor depending on how old your Bimmer is.

There are some noises you might hear under the hood that mean you should stop driving your car until it is repaired. Knocking or pinging sounds mean there are moving parts in your engine hitting each other that shouldn’t be, and continuing to drive the car could damage the inner workings of the engine.

3. Repair the Problem

This step is hard to outline without knowing exactly what sounds your car is making, but we do have one tip to offer. Purchase a Haynes manual for your vehicle. These repair manuals will walk you, step by step, through everything you need to do to complete most repairs on your own. They’re available for most cars, regardless of the age of the car, and they cost about $25.

There may be some things you can’t fix on your own, either because you don’t have the knowledge or the tools necessary to complete the job. For these problems, you should definitely take your car to your favorite mechanic. It might be more expensive, but you’ll be sure the job is done right.

You don’t have to run to the shop every time your Bimmer starts making strange noises, though. A couple of troubleshooting steps might point you to a very easy-to-fix problem you can handle in the comfort of your own garage.

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!