Philes’ Forum – Winter 2018


By Vic Lucariello, Sr.

Hello bimmerphiles! This time out I have a warning for those of you who change your own oil. I hope that is most of you.

But first… You will recall that I wrote a tribute to Trip Lee in my Spring column last year. It is with great regret that I proffer another tribute, this one to Al Drugos.

“Big Al” was how he referred to himself and what he liked to be called. But to me he will always be “Alphonse”, even though his given name was Albert. I don’t remember why I started calling him Alphonse, but I have been for a long time. In his later years, especially after his bypass surgery, although he was not as physically big and strong as he once was [he was still always threatening to kick my butt], he still had his big heart. Those who bothered to get to know him well will know what I mean.

Alphonse contributed greatly to the NJ Chapter for many years. He served as Vice President – Activities, where he was responsible for our monthly meetings. He also later served as Social Events Chair, where his main responsibility was our annual banquet. He also arranged for us to attend baseball games. But he is probably best remembered for working the Pit-Out position at our driver schools. Suffice it to say that Alphonse did not countenance any “prima donna” histrionics at Pit-Out.

Alphonse also served for years as a valued member of our driver- school Tech team. I suspect that some folks, knowing they had to face Alphonse, were better prepared than they otherwise would have been. See Photo #1.

Photo #1 – Big Al – Are You Prepared?

One afternoon some years ago, Alphonse and I were hanging out in my shop. I remember he was giving me a hard time because I like to keep my pickup truck [Heck, all my vehicles] indoors, and he felt that trucks should be kept outside because they are so big and because “It’s a truck, it belongs outside”. Okay, whatever.

He was also telling me, in referring to a mutual acquaintance, “Ya know, I have such great friends”. My response was, “Alphonse, you have great friends because you ARE a great friend”. Which indeed he was.

I guess what I loved most about Alphonse is that you always knew exactly where you stood with him. No two-faced politician was he. Alphonse, wherever you are, please stay out of trouble and don’t punch anyone out, even if he desperately deserves it.

Inveterate readers of Philes’ Forum know that I often preach about the importance of using a torque wrench to tighten the engine-oil-drain plug in your Bimmer. I also preach of the importance of replacing the drain-plug sealing ring [BMW now seems to be calling them “gasket ring”] every time the plug is removed. Well, these preachings seem to have taken on new importance.

For many years, Bimmers with aluminum-alloy oil pans had the drain plug in the side of the pan, right near the bottom. This design allowed for nice thread depth in the relatively soft aluminum and virtually all the oil drained out when the plug was removed. Some on the lunatic fringe, like Vic Jr. [The torch has indeed been passed, folks.], would actually jack the car up on a slight side-to-side angle so that every last drop of oil drained out, but with the side-plug design, this was not really necessary.

On some recent models, let’s say starting around 2010, BMW moved the pan-drain port to the bottom of the oil pan. This presented a problem in that providing sufficient thread depth in the aluminum pan would compromise the draining. BMW’s solution was to cut a “V”-notch in the drain-port threads such that the pan would more completely drain. See Photo #2. I am still investigating which engines have this “feature”, and I will follow-up in a future column. When you are draining your oil, please note if your pan has the “V”-notch and let me know. Out here in wild-West rural Colorado, I don’t get to see many Bimmers other than my own, and mine all have the side drain on the oil pan. Subarus, pickups and SUVs? The area has plenty.

Photo #2 – New Style Drain Port

The problem with this “V”-notch-drain-port design is that in my opinion the notch in the threads weakens them and makes them more likely to strip. If you do not renew the drain-plug gasket ring and if you overtighten the drain plug, the threads are even more likely to strip. As I have previously written, a quality aftermarket canister-type oil filter element will come with a new gasket ring as well as a new O-ring for the oil-filter-housing cap. If you buy your oil filter at a BMW dealer, it will come with the new O-ring but you will need to buy the gasket ring separately. Customer-friendly dealer parts counters, like BMW of Bridgewater’s, will include the gasket ring.

If the older-design, side-drain oil-pan threads were to strip, and this would rarely happen over the life of the vehicle if a new seal ring was always used and the plug was not overtightened, the drain-port threads could be repaired with a thread-repair device such as a Heli-Coil. However, if the drain port with the “V”-notch strips, the repair is not as straightforward. Indeed, many technicians on iATN, the International Automobile Technicians Network, recommend a new oil pan if a pan with the “V”-notch strips. Priced a new BMW oil pan lately?

To get another perspective on this, I contacted Matt Kimple, Service Manager at BMW of Bridgewater [908-287-1800]. Matt reports that he has had no problems with the “V”-notch pan design, provided a new gasket ring is used and provided that a torque wrench is used to tighten the drain plug. Matt and his technicians use the torque value prescribed by BMW – 25 newton -meters [n-m] – which is about 18.5 pound-feet. Matt cautions us not to exceed the 25 n-m torque setting.

A 3/8-inch-drive torque wrench works well in the 25 n-m range. The ½-inch-drive wrench you use [!] for your wheel fasteners is likely too big for 25 n-m and not likely to be accurate at 25 n-m, even if you could adjust it to that low a setting. You can pick up an inexpensive 3/8”-drive, click-type torque wrench at Harbor Freight Tools on sale for about $10. No need to buy a more expensive model for oil-pan-drain plugs. So, no excuses for your not having one. I have an array of torque wrenches ranging from the HFT one to a really nice one from Snap-on Tools. I have concluded that any torque wrench is better than no torque wrench. You can easily ballpark-check the accuracy of a torque wrench, but that is future Philes’ Forum fodder. Also, I think it is important to exercise any brand/price click-type torque wrench by setting it, then “clicking” it a few times on a test bolt held in a vise. You don’t want to find out that your wrench is sticking, not clicking, on your Bimmer’s oil-drain plug!

Much thanks for Matt for his numerous emails on this subject and for spending time with me on the phone. I have previously written that BMW of Bridgewater [formerly Hunterdon BMW] was my dealer of choice for many years, and even though I am in Colorado now, that is still the case.

That’s all for now, bimmerphiles. See you next time. And, Alphonse, I miss you, my friend.

Anyone wishing to contribute to Philes’ Forum can contact me at I’m interested in tech tips, repair / maintenance questions, repair horror stories, emissionsinspection sagas, product evaluations, etc.

© 2018; V.M. Lucariello, P.E.

Philes’ Forum – Winter 2017


“I changed my oil and now my Check Engine light is on! WTF?”

By Vic Lucariello, Sr.

Hello, bimmerphiles! Here we are commencing the 31st year of Philes’ Forum! Time surely flies, and surely the world, BMWs, and the BMW CCA have changed in the last 30 years. You decide what changes have been for better or worse. Judging by their ever-increasing sales numbers, BMW might be considered to be doing well. However, it is no accident that the newest BMW I own is a 1995 325is, which is not accused of being a less-reliable Lexus. Anyway, this time out I have an important tip for those of you bimmerphiles who change your own oil.

I hope this has never happened to you, or to your shop if you have your oil changed, but it has happened to both DIY bimmerphiles as well as auto-repair shops. A routine oil and filter change results in a newly illuminated “Check Engine” indication and, sometimes in addition, rough running of your Bavarian engineering masterpiece. The problem can occur immediately after the oil change or shortly thereafter. Scanning the DME [BMW-speak for the engine-control computer; anyone know what “DME” stands for?] results in diagnostic trouble codes [DTCs] related to the engine VANOS system.

What is VANOS?, you ask. VANOS is BMW’s term for their variable-valve-timing [VVT] system, which was introduced on U.S.-spec models in the early ‘90s. Other manufacturers have their own versions. The first VANOS were applied to intake camshafts only, while later VANOS control both the intake and exhaust camshafts. Hot-rodders and engine designers have been wrestling with valve timing for more than 100 years. Valve timing, which refers to when the intake and exhaust valves open and close with respect to piston position, determines the “character” of an engine. For example, closing the intake valve later produces more high-RPM power while closing it earlier produces more low-RPM torque. A VVT system can vary the valve timing with RPM and load to produce an engine with both low-RPM torque and high RPM power with better fuel economy and reduced exhaust emissions. Pretty cool if ya ask me. But of course, there are downsides.

Most VVT systems are hydraulically operated using oil tapped off of the engine’s lubrication system. VANOS is no exception. So any manufacturer’s VVT needs clean oil of the proper viscosity and at the correct pressure. VVT also requires sensors, solenoids and engine-computer software to monitor how well the VVT is functioning. On recent BMWs, the DME not only monitors if the camshafts, and hence the valves, are at their commanded positions but also how quickly they change position when commanded to do so. So you can see how dirty oil, oil of the incorrect viscosity or oil at the wrong pressure can cause VVT malfunctions.

And that [finally] brings us to this month’s topic: How to avoid causing your “Check Engine” light to come on simply by doing an oil and filter change. Beginning with the N52 six-cylinders that appeared in the E60 5-Series more than 10 years ago, one must be very careful, when removing the oil filter, not to break the filter cap/inner-cage assembly such that the filter cage remains in and is discarded with the old oil filter. The cap and cage [see Photo #1, courtesy of Ron Gemeinhardt] come as an assembly, so if the cage breaks off, one must buy the whole thing. My understanding of what happens when the new filter is installed without the cage is that unfiltered oil at a reduced pressure is supplied to the engine and therefore the VANOS. The VANOS solenoids that supply oil to the VANOS system have screens at their inlets and these screens can become obstructed when supplied with unfiltered oil. Low oil pressure just exacerbates the situation.

So how do you minimize the possibility of breaking the cage off the filter cap? Tech worker Doug Feigel suggests that, after unscrewing the filter cap, pull the cap/cage/filter straight up; don’t wiggle it side-to-side or cock it in an attempt to dislodge the filter. Or, as engineer Doug puts it, “Remove the cap/filter/ cage in a linear fashion”. Doug also suggests the following:

  • The new oil filter should come with a new o-ring for the filter cap. Be sure to install this o-ring in the provided groove in the cap, not above the groove flush against the cap shoulder. [Vic adds that the new o-ring should receive a coating of clean engine oil after the o-ring is happily ensconced in its groove.]
  • Don’t over- or under-tighten the oil-filter cap. There is a special 3/8–inch drive cap wrench that you should procure if you are changing BMW oil filters. The 3/8-inch drive allows you to use your torque wrench to tighten properly the filter cap to 25 newton-meters [about 18.5 lb-ft]. [Vic: You have the torque wrench out already for the oil-pan plug, RIGHT?]
Photo #1 – Oil Filter Cap And Cage, courtesy of Ron Gemeinhardt

I would like to thank Doug, Tech worker and Chapter Treasurer Ron Gemeinhardt, and Matt Kimple, Service Manager at BMW of Bridgewater, for consulting with me on this column. Matt provided me with a copy of BMW’s service bulletin pertaining to this problem.

BMW of Bridgewater [formerly Hunterdon BMW and before that Foreign Cars of Hunterdon] is located at 655 Rt. 202/206. 888- 928-4089. Prior to my leaving New Jersey, they were my dealer of choice for more than 30 years. When you are there, say Hi to Matt for me.

That’s all for now, bimmerphiles. See you next time. Anyone wishing to contribute to Philes’ Forum can contact me at I’m interested in tech tips, repair / maintenance questions, repair horror stories, emissionsinspection sagas, product evaluations, etc.

© 2017; V.M. Lucariello, P.E.

Related Articles - Philes' Forum