Run the equator: Confessions of a weekend mechanic

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Confessions of a weekend mechanic

I work a lot on my 1988 325 BMW; I do maintenence and replacement, I get dirty and bruised and I curse a lot. The car is like a piece of software in constant need of debugging. Why? you may be asking, why not buy something newer, more reliable? The answer is a simple one - because I love this car. It's a hobby that I didn't ask for, it just came over me. It wasn't a conscious decision, it just happened that I came to believe that the E30s - the 3-series BMWs built between 1983 and 1991 (more or less) - are the most beautiful cars ever designed. So I got myself one in 2005 for 1400 bucks and I put much more into it since. Sure, I love other cars too... but they don't matter, honey.

Despite the many things that need constant attention, my Bimmer has never let me down. The only days I can't drive it are when I screw up some replacement procedure and I have to keep the car on jackstands for longer than I had hoped while I wait for a part that I had accidentally broken.

There are many web sites with do-it-yourself articles for the E30 cars; I always try to learn as much as possible from others' accounts before starting work on a new area. But I found out that no web site or book ever covers all the little traps you can fall into when you attempt a complex replacement procedure. Therefore I decided to write my own car maintenance stories, focusing on the procedures that I found unexpectedly hard, the tools that didn't fit in narrow corners and the unexpected discoveries that happen when you venture in uncharted territory. Enjoy the reading! Comments are welcome.

Rear axle: Bilstein Sport shock absorbers, shock mounts, and H&R OE Sport springs
Front axle: Bilstein Sport shocks, H&R OE Sport springs, shock mounts, control arms, and control arm bushings
Replacement of a broken low-beam ellipsoid light assembly
Rear wheel brake pads and rotors
Fuel pump replacement
Replacement of E30 rear subframe bushings
Replacement of front subframe, oil pan gasket and motor mounts

Unfortunately it's only recently that I decided to take pictures with every repair procedure. In the world of car maintenance repair articles are worthles without pics, at least to amateurs like me. Sadly, much of my past work has remained undocumented. These are some of the procedures I'm proud to have successfully completed:

  • Valve adjustment
  • Steering pump leak repair (with silicone gel)
  • Fuel filter and fuel hose replacement
  • Various coolant leak repairs
  • Fix surging RPS at Idle caused by the throttle adjustment screw
  • Broken passenger's door actuator replacement
  • Turn signal switch diagnose and replacement
  • New driver's door lock cyliner, damaged by thieves who broke into the apartment's garage and stole the my gym bag along with a couple of cars
  • Door trim painting
  • Spark plug replacement
  • K&N air filter installation and cleaning
  • Oil change... duh!
  • New brake pads and rotors
  • OEM premium radio installation, dash repair
  • Replacement of various sensors
  • Other interior, exterior and engine-bay fixes, too many to enumerate

I have a 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee as well, the first car I ever owned (Yes, I got my driving license and first car at the age of 27, a late bloomer if you will). My wife drives it now. It doesn't get my whole love and I am not dabbling with the engine, the suspension or anything else beyond the "easy", but I'm still trying to keep it in decent shape.

Right wheel done! Right-side front door latch replacement


alex wetmore said...

Did you move someplace with a garage after returning from your travels?

I like to do basic maintanence on our car too, but major work is limited by how much I can get done while working on the sidewalk in front of our house. A garage would be handy, but I'd probably fill it with bike stuff and not be able to fit the car anyway.


Big Fat Rat said...

I bought a townhome in Fremont last August. It has a one-car garage, which is already too small, especially if I want to work on the Jeep; it barely fits in.

Still, a huge improvement from trying to work on the car in the shared underground garage of my apartment building in Capitol Hill - no place for tools, no electricity outlet, not enough light... I'm still surprised none of my neighbors complained to the management.