Philes’ Forum – Summer 2020


By Vic Lucariello, Sr

Last time we talked about brake-system bleeding and brake-fluid flushing and the purpose of each. Bleeding is intended to remove any air or other gas bubbles from the hydraulic system, while flushing is done to replace old, contaminated brake fluid with fresh new fluid. Of course, a good flush will tend to remove any entrained gasses. Air or gas bubbles in your brake [or clutch] system can cause a low, “spongy” pedal, while contaminated fluid, in addition to fomenting corrosion, can boil under severe-use conditions and cause……………a low, “spongy” brake pedal. Generally speaking, when all is said and done, the main difference between brake
bleeding and brake-fluid flushing is the amount of fluid put through the system.

There are several methods of bleeding brakes and changing brake fluid, and some methods may be better than others for problem situations. With one
exception, all the methods we will talk about involve fluid movement from the master cylinder, down to the calipers and out of the system via the bleeder screws. In the case of brake bleeding, the idea is that any air will be expelled with the discharged fluid. I guess the various methods can be categorized as “pressure” or “vacuum”. Let’s begin with vacuum.

Before we begin, note that regardless of what method you use, you should be capturing all expelled brake fluid in a suitable container via a piece of
tubing attached to the bleeder screw. I always use clear-vinyl tubing so that I can observe the color of the expelled fluid as well as any bubbles. Suitable vinyl tubing can be had at any hardware store. Brake fluid handily removes most paints. And, trust me on this, you definitely do not want to get brake fluid in your eyes! So, eye protection is required, as it is for just about any work on your car.

Vacuum bleeding/flushing involves applying suction to the caliper-bleeder screws. This can be accomplished with a Vacula or Mityvac shop-air powered “brake bleeder”, or with a simple hand pump as shown in Photo #1. This particular hand pump is by Phoenix Systems, and it is suitable for both “normal” and “reverse” bleeding [more on this later]. While the air-powered vacuum bleeders are faster, the hand pump works just as well.

Although vacuum bleeding/flushing is popular with many folks and is relatively fast to set up, there are a couple of disadvantages to it in my opinion. I guess what bothers me most is that, being that suction is applied to the bleeder screw, you can get fugitive air sucked in around the bleeder-screw threads, and you can’t tell if this air is coming from the brake system or sneaking around the bleeder screw. You can minimize the amount of fugitive air by wrapping the bleeder-screw threads in Teflon tape. However,
be SURE to keep the tape off of the tapered seat on the bleeder screw. Photo #2 depicts a bleeder screw wrapped in Teflon tape. Teflon tape comes in different qualities and thicknesses. The thin, good quality stuff is what I prefer.

A purported advantage of the vacuum method is that it tends to enlarge any bubbles in the system, thereby making them easier to entrain and remove. This sounds quite reasonable to me.

Vacuum bleeding/flushing is generally a bit slower than pressure bleeding [more on this later], and usually vacuum bleeding can only be applied to one bleeder screw at a time. Moreover, one needs to keep close watch on the brake-fluid-reservoir level [this applies to some other methods as well] to ensure that it does not empty and introduce air into the brake system.

Pressure bleeding/flushing can be sub-divided into several categories: gravity, pump-the-pedal [P-T-P], and external pressure. In the gravity method, one simply opens one or more bleeder screws and allows fluid to flow from the system. The gravity method is perhaps the slowest of all the methods I know of, and in some cases, depending upon the arrangement of the system and how long the brake lines are, one may get little or no brake-fluid flow from one or more bleeder screws, especially the rears. Also, being that this method is relatively slow, one may tend to get impatient and walk away, perhaps forgetting to keep an eye on the all-important brake -fluid-reservoir level. I once did a survey of professional shops specializing in BMWs and some shops claimed to use gravity bleeding/flushing.

That brings us to pumping the brake pedal. In this very popular [in the DIY set] method, one has an assistant pump the brake pedal, then hold foot pressure on it while the bleeder screws are opened one at a time. The pumping action of the master cylinder is used to expel fluid and any entrained gas. Then [hopefully] after the bleeder screw is re- closed, the assistant releases the brake pedal and the sequence is repeated…..over….and…… over……..and, well, you get the picture. Any of you who has spent any time in repair shops or track garages has undoubtedly heard the “Pump it up…..Hoooold it….OK” litany. One of my first jobs when I began working in the corner “gas station” lo those decades ago was to be the P-T-P assistant. And that reminds me of one of the disadvantages of the P-T-P method.

When doing the ol’ P-T-P routine, your assistant has to be very careful not to release the brake pedal before you say “OK”. [Of course, you need to be very careful not to say “OK” until you have closed the dang bleeder screw.] If the pedal is released before the bleeder screw is closed, the system will suck in a nice shot of air. In this august, family- oriented publication, I cannot repeat what ol’ ‘Pino Cocuzzo said to me in that Gulf station the first time I took my foot off the brake pedal too soon.

Speaking of less-than-competent assistants, I’ll never forget the time I was bleeding the brakes on my hotrod in an effort to alleviate a spongy brake pedal. I must have repeated the “Pump it – hold it” litany for 15 minutes [at least it seemed that long] with no success before I realized that my assistant was depressing the CLUTCH pedal [no mean feat on my hotrod!].

Assistant incompetence aside, my main concerns regarding P-T-P bleeding/flushing are that it takes quite a while, and many pedal cycles, to pump a liter of fluid through the system, and that the master-cylinder’s piston seals are dragged repeatedly over areas in the master-cylinder bore that they normally do not contact. In uncommon cases [perhaps more likely with older, cast-iron-body master cylinders], this can cause the master cylinder to fail. Yes, this has happened to me. Of course, one needs to keep close watch on the fluid level when using the P-T-P method. And a closer watch on the assistant!

The P-T-P method does have one great advantage over the other methods we are talking about. Even moderate foot pressure on a brake pedal can produce 1000 psi [pounds per square inch] pressure in the brake system. To put that in perspective, the pressure provided by a common pressure bleeder [more on this later] is only about 20 psi. Opening a bleeder screw with 1000 psi behind it results in a high-velocity jet of brake fluid, and this high velocity can sometimes expel a recalcitrant air bubble that has resisted other methods of brake bleeding. I rarely have to resort to P-T-P when bleeding a brake system. And of course, when you are doing a simple fluid flush, there should be no air in the system to begin with.

That brings us to external-pressure bleeding/flushing and unfortunately to the end of Philes’ Forum for this time. See you next time, Bimmerphiles. Anyone wishing to contribute to Philes’ Forum can contact me at I’m interested in tech tips, repair/maintenance questions, repair horror stories, emissions-inspection sagas, product evaluations, etc.

Philes’ Forum – Spring 2020


By Vic Lucariello, Sr.

Hello, Bimmerphiles! Pursuant to a number of recent inquiries, this time out I am going to talk about brake fluid flushing and brake bleeding. What, you say, they are the same thing? Ahhh, read on…..

The hydraulic brakes found on any modern passenger car depend upon a principle of hydrostatics that pretty much states that the pressure in a hydraulic system under static [non-flowing] conditions is the same throughout the system [given no elevation changes]. So when you step on your brake pedal and pressurize the brake fluid in the brake master cylinder to, say, 1000 psi [pounds per square inch], this same 1000 psi pressure is applied equally to each of the brake calipers via small pipes that connect the master cylinder to the calipers via the ABS module, thereby applying the 4 brakes. This might sound pretty simple, but the adoption of hydraulic brakes in the 1920s was one of the most significant advances in the development of motor vehicles. Some manufacturers, like Ford, resisted the adoption of hydraulic brakes, continuing to rely on mechanical brakes with their system of levers and linkages under the car.

An important factor in the performance of hydraulic brakes is the incompressibility of the brake fluid between the master cylinder and calipers. Most liquids are virtually incompressible, at least at room temperature, while gasses, such as air or steam, are quite compressible. Hence if you have any gas bubbles in your brake system, the result will be a “spongy”, or soft, low brake pedal. Or in an extreme case, a brake pedal that goes to the floor. Depending upon where in the system the gas is, it can also cause the vehicle to veer right or left while the brakes are being applied.\

How does air get into a brake system? While in rare cases, air can sneak in through a bad master-cylinder or caliperpiston seal, air mostly enters systems when a component is disconnected for repair or replacement. Regardless of how air has entered a system, the procedure known as “bleeding the brakes” is intended to remove said air.

As a side note, brake calipers are in many cases physically interchangeable side-to-side. However, if a caliper is installed on the wrong side, usually the bleeder screw is in the wrong location. This makes bleeding the brakes either extremely difficult or impossible. I have read reports that professional technicians have made this mistake.

The polyglycol-based DOT 3, DOT 4 and DOT 5.1 brake fluids found in virtually all cars today are hygroscopic, meaning that they have an affinity for and tend to absorb moisture. A typical DOT 4-rated brake fluid still in the can might have a boiling point of about 500 degrees Fahrenheit, while water of course boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. As you might expect, a mixture of the two will have a boiling point below 500 degrees Fahrenheit. According to a graph in Brake Handbook, by Fred Puhn [HP Books, 1985], a typical brake fluid will boil at only about 350 degrees Fahrenheit after it has been contaminated by only 1% water. According to another graph in this same book, this 100 degrees Fahrenheit reduction in boiling point will occur before the brake fluid has been in service for 6 months. My own brake fluid-boiling-point data, collected for more than a decade now, suggests that a 100 degrees Fahrenheit drop in boiling point in only 6 months would be quite unusual. In fact, I have never seen new fluid degrade that much in 6 months.

How does this moisture get into the brake fluid? Mainly through the vent in the master-cylinder-reservoir cap. [Some cars have a “rubber” diaphragm under the cap to minimize contact of the brake fluid with air.] Some say that a lesser amount gains entry through the brake hoses via osmosis. Regardless of its point of entry or method of entry, moisture does infuse the brake fluid, and this is a bad thing.

Although water in the brake fluid foments corrosion of ferrous components in the brake system, for performance driving [or driving in hilly terrain] the boiling-point suppression is by far the more diabolic villain. When the brakes get hot enough to exceed the boiling point of the brake fluid, gas pockets begin to form in the calipers and brake lines. Remember: gas is compressible. Although you might get a warning in the form of a “spongy” brake pedal, in some cases the driver’s first inkling that something is wrong is that the brake pedal goes to the floor! Then, assuming you don’t crash in the interim, after the brakes cool and the gasses condense back into liquid, the brake pedal is magically restored – until the next time the brakes get hot…………

Obviously, the only way to keep your brake fluid at or near its rated boiling point is to flush out frequently the old fluid and replace it with new, quality fluid from a sealed container.

So there you have the difference: Brake bleeding is intended to remove entrained air from the brake system while brake fluid flushing is intended to replace contaminated fluid with new fluid. In many cases, such as the replacement of a caliper or brake hose, the brake bleeding procedure only involves expelling a few CCs of fluid from one caliper – just enough to get the air out. Proper fluid flushing, on the other hand, will require putting at least a liter of new fluid through the system; and of course opening up all the bleeder screws. So, as part of your driver-school-car-prep regimen or normal brake maintenance, you need to flush out the brake fluid,not merely “bleed the brakes”. Some shops, if you bring in the car and ask them to “bleed the brakes”, will do just that: bleed the brakes. The fact that you are not getting a fluid flush won’t be their fault, either.

If you have a shop do your brake fluid flushing, I recommend that you bring the brake fluid of your choice in an unopened 1-liter container and tell them you want the entire contents put through the system. A labor charge of 45 minutes to an hour is appropriate.

What methods are available for flushing fluid and bleeding brakes? I’m glad you asked. More on this 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, emissions-inspection sagas, product evaluations, etc.

Copyright 2020; V.M. Lucariello, P.E.

Philes’ Forum – Winter 2020


By Vic Lucariello, Sr

Hello Bimmerphiles! This time out I have a great tech tip from bimmerphile Carl Francolini and some thoughts on battery maintainers.

Inveterate Philes’ reader and correspondent Carl recently bought a 2008 [E60] 528i and he experienced some problems with the iDrive controller knob. Carl reported that knob would intermittently not allow the downward push input that is a menu -selection input. Other than that, all the other iDrive functions seemed to be normal.

Now I am neither a fan of nor expert with iDrive, but it is an efficient means of providing multiple functions to the driver and passenger with a minimum of old-fashioned pushbuttons, which consume a lot of valuable and expensive instrument-panel space. A great advantage of iDrive is that it is operable with a gloved hand. Not so for the plethora of pushbuttons and selector switches that would be required to duplicate all the functions of iDrive. While to some inveterate, hard-core bimmerphiles iDrive may seem to be a new-fangled feature, BMW has been using it for two decades!

Photo #1 – iDrive, circa 2008

Anyway, other than suggesting to Carl that a common cause of iDrive problems is spilled beverage that invades the controller via the iDrive-knob shaft, I couldn’t be of much help to him. I had heard of iDrive problems where the system did not respond to downward movement of the control knob, but never where the knob refused to move down.

A few days later, Carl reported that he had solved the problem! It seems that he was using a USB cable plugged into the port in the console, and that occasionally the cable would slip under the iDrive knob and impede its downward motion. Carl said that he was embarrassed to report this simple fix, but I don’t think any embarrassment is warranted. Given the proliferation of USB- connected devices and USB ports in vehicles nowadays, I’ll bet Carl is not the first to experience the problem.

Much thanks to Carl for sharing his experience with Philes’ readers.

Anyone who has read Philes’ for any length of time knows that for decades I have been a fan of and user of battery maintainers. During a quick jaunt around the shop, storage container and enclosed trailer, I stopped counting battery maintainers after around 15! No, I am not Jay Leno and I am not making this up!

The maintainers vary from the more expensive CTEK and BMW [Battery Tender] units to the less expensive Harbor Freight and Morange models. Heck, I even have a few from J. C. Whitney and one from Walmart! Some of the maintainers, such as the CTEK and VDC Electronics models, purport to recondition batteries by removing or reducing sulfation. My testing suggests that there might even be some merit to these claims. Of all the maintainers I have used over the years, only one, a Black and Decker, failed to operate properly. Whether this a generic flaw or a fault of my particular unit I don’t know. The B&D did have a nice AC cord and battery leads, though, which I snipped off and kept prior to disposing of the unit.

My sojourn through the realm of battery maintainers began in the early 1970s when I stopped driving my hotrod as frequently as I wanted to. When I did find the time to take the old girl out, many times I would find the battery dead or severely discharged.

[You probably know that one of the best ways of significantly decreasing the life of a lead-acid battery is to let it sit in a discharged state. You probably also know that “jump-starting” a car and driving it around will not fully recharge the battery. BUT it may cook your alternator.]

This was before battery maintainers became popular. Indeed, if they existed I was unaware of it. So, I tried connecting a “trickle charger” [very low amperage charger] to the hotrod battery. This served to overcharge the battery after a couple weeks and boil away the electrolyte. This is another good way to ruin a battery, probably even more efficacious than letting it sit while discharged.

My next approach was to connect the trickle charger to a timer such that the charger only charged the battery for an hour or so every day. This achieved a modicum of success, but one had to be careful with the charger on-time so as not to overcharge the battery. What was needed was a trickle charger that was smart enough to sense the battery state of charge and shut off at full charge; resuming charging when the battery needed it. Enter the battery maintainer.

If you have a modern vehicle that sits for more than a few days at a time, my experience suggests that using a battery maintainer can significantly extend the life of the battery. Here are some factors to consider when selecting a battery maintainer:

  • The length and quality of the AC cord [if equipped] and the battery leads. A maintainer with a metal housing should have a 3-prong AC plug.
  • The quality of the clips that connect to the battery terminals.
  • Whether the maintainer has multiple options and leads for connecting to the vehicle.
  • If the maintainer has a fuse in its positive battery lead.
  • If the maintainer has reverse-polarity protection. My J.C. Whitney maintainers do NOT have this protection. See below.
  • The charging capacity of the maintainer. Some maintainers will recharge a discharged battery [albeit over a couple days] while others should not be used on a discharged battery.
  • Whether the maintainer has indication[s] of what it is doing. The CTEK is probably the best in this regard, while the JCW maintainers have no indication, except they let you know of reverse polarity by letting their smoke out!
  • Whether the maintainer draws battery current and discharges the battery if the maintainer’s AC power is interrupted.
  • Whether the maintainer’s leads spark when being connected to the battery.
  • Whether the maintainer is suitable for use with an AGM- type battery.
  • Warranty.

That should be enough to get you thinking about battery maintainers. If you would like more detail, email me, and I will write a follow-up column where I describe the features of the various maintainers in service here at NJ Chapter West/ Rocky Mountain Chapter South. Anyone wishing to contribute to Philes’ Forum can contact me at I’m interested in comments, tech tips, repair /maintenance questions, repair horror stories, emissionsinspection sagas, product evaluations, etc.

© 2020; V.M. Lucariello, P.E.

Philes’ Forum – Fall 2019


By Vic Lucariello, Sr.

Hello Bimmerphiles! Happy Holidays to you as Philes’ Forum completes 32 years of publication in the Bulletin. [Congratulations! – Jerry] The introductory column appeared in the January, 1987 issue.

This time out I have a cost-saving procedure for you frugal E36 [92-99 3-series] owners.

When replacing the cabin filter in an E36 Bimmer, first, the glovebox must be removed, and the first step in glovebox removal is to remove and unplug the glovebox lamp. When going after the cabin filter on our 1995 325is, I noticed that the lamp was not working, so I thought I would address this at the same time.

Removing the glovebox lamp is easy. Pry out the lamp from the glovebox roof with a small screwdriver inserted into the forward end of the lamp. Even a simple bulb change requires removal of the lamp assembly.

While most reasonable folks would try replacing the bulb as their first diagnostic/repair step, being that I had to remove the bulb to replace it, and being that most reasonable folks [except Vic Jr.] describe me charitably as not-reasonable, I tested the removed bulb. This can be done with an inexpensive multimeter, such as the Harbor Freight multimeter shown in Photo #1. An incandescent bulb such as shown should test at a low resistance with the multimeter set on the low-ohms scale. As you might expect, a bad bulb usually tests as an open circuit [very high or infinite resistance]. In this case, the bulb tested good, and applying 12 volts across it as a double check caused it to illuminate.

Photo #1 – Checking the bulb

Okay, if it ain’t the bulb, what is the problem? The E36 glovebox -lamp circuit is one of the simplest in all of automotivedom. Believe it or not, no expensive “smart” modules are involved on non-convertibles. Fused power [Fuse #44 on non-convertibles] from the Accessory Bus is supplied to the lamp on one wire, while the second wire provides a ground. A switch in the lamp assembly controls when the bulb is on or off. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

After determining that the bulb was good, my next step was to put the ignition switch in Position 1 [Accessory] and connect a test lamp across the power and ground contacts in the still- connected glovebox lamp. See Photo #2. The test lamp illuminated, proving both the power supply and ground legs of the circuit with one simple test. [Electric Troubleshooting 101 tells us that any electric circuit needs both power and ground (i.e., a complete circuit) in order to work. ET-101 also insists that a test lamp be checked by placing it across a known-good 12 -v source prior to doing any testing. Trust me: This is very important. Anyone who has wasted time testing only to find out the test lamp is NFG will testify to this.] Note that most incandescent-bulb test lamps are not polarity sensitive in that they will illuminate regardless of whether their probe or “ground” wire is connected to the hot leg of the circuit. Note also that if this test had not resulted in an illuminated test lamp, my next stop would be the fuse. Now things were getting interesting and worth writing about! Power and ground to the lamp were good and the bulb was good. WTF?? The problem had to be within the lamp assembly.

Photo #2 – Checking power and ground

At this point most reasonable folks would simply call their BMW dealer and order a new glovebox lamp. [Are you seeing a pattern here?] It is part number 63-31-8-360-027, and costs about $12, but will very likely need to be ordered. The same lamp is listed for virtually every E36, but the lamp is unique to E36s. The original part number has been superseded, and based on the following I am guessing that the present part has better switch contacts than the original. By the way, should you need a new bulb for the lamp it is part number 63-21-7-100-805.

Frugal cheapskate that I am, I traced the circuit within the lamp and determined that its internal switch was not completing the bulb circuit when the switch sensed that the glovebox door was open. Closer examination of the switch under magnification did not suggest any broken parts, and manipulating the switch’s sensing lever revealed that the switch contacts were opening and closing as designed. Again: WTF??

I cut some 400-grit color-sanding paper into thin strips. I was able to sneak the paper between the switch contacts as shown in Photo #3. In the photo, the arrow points to the 400-grit paper. A few swipes with the paper, reversing it to get at both contact surfaces, and I was ready to find out if all this effort was fruitful. I put the ignition key into Position 1 [Accessory], plugged the lamp back into its cable and vedi!, the bulb illuminated! Moreover, manipulating the switch lever caused the bulb to go on and off as it was supposed to. I concluded that the switch contacts had gotten dirty over the past 25 years, despite not having been operated very many times. So I reinstalled the lamp and patted myself on the back for saving, ahh, $12. But I wish that replacing that dang cabin filter had been this easy!

Photo #3 – Cleaning the Switch Contacts to Save $12

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 comments, tech tips, repair /maintenance questions, repair horror stories, emissionsinspection sagas, product evaluations, etc.

© 2019; V.M. Lucariello, P.E

Philes’ Forum – Summer 2019


By Vic Lucariello, Sr.

Hello Bimmerphiles! Before we get to the sputtering saga, I need to correct an error I made in my last column, which addressed M3/S14 cooling-system flushing. I transposed Photos 3 and 4, and a vast multitude of you emailed to excoriate me for the error, which I apologize for. Heck, Editor Faber even docked my pay!

For years, Joanne and I had an 86 325e 4-door which we dearly loved. Texas car bought from the original owner. It carried us on several round trips to Colorado, a trip to Boston, and another to South Carolina. All without missing a beat and while returning 30 miles per gallon on the highway. So, when it began “hiccupping” when hitting significant bumps, I was surprised. The hiccup devolved to a “sputtering”, and then to an occasional temporary no- crank situation when hot.

During the symptoms’ devolution, I checked out the electrical system numerous times, doing voltage-drop testing of the power supply and grounds. Due to the intermittent nature of the symptoms, they were never present when I did my testing, and as you might expect, I never found anything remotely problematic. The symptoms, including the hiccup and sputter, seemed electrical in nature, yet the battery and alternator tested good, and my voltage-drop testing never revealed the source of the problem. I had previously encountered batteries that tested good yet caused strange electrical symptoms, so I switched batteries with my M3. While changing batteries, I cleaned the battery posts and terminals, and removed and cleaned the engine-ground- strap connections and the battery-ground-strap connection in the luggage compartment. These connections are the first things to check in electrical troubleshooting. The problem persisted. As the symptoms began to appear more frequently, I even disconnected the alternator and drove the car, but the problem remained. In some cases, a failing alternator can cause strange electrical problems such as I was encountering. By the way, the newer the car model, the more likely this is.

Finally – and luckily – as I was pulling into my Mom’s driveway, the beloved old E30 sputtered, then quit. There seemed to be no electrical power in the car. “Ah-Hah”, I cried! With the car dead it should be easy to find the problem! Alas, by the time I broke out some test meters, which by now I was carrying with me, the car started fine and ran normally. WTF?

It was finally time to break out the BMW ETM, or Electrical Troubleshooting Manual, which has schematics for every electrical circuit on the car. The schematic shows a separate feed from the battery to the engine-control computer [DME in BMW-speak], but all other power other than the starter motor’s travels on a single wire from an underhood junction with the battery cable to the underhood fuse box.


After disconnecting the battery in the luggage compartment, I first checked the fuse-box-power-supply [FBPS] wire’s connection at the underhood junction with the battery cable. The connection seemed clean and tight, but I disconnected it and cleaned it with a fine Scotch-Brite pad. Finding the other end of the FBPS wire is not so easy, so rather than major surgery, I tried the following.

To gain access to the FBPS connection to the fuse box, you would really need to disassemble it, but there is a little trick that sometimes suffices. First, remove relays K3, K4, K7 and K8. The relay identifications are indicated on the fuse-box cover. Doing this is greatly facilitated with a relay-pulling pliers. See Photo #1. An internet search for “Bosch Relay Pliers” will reveal several sources for this handy tool, which you shouldn’t work on BMWs without.

Photo #1 – Relay Pulling Pliers

Once the relays are removed, Photo #2 shows the top end of the FBPS connection with a 4-mm hex bit installed in it.

Photo #2 – Checking The Fuse Box Power Supply

Note that the hex bit is a ¼-inch drive! You don’t want to use anything larger for this. Trust me. You can also use a 4 -mm “Allen Wrench”. I tried both the hex bit and the Allen, and the hex bit is preferable. See if you can tighten the FBPS connection a bit. If not, loosen it slightly and then retighten. Repeat a couple times.

After I tried this on our beloved E30, I was not sure I had accomplished anything, so I connected a couple digital multimeters, one with max-min-record capability, to two wires in the under-dash harness that I felt would be good to monitor when the symptom recurred. One was the power supply to the ignition switch, fed by the FBPS wire, by the way. The other was the ignition switch “RUN” output. I thought this would capture an intermittent ignition-switch problem, which would be consistent with the symptoms.

Well, as you might expect, now that I was poised to capture the problem, it never recurred! So I have to conclude that my manipulation of the FBPS connection was the “Fix.” It’s probably a good idea to check your E30s FBPS connection whether it needs it or not. I know I checked my M3’s!

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 comments, tech tips, repair /maintenance questions, repair horror stories, emissions inspection sagas, product evaluations, etc.

© 2019; V.M. Lucariello, P.E.

Philes’ Forum – Spring 2019


By Vic Lucariello, Sr.

Hello Bimmerphiles! This time out I have a couple follow-ups to recent Philes’ Forums, the That Ain’t What It’s For [Spring 2018] column and the Coolant Schmoolant [Summer 2018] column. Archived files of these newsletters can be found at our website

In That Ain’t What It’s For, I wrote about the under-dash OBD II diagnostic connector [See Photo #1] and how I, along with some respected, experienced BMW techs, do not recommend using the OBD II connector to supply auxiliary battery power to your Bimmer while changing batteries.

Photo #1 – OBD-II Diagnostic Connector

Well, a recent thread on iATN [The International Automobile Technicians Forum] presented an example of why. On some BMW models, use of the OBD II port for auxiliary battery power can result in a blown fuse, one that supplies the instrument cluster.

In Coolant Schmoolant, I wrote about the different types of automotive coolant available today, and that it is very important not to mix coolant types. I also offered to write a follow-up on cooling-system flushing.

Well, to the hundreds of you who emailed to ask for said follow-up and who have been waiting with breath abated, here it is.

Photo #2 – The Sneaky One

This description applies specifically to the E30 M3, but is applicable to Bimmers with engine-block-drain plugs and without electric coolant pumps. BMW has seen fit to eliminate block drains on some later models. On electric-coolant-pump models, a special procedure is required to bleed the air out of the cooling system after it has been drained and refilled. I’ll save that for a future column [A follow-up to a follow-up?].

The S14 Motorsport engine in the E30 M3 has a plethora of small coolant hoses in addition to the normal radiator and heater hoses. Given an OE coolant-hose life of about 15 years, or according to the Roundel’s Mike Miller’s Lifetime Maintenance Schedule, 120,000 to 150,000 miles, your M3 either has new coolant hoses or it needs them.

Since the S14 radiator, thermostat and heater hoses are straightforward, I will focus on the hoses more likely to be overlooked, particularly one sneaky bugger.

BMW provided a self-bleeding cooling system on the S14. [On some other E30s, along with E36s, E46s, et al, there are coolant bleed valves that need to be opened to expel trapped air.] On the left side of the S14 cylinder head near the front is a little hose [the sneaky one, see Photo #2] that connects to a tube that runs to the rear of the cylinder head. This tube connects to another hose [Photo #3] which attaches to the coolant-expansion tank. A second bleed hose [Photo #4] connects to the top radiator tank. This hose connects to yet another tube that runs along the right side of the engine compartment, leading to yet another hose [Photo #5]. The sneaky hose connected to the cylinder head and its cousin connected to the radiator are subject to full engine operating temperature, the same as is the upper radiator hose. The hoses connected to the coolant- expansion tank are subject to almost this same temperature. So, changing the radiator hoses, a common maintenance procedure, without changing the coolant-bleed hoses is, to me, rather foolish.

Photo #3 – Sneaky’s Connection at Expansion Tank

Mike Miller recommends a two-year coolant-maintenance cycle and the use of BMW OE coolant and distilled water. While my experience suggests that two years may be on the conservative side depending upon how much you use your Bimmer, I recommend the use of BMW coolant and distilled or deionized water, and said so in Coolant Schmoolant.

The following is the flush procedure I have developed over the years and use on my personal Bimmers. You may think that this procedure is on the lunatic fringe, and you may be right. If so, you can skip the flushing part and simply drain the radiator AND ENGINE BLOCK and refill the system with a 50-50 mixture of BMW coolant and distilled or deionized water. This alone will be much better than what is done at some professional car-repair facilities.

Photo #4 – Radiator-Bleed Hose

I start with a cool engine and by setting the heater-temperature control to full hot and removing the radiator and engine-block drain plugs. On the S14 and many other Bimmers, the block drain is a 19-mm hex located behind the exhaust manifold. I use a flex socket and long extension to remove the block-drain plug, and a magnetic socket insert works even better. Coincidentally, as I was composing this today I received an email from our Webmaster and recent Champ Series winner Colin Vozeh stating that he, too, uses a long extension and flex socket on the drain plug.

Photo #5 – Radiator-Bleed Connection To Expansion Tank

When you remove the block drain, be sure to capture the drain- plug sealing ring. Sometimes it remains on the drain plug, sometimes it falls to the floor, and sometimes it remains stuck to the engine block. You do not want to re-use this sealing ring, but you definitely want to ensure that it has not remained stuck to the block.

What I do next is install a special drain fitting to the block-drain port. [See Photo #6.] I made this fitting by drilling and tapping a spare drain plug with 1/8 NPT threads and installing a 45-degree street elbow and a drain cock with a hose connection. I connect a clear hose to the closed drain cock. The 45-degree street elbow is not mandatory, but it makes life a lot easier.

Photo #6 – Custom Flush Fitting

Next I pour in distilled water until the water draining from the still-open radiator drain runs clear, then I close the radiator drain and continue filling the system completely.

Next I start the engine and quickly open the drain cock on the block drain. I let the engine idle and continuously pour in distilled water, keeping the expansion tank full, until the fluid escaping the block drain runs clear, then I shut the engine off. Note that you do not want to let the engine warm up, and by continuously pouring in distilled water, it won’t.

Then I open the radiator drain and let everything drain out, after which I reinstall the block-drain plug [the exhaust manifold will be hot, so you may want to let it cool a bit] with a new sealing ring and close the radiator drain.

I installed a gallon of BMW coolant [you can use 4 ½ – 5 quarts on the S14 if you prefer] and finished filling with distilled water and 8 ounces of Redline Water Wetter. After warming up the engine, driving the M3 and letting things cool to ambient, I checked the coolant concentration with my refractometer and it came out to 48%, pretty close to the desired 50% if ya ask me. I had to add a few more ounces of coolant to get the level in the expansion tank to the Cold-Fill level.

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 comments, tech tips, repair /maintenance questions, repair horror stories, emissionsinspection sagas, product evaluations, etc.

© 2019; V.M. Lucariello, P.E.

Philes’ Forum – Winter 2019


By Vic Lucariello, Sr.

Hello Bimmerphiles! This time out I have a follow-up to my last column on AGM [Absorbent Glass Mat] batteries and an AGM-conversion story on my E30 M3. But first, a correction.

In the last Philes Forum, I reported that Odyssey Battery tells us the maximum operating temperature for their PC1200 AGM battery is 113F. I wrote that 113F is clearly above underhood operating temperatures. I meant to say that 113F is below underhood operating temperatures, so a PC1200 might not be suitable for an engine-compartment-mounted battery. I was inundated with a veritable Colorado Blizzard of emails taking me to task for this error. Hey, in 32 years of writing Philes’, this was my first error. NOT!

As part of the preparation for my last column, I also contacted another AGM-battery manufacturer, Optima. These batteries, with their distinctive cylindrical-shaped cells, are quite popular with racers. Optima says that their red-top automotive AGM batteries have a maximum operating temperature of 125F. Same ballpark as for the Odysseys.

After my successful AGM-battery installations in my hotrod and in Joanne’s 1995 [E36] 325is, I decided to put one in my E30 M3. [A disadvantage of having multiple vehicles is that one of them seemingly always needs a battery or tires. This time, three of them needed a battery.]

Given that the M3 is a 4-cylinder, I reasoned that it should not need as large and powerful a battery as does the six-cylinder 325is, so I selected an Odyssey Extreme PC925MJT. The Interstate MTP-91 battery I removed is rated at 700 CCA [Cold Cranking Amps] while the PC925MJT is rated at only 330 CCA. The MJ stands for metal jacket, not really necessary in this trunk -mount application. The T stands for traditional SAE top battery posts. Without the “T”, you don’t get battery posts, so keep this in mind. A PC925 is somewhat less expensive than a “MJ” or “T”, and I believe some Internet vendors might be taking advantage of this. Other reasons for selecting PC925MJT are that it precisely fits the width of the “plastic” battery tray in the M3 [same tray for all the trunk-mount-battery E30s] and it is about 13 pounds lighter than the Interstate. My M3 is a street-only ride, but for a track-driven car 13 pounds is a LOT of weight reduction.

Since the Odyssey battery does not have hold- down “feet” at the bottom of its case like the BCA [Battery Council of America] Group 91 batteries BMW specifies for the trunk-mount E30s, I had to make something to hold the battery down and prevent it from sliding fore and aft in the battery tray. I chose to use a piece of aluminum-alloy channel commonly available from industrial- supply houses such as McMaster-Carr. The problem was that I only needed a piece of channel less than a foot long and McMaster-Carr only sells the stuff in longer lengths. Oh well, so now I have some nice aluminum-alloy channel in stock.

I really hate to drill holes in automobile bodies unless it is absolutely necessary. This is because said holes need to be rust- proofed, and there ain’t no rustproofing like factory rustproofing. [You 2002 and 320i owners probably scoff at that statement.] On the M3 I was able to secure the battery-hold- down bolts [I used 8-millimeter threaded rod also available from McMaster-Carr] to the “plastic” battery tray by fashioning a couple of reinforcements affixed to the bottom of the tray, mimicking the factory reinforcements, and then mounting 8-mm “nut serts” through the reinforcements and tray bottom. See Photo #1, which shows the underside of the removed battery tray.

Photo #1 – Underside of reinforced battery tray.

One other problem to be solved was that the existing OE battery negative cable was too short to reach the new battery. I was able to source a seemingly very nice quality negative cable from Battery Cables USA. The cable is #2 AWG [American Wire Gauge], closely matching the metric wire gauge of the OE cable, and 12 inches long. Twelve inches was a little more than necessary, but a little longer is preferable to a little too short. BCA will make you a custom cable to your specs, but I chose the 12-inch, which was in stock.

The completed project, with the battery cover removed, is depicted in Photo #2. BMW’s “plastic” battery cover fits nicely over the new battery, yet another reason I chose the PC925MJT. The Group 91 battery specified for the E30 has provision for external venting, but this is not needed for the AGM battery. I put all the removed parts together and have them squirreled away in a safe place in case this smaller-than-stock battery does not work out. The M3 can easily be returned to stock configuration if necessary.

Photo #2 – Completed installation.

We typically have sub-zero-F overnight temperatures here in SW Colorado in January and February, and my M3 hibernates in my enclosed trailer during the nasty months. I am happy to report that when I started the M3 last week, the S14 engine cranked over vigorously and started right up. So time will tell if my choice of a lesser-CCA battery was wise.

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 comments, tech tips, repair /maintenance questions, repair horror stories, emissions inspection sagas, product evaluations, etc.

© 2019; V.M. Lucariello, P.E.

Philes’ Forum – Fall 2018


By Vic Lucariello, Sr.

Hello bimmerphiles! I recently got an unpleasant surprise when installing a new battery in Joanne’s 1995 325is [E36]. Might a similar surprise await you?

There exists controversy among bimmerphiles as to which 3-series is the best: E30, E36 or E46. You will note that I did not mention the E21, E90s or F30s. I guess your opinion will depend upon which model’s attributes are most important to you.

Anyway, my aforementioned surprise was due to a construction difference among the E30-36-46 cars. On the E30 [those with trunk- mount batteries] and E46, the battery is contained in a topless metal compartment on the right side of the luggage compartment. Indeed, on the E30 the battery sits in a “plastic” tray within this metal compartment. This is one of the nicest designs I have ever seen. So, on the E30 and E46, any damage due to decamped battery electrolyte will be readily apparent when the battery is removed, and said damage would hopefully be contained in the battery compartment. Not so on the E36!

Believe it or not, Joanne’s 200,000-mile 1995 E36 was on its second battery until recently. The BMW OE battery lasted fifteen years, and the Interstate replacement lasted until August of 2017. This might be a testament to my use of a battery maintainer whenever the car sits idle for more than a day.

In replacing the Interstate and cleaning up a bit of corrosion in the battery compartment, I noticed that, Hey!, the inboard side of the battery compartment is open to the spare-wheel compartment! I noticed this when I dropped a tool and it disappeared, only to be retrieved after the spare wheel was removed.

And that is when I got The Surprise.

Photos 1 and 2 depict the corrosion I found when I removed the spare wheel, which had been in place for years, having received only periodic air-pressure checks. Luckily, after removing the corrosion by liberally scrubbing with a Scotch Brite pad and Simple Green Industrial Cleaner and Degreaser [pH of about 9; you can also use a mixture of baking soda and water] I found the underlying metal to be OK. After flushing with water and drying overnight, the first-coat primed area is as shown in Photo #3.

Photo #1 – Surprise
Photo #2 – Shame on Vic
Photo #3 – Looking Better

After a second coat of primer and two coats of Rust-Oleum gloss black, things looked as shown in Photo #4: almost good as new. Incidentally, in the upper-right corner of the photo, you can see the bottom of the new battery, an Odyssey Extreme PC1200MJ AGM [Absorbent Glass Mat]. In an AGM battery the electrolyte is absorbed into fiberglass mats fitted between the cell plates. In a traditional flooded-cell leadacid automotive battery, the cell plates are suspended in liquid electrolyte, a mixture of sulfuric acid and water. So an AGM battery is less likely to spill electrolyte. Indeed, the Odyssey instructions indicate that the battery can be installed in any orientation except inverted. Other claimed advantages of AGM batteries are: longer service life, higher deep-discharge capability, slower self-discharge rate, higher vibration resistance, and higher cranking amperage for a given case size. A known disadvantage is higher cost, which may be offset by longer life. [The OE battery in Joanne’s E36 is a hard act to follow.] Possible disadvantages of AGMs are that they have a lower maximum operating temperature [some may not be suitable for an underhood environment], and [according to the Battery University Website] if your non-smart voltage regulator is set to charge at more than 13.8 volts, this could overcharge the battery on a long drive. The Odyssey Battery Technical Manual suggests a “float-charge” voltage of 13.6 volts [roughly equivalent to the required voltage- regulator setting], and a charging voltage of 14.7 volts, but does not directly address voltage-regulator setting.

I found this a bit confusing, so I contacted Odyssey battery. These folks have always responded promptly to my queries. Regarding temperature limitations, Odyssey says that the max operatingtemperature for the PC1200 battery is 113 F, clearly above underhood operating temperatures. For the metal-jacketed PC1200MJ, however, the maximum temperature is 176 F. For a trunk-mounted battery, I think the non-metal-jacket PC1200 would be OK, but for a few more dollars, I went with the PC1200MJ.

Photo #4 – Almost Good as New

Regarding charging voltage, the Odyssey Product Guide’s warranty section specifically states that the alternator should be set to provide between 14.0 and 14.7 volts, and if the charging system is not set within these limits, shortened battery life can be expected, as well as a voided warranty. This can be a problem on BMWs, some of which use a charging voltage lower than 14 volts [Forget the newer “smart” charging systems, where battery voltage is not held constant.]. The charging system on Joanne’s E36 runs at about 14.2 – 14.3 volts after things warm up, while my M3, which also has an Odyssey, runs at about 13.6 volts. So we shall see how things work out. Perhaps I should have read the fine print more thoroughly….

I chose the PC1200MJ because, while it has a lower cold-cranking- amperage rating than BMW specifies [540 vs. 700], the PC1200MJ is short enough not to interfere with the battery compartment’s “plastic” cover. Since the car is rarely if ever started in cold temperatures, I think that 540 cold-cranking amps should suffice. Again, we shall see. Odyssey does not offer a direct-replacement battery for the E36.

Evidently BMW believes that AGMs are superior batteries, as BMW has been installing them for some years now, especially in Bimmers with “smart” charging systems. I am interested in knowing what battery life your Bimmer experiences, regardless of whether it has an AGM battery. From reports I read on iATN, the International Automobile Technicians Forum, BMW battery life ain’t what it used to be.

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 comments, tech tips, repair /maintenance questions, repair horror stories, emissionsinspection sagas, product evaluations, etc.

© 2018; V.M. Lucariello, P.E.

Philes’ Forum – Summer 2018


By Vic Lucariello, Sr.

Hello bimmerphiles! This time out I would like to talk a bit about that often neglected fluid inside your Bimmer’s radiator and engine: the coolant.

When I got my first gas-station job, uh, some years ago, so-called “permanent” coolant [AKA: antifreeze] was a relatively new thing, and the old non-permanent coolant was still available. At the time, “permanent” coolant denoted a coolant that could be left in service year-round. It did not denote a “lifetime” coolant or “long-life” coolant. One brand’s non-permanent stuff was Zerone while their new-fangled permanent stuff was Zerex, which is still available today from Ashland Oil [Valvoline].

In addition to providing freeze protection, coolant must also provide corrosion protection. Most permanent coolant is based on ethylene glycol, which provides great freeze protection – [-34 F] when mixed 50/50 with water – but little or no corrosion protection. The corrosion protection is provided by the additives in the base ethylene glycol stock.

Prior to the advent of permanent coolant, each Fall one would have to drain the cooling system of its water [with “rust inhibitor” added for corrosion protection], and fill the system with Zerone, or the equivalent in another brand. Then in the Spring, the Zerone would be drained, the system flushed, and water/rust inhibitor reinstalled for the warm weather. [If the non-permanent coolant was left in for the warm weather, it would boil out of the non-pressurized cooling systems of the day.] This was one of the first auto-repair jobs I did with my Dad on our 1951 Chevy, as prescribed in the owner manual, which I still have.

Dad taught me that, in addition to draining the radiator, we needed to remove the drain plug on the block as well. He also taught me that the pipe-thread drain plug could be replaced with a petcock so that future drains would be easier. Every car I have ever owned that had pipe-thread block-drain plugs received this modification. Thanks, Dad.

In those days, and for decades afterwards, there was really only one type of permanent coolant, and it could be used in virtually any car or truck. I recall pallets of it being delivered to the gas station each Fall. Even though the permanent coolant did not need to be replaced annually or semi-annually, we did so for quite a few years. In today’s auto-repair-industry patois, this would be called “wallet flushing”. In defense of that decades-ago practice, the owner manual for Dad’s 1961 Comet, which came equipped with permanent coolant, does prescribe annual coolant changes. The manual also makes the distinction between permanent and non-permanent “antifreeze”, even by 1961. Auto-repair-industry consensus is that, while traditional permanent coolant provides good corrosion protection, its service life is limited to a couple years, after which the corrosion inhibitors have become depleted.

Circa 1996, General Motors introduced its Dex-Cool coolant formulation, which is a long-life, say 5 years, ethylene glycol coolant with a significantly different additive package than traditional permanent coolant. It is also repair-industry consensus that one does NOT want to mix traditional coolant with Dex-Cool. The resulting goo is dubbed by some as “Death-Cool”. This is NOT a fault of GM or Dex-Cool. Rather, it is the fault of ignorant installers, professional or otherwise.

Other vehicle manufacturers adopted their own versions of long-life coolant, each differing significantly, in terms of additives, from Dex- Cool and traditional permanent coolant. [See Photo #1 for what I use in my shop.] The automotive aftermarket followed suit with their own offerings, SOME of which have specific auto-manufacturer approval. Dex-Cool, other long-life ethylene glycol coolants, and traditional permanent coolant fall into about six major types, some of which overlap. It is a source of great confusion among professional auto technicians, and the subject of debate on professional forums such as iATN, the International Automobile Technicians Network.

[Photo #1]

BMW has for years had their proprietary version of long-life coolant, and I have used it for years with success. Several aftermarket coolant manufacturers offer coolants that THEY RECOMMEND for BMWs, but I know of no such manufacturer that advertises that their coolant is APPROVED by BMW. [If you know of any, please advise.] This is a significant distinction that you need to be aware of when choosing coolants and motor oils. “Recommended For” and “Approved by [auto manufacturer]” are not the same.

On the other hand, aftermarket companies such as Ashland Oil/ Valvoline and Pentosin expend significant resources developing coolant-additive packages to satisfy the major coolant types used today. So I don’t think these companies, with inveterate reputations to uphold, would cavalierly recommend coolant for use in a particular vehicle marque. Both companies offer coolants that they recommend for use in BMWs.

Mixing any full-strength ethylene glycol coolant with water in a 50/50 ratio will result in a freeze point of about -34 F. You may say, “Hey, it doesn’t get anywhere near that cold here, so why do I need to use that much coolant?”. The answer is that diluting the coolant with more than 50% water will raise the freeze point, but it will also dilute the additive package, which is designed for a 50% dilution. Diluting the additive package will shorten the life of the coolant. You can buy an inexpensive hydrometer which will tell you the approximate freeze point of your coolant. [See Photo #2.] You really should keep the concentration around 50%, preferably a bit higherthan lower. For the more technical [anal?] among us, a refractometer will tell you the coolant concentration within a few percent.

[Photo #2]

If you have read this far, here are some suggested takeaways regarding coolant:

  • If there is any doubt in your mind whether a particular aftermarket coolant is APPROVED by BMW, use BMW coolant. I do. It may cost a bit more than others, but so did your Bimmer.
  • There is a nationally-known company that offers a single coolant that they claim is suitable for “all makes, all models”. Given the wide variety of coolant formulations available today, I am quite skeptical of this claim.
  • The color of a coolant is not a reliable predictor of its formulation.
  • You DON’T want to mix coolants of differing formulations.
  • Use distilled or deionized water for mixing with coolant.
  • Get yourself an inexpensive coolant hydrometer to check your coolant level.
  • If you have any doubt as to what coolant is in your Bimmer, have the system THOROUGHLY flushed [This takes hours, so be prepared] and refilled with BMW coolant and distilled water.
  • Keep a container of BMW coolant mixed 50/50 with distilled or deionized water for topping-up use.
  • Some coolants are available either concentrated or “pre- mixed”. I recommend that you buy the concentrate and mix your own. You can check your work with your new hydrometer or refractometer.

If you found this column to be interesting, let me know and I will follow up with some coolant-flushing tips.

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 comments, tech tips, repair /maintenance questions, repair horror stories, emissionsinspection sagas, product evaluations, etc.

© 2018; V.M. Lucariello, P.E.

Philes’ Forum – Spring 2018


By Vic Lucariello, Sr.

Hello bimmerphiles! This time out I would like to talk a bit about that diagnostic connector under the left side of your dashboard on your 1996-and-newer Bimmer. Actually, it is found on almost any 1996-and-newer passenger car.

Diagnostic connectors on cars were nothing new, even in 1996. Indeed, my 2002 has one under the hood, as shown in Photo #1.

Photo #1 2002 “Diagnostic” Connector

On 2002-era cars, before the advent of computer-controlled everything and serial-bus communication, the diagnostic connector merely provided a convenient test point for a few critical electrical parameters, such as whether or not the starter was being commanded to operate. The parameters available on the diagnostic connector could in most cases be easily accessed at their sources with a voltmeter, but the connector brought the parameters together so that a factory diagnostic tool could be easily and quickly connected.

In the E30s [1984-1991 3-series], earlier model years had a different- style connector [See Photo #2] that essentially provided the same information. Later model years had a 20-pin underhood connector [See Photo #3]. BMW used this connector until about the 2002 model year. [Most 1996 – 2001 Bimmers had both the 20-pin underhood connector and the OBD II connector described below.] Diagnostic devices that plug into car-manufacturer-provided connectors, or ports, came to be known generically as “scanners”, because in the computer-control era these devices can scan and display multiple process parameters, or PIDs, such as coolant temperature, etc.

Photo #2 Early E30 Diagnostic Connector
Photo #3 Later E30 Diagnostic Connector

You will note that on the three BMW models above, there are three very different diagnostic connectors, all located in different areas of the engine compartment. And that is just for Bimmers. Add the other car manufacturers into the mix and one is faced with a veritable cornucopia of different connectors and locations. Indeed, for my old Snap-on scanner, the number of required diagnostic adapters pretty much doubled the size of the carrying case! And of course, I still had to buy the BMW 20-pin adapter separately.

Our federal government and the Society of Automotive Engineers noticed that all these different diagnostic connectors posed a huge problem for non-dealer technicians and for technicians who worked on several different makes of cars. And thus was born the idea of a standardized diagnostic connector and OBD II [On-Board Diagnostics – Level II] regulations. OBD II – compliant vehicles [Pretty much every passenger car sold in the US starting with the 1996 model year.] must all use a standardized connector in a pretty much standardized location inside the vehicle under the dashboard [See Photo #4]. So, one should be able to take any so-called Global-OBD II – capable scanner and plug it into any OBD II – compliant vehicle via the standardized connector and view diagnostic trouble codes [DTCs] and emissions-related engine and transmission parameters.

Photo #4 OBD II Diagnostic Connector

What are DTCs? Glad you asked. DTCs are set, and usually the dreaded “Check Engine” light [AKA: MIL – Malfunction Indicator Light] is turned on, when the engine or transmission computer detects an abnormal condition that can adversely affect vehicle emissions. Another advantage of OBD II is that generic-type DTCs [in the form of P0xxx] are supposed to be the SAME among the different vehicle makes. So, if either a 1996 328i or a 2004 VW Jetta or a 2008 Subaru or a 2010 Corvette or a 2018 M4 records a P0300 DTC, that means the engine computer is detecting random cylinder misfires. Similarly, a P0420 indicates that the catalytic converter is not performing properly in cleaning up exhaust gases.

Another function of the OBD II port is to allow downloading of computer-software updates, from the vehicle manufacturer or from aftermarket-software providers [tuners]. But if you have not fallen asleep by now I would like to talk about an available “function” of the OBD II port that I think you should avoid.

Of the pins on the OBD II connector, one is from the battery bus [always “hot” regardless of whether the ignition is on or off] and one is a vehicle ground. The purpose of this is to power a scanner. To repeat: The purpose of this is to power a scanner or simple DTC reader. The purpose is NOT to connect a battery charger, battery maintainer, or so-called “memory saver”.

Memory savers are used to supply auxiliary power and maintain computer memories when the vehicle battery is disconnected, say to install a new battery. I am a proponent of connecting auxiliary power during battery work, but on a BMW, I use the underhood B+ and ground studs thoughtfully provided by BMW.

I talked to three expert, professional technicians about this: Matt Kimple, Sal Puleio and Chris Roberson. Matt and Sal need no introduction to Philes’ readers. Fellow [as is Sal] iATN member Chris Roberson is a BMW-trained technician from the Left Coast whom I came to know via his many valuable BMW-related iATN contributions. iATN is the International Automobile Technicians’ Network, with something like 70,000 English-speaking techs worldwide.

Both Chris and Matt maintain that there is no need to connect auxiliary power to a recent Bimmer when disconnecting the vehicle battery. Earlier cars could lose radio codes, reset DTCs and monitors, and possibly lose seat and sunroof settings. In rare cases, especially if the battery were left disconnected for a couple of days, the “alignment” of the anti-theft system [EWS or CAS] could be lost, resulting in a no-start situation when the battery got reconnected. “Honey, to save some money I installed a new battery in your X5, but now it won’t start.”

Sal and I tend to connect auxiliary power whether we need to or not; one reason being that it is difficult to know for sure whether a particular Bimmer [Also, Sal and I work on other cars in addition to Bimmers] should have auxiliary power during battery work. Sal says, “It certainly does not hurt anything to connect auxiliary power, so provided it is done correctly, why not?”. One thing that Chris, Matt, Sal and I agree on completely is that, if you are going to use auxiliary power during battery work, PLEASE don’t connect a memory-saver device to the OBD II port! That ain’t what it’s for!

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, emissions-inspection sagas, product evaluations, etc.

© 2018; V.M. Lucariello, P.E.

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 – Fall 2017


By Vic Lucariello, Sr.

Hello, bimmerphiles! Here we are ending the 31st year of Philes’ Forum! The first, introductory column appeared in the January, 1987 Bulletin, and the first regular column ran the following month. In that column I addressed questions about valve adjustment and oil-filter replacement by colleague and then-coworker Paul Kujawski’s E21 320i. I also had a tech tip regarding small stainless-steel-wire brushes that are useful in cleaning off the grunge on a drum-brake backing plate. [They also work very well for cleaning disc-brake-caliper slides.] Fast-forwarding to the present, this time out I have an item pertaining to valvecover replacement on driver-school padrone Jeff White’s E39 touring. This car has provided a veritable cornucopia of Philes’ Forum fodder, so I hope Jeff and spouse Tricia keep it for a long time!

Jeff contacted me in a panic. He had been replacing the valvecover gasket on the 2000 528it and he had been provided with the wrong torque spec for the 6-mm diameter valve-cover holddown studs. Jeff had been given 18.5 lb-ft [about 25 newtonmeters (n-m)], but this is the common spec for tightening an 8- mm stud or bolt, not a 6-mm [6 mm is about ¼ inch]. The usual spec for an M6 fastener is more like 8 lb-ft [about 11 n-m], so you might predict what happened: one of the hold-down studs broke off.

Jeff was worried that the cylinder head would need to be removed in order for the failed stud to be replaced, but luckily these particular studs not only screw into the head, but they have a nice hex-head boss right where the upper-stud portion meets the boss. Jeff was able to unscrew the broken stud and replace it with a new one from Bridgewater BMW. In replacing the stud, I suggested that Jeff clean out the threaded hole in the head and install the new stud with a bit of Loctite thread locker. This will minimize the possibility of the stud unscrewing the next time the valve-cover gasket is replaced.

I also suggested to Jeff that he replace all the “rubber” grommets under the valve-cover hold-down nuts, but as a regular reader of Philes’ he already had done this.

While Jeff had things apart, he decided to replace the spark plugs, and he also had a question, this one posed ahead of time, about the recommended torque spec for the spark plugs and whether I recommended that anti-seize compound be put on the threads of the new plugs.

The torque-spec question was easy as all I had to do was consult BMW’s service information to see that the recommended tightening torque for Jeff’s application [14-mm-dia plugs] is 15- 21 lb-ft [20-28 n-m]. I have been using 18 lb-ft [24 n-m] on unlubricated threads on new plugs for a long time, with nary a one loosening on its own or being particularly difficult to remove provided it was not left in place for an extended period.

The question about using anti-seize compound is difficult to answer unequivocally. Most modern spark plugs have platedsteel casings, while any BMW I have worked on over the last 40 years has had an aluminum-alloy head. While these differing metals in close contact under heat and pressure might present the classic case for the use of anti-seize compound, things are not quite so simple.

First of all, the major spark-plug manufacturers universally agree that they do not want anything put on the threads of their new spark plugs. Some manufacturers claim that their spark plugs are treated with a “special compound” that prevents seizure of the spark plug in the cylinder head. Others claim that the plating on their spark-plug casings obviates the need for any lubrication. Of these two claims, the second one seems more plausible to me.

Secondly, some professional technicians claim that if you use anti-seize compound on the plug threads, you will need to reduce the tightening torque in order not to over-tighten the plug. This makes perfect sense from an engineering point of view, but by how much do you reduce the torque spec? This can actually be calculated, but really…

Thirdly, some claim that using anti-seize compound on sparkplug threads has an effect on the effective heat-range of the plug. I am not sure about this one.

Finally, we have thus far been talking about the installation of new spark plugs. Suppose you remove your plugs for whatever reason, is the “special compound” still there for reinstallation?

This subject has been frequently debated on iATN [International Automobile Technicians’ Network] and there are many differing opinions. Moreover, former Motor Magazine columnist Mike Dale, an electrical engineer, wrote a column on the subject. At the end of the column, Mike conceded that using a bit of anti-seize probably wouldn’t hurt anything, and I tend to agree.

My advice is: In most cases, do not leave your spark plugs in for the interval recommended by BMW. For example, I had great success changing 100,000-mile-recommended plugs at around 70,000 miles. With this approach I did not put anything on the new plugs’ threads and I had no problem removing them after 70k. Removing plugs after 100,000 miles or more is sometimes a different story.

That’s all for now, bimmerphiles. See you next year.

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.

Philes’ Forum – Summer 2017


By Vic Lucariello, Sr.

Hello bimmerphiles! In this sojourn into the Philes’ Forum chronicles, I have a follow up to my last column together with a new item on brake fluid.

Last time out, in the Spring 2017 Bulletin, I wrote about using Dexron III-type automatic-transmission fluid [ATF] vs Pentosin CHF 11.S fluid in your Bimmer’s power steering. [You should be able to download the Spring 2017 Bulletin from the NJ Chapter Website.] I advised that, if your Bimmer uses Dexron fluid, you should not change the system over to CH 11.S or mix the fluids. Since I wrote that, additional information has been forthcoming.

After reading the Spring 2017 Philes’, bimmerphile Sal Puleio, inveterate owner of Rennsport Motor Works in Hackensack, contacted me and sent a copy of a BMW service information bulletin, or SIB. [In the auto-repair industry, these bulletins are generically known as TSBs, but BMW has their own name for them.] The SIB in question does corroborate what I had previously written [and what was confirmed by Matt Kimple at Bridgewater BMW], “The mixing of CHF and……ATF is NOT permitted [emphasis mine]”.

However, the SIB goes on to state that if a power-steering system is to be converted from Dexron III to Pentosin CH 11.S, “….the system must be drained as completely as possible.”

Sal and I discussed this, and we concur in recommending that if a power-steering system is to receive a fluid conversion, simply draining the system “completely” is not the best way to go. We recommend that the system be drained [hoses disconnected] then filled with the new fluid [Ah…hoses reconnected], then the vehicle started and warmed up, with the steering moved from lock-tolock [fully right, then fully left] a number of times. Then drain the system again and refill with the new fluid after changing the fluid reservoir.

Why would you want to change your steering-fluid type? Glad you asked. In specific cases, such as certain E46s [3- Series in production from 1998 – 2006] with powersteering noise under certain operating conditions, it may be beneficial to convert from the original Dexron III to Pentosin CH 11.S. According to several sources, CH 11.S has about half the viscosity [measured at 40-degrees C (about 104F)] of Dexron III. Viscosity can be roughly defined as resistance to flow. However, converting an old system to a less-viscous fluid may foment leakage, so be advised of this as well. If you effect such a conversion, the new reservoir will probably already be marked indicating that CH 11.S should be used. If it is not marked, be sure to source or make a label for it.

Much thanks to Sal for taking the time to look up and send me the SIB and for consulting with me on this topic. Rennsport is located on Berlews Court in Hackensack [201- 489-5577]. Sal has been taking care of NJ-Chaptermember Bimmers since 1981, and he has professionalautomobile- technician experience preceding that. Legend has it that Sal advised Henry Ford on the type of transmission to use in the Model T [or was that Henry Ford II and the Edsel?], but that, folks, was before my time.

While we are on the subject of fluids, here is an update on my continued testing of brake-fluid boiling points. In commissioning my new shop here in CO, I finally unearthed the Chapter’s brake-fluid tester.

For those who do not remember my previous articles on the subject, the DOT 3 and DOT 4 brake fluids found in most vehicles today [including the DOT 4 low-viscosity fluid in recent Bimmers] are hygroscopic, meaning that they have an affinity for moisture. Atmospheric moisture gains access to the brake fluid via the master-cylinder-cap vent, the seals on the caliper pistons, and, some say, via osmosis through the brake hoses. The effect of this moisture is twofold: it foments corrosion of the brakesystem components and it reduces the boiling point of the brake fluid. Since brakes get hot in operation, if this heat causes the brake fluid to boil, partial or complete loss of braking will occur. BMW and some other manufacturers recommend periodic replacement of brake fluid, while some other manufacturers inexplicably do not.

It has been my conclusion, particularly after observing vehicles being driven by driving-illiterate folks negotiate the approximately 8-mile descent of Wolf Creek Pass [they drag their brakes almost continuously as opposed to using them as briefly as possible and then letting them cool between applications] that it is pretty hard to boil your brake fluid on the street, even if you try like these folks are doing. [Of course it is a different story on the track.]

An example of this hit [too] close to home when my daughter visited last month. [Thankfully, she does know how to use her brakes properly.] While she was here, I renewed the front-disc-brake pads in her ’01 Jeep Cherokee, and in doing so took brake-fluid samples from both front calipers. The boiling point of this unknown-age fluid tested at only 370 F! Typical parts-store DOT 3 brake fluid tests at maybe 500 F out of the can, while premium DOT 4 fluids like Ate Type 200 test at around 570 F. Some of the boutique [read: expensive] fluids purport boiling points of 600 F or more, but that is fodder for a future Philes’ Forum. The Cherokee has negotiated Wolf Creek Pass a number of times with this brake fluid [see Photo #1], so my conclusion seems justified. After checking Amy’s brake fluid, I asked her how her brakes had felt coming through Wolf Creek Pass. She said they were fine.

Photo #1 – Can This Be MY Daughter’s Brake Fluid?

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, emissions-inspection sagas, product evaluations, etc.

© 2017; V.M. Lucariello, P.E.

Philes’ Forum – Spring 2017


Trip Lee (1947 – 2017) – New Jersey Chapter Icon

The New Jersey Chapter, as well as humanity, suffered a great loss when Trip Lee passed away on 14 February. Trip was a unique, consummate gentleman of intellect and character, and I feel privileged to have known him for more than 30 years. If you are thinking I greatly respected and admired Trip, you are correct.

While some gearheads tend to be one-dimensional, Trip had varied interests, including history and aviation, in addition to his love of all things mechanical. One time he told me that as part of his study of the U.S. Civil War, he was reading soldiers’ letters written during the conflict. That’s some pretty serious study if ya ask me.

Trip and I would occasionally recommend books to each other. Our most recent correspondence, late in 2016, concerned a book about the closing months of WWII and how British airmen, at great cost, helped ameliorate the swarm of Kamikazes over the waters near Japan. The Brits did this by attacking Kamikaze airfields.

I can neither count nor recall all the times Trip helped me out, whether it was instructing novice-driver me at Lime Rock, mentoring me when I aspired to become a driver-school instructor, tactfully advising me when I became Chief-of-Tech for our driver schools, giving me lathe-operation pointers, or finding cool gearhead stuff for me or us. He once found a source in Germany and had imported two “dogleg” or “close-ratio” 5- speed transmissions, one for wife Judy’s M3 and one for mine. Trip found me a very nice, industrial-quality, [made in U.S.A., no less] floor-mount drill press that I use in my shop nearly every day. When Trip upgraded his TIG welder, I got his old one. One time he gave me a completely functional, 12” Clausing turret lathe.

I could continue, but knowing Trip, he would say, “Enough already; let’s get to the good stuff”. [But Trip would phrase it tactfully.] So Trip, if you are reading this, thanks, man.

The good stuff this month concerns BMW power-steering reservoirs. I looked in the Philes’ Forum archives, and the best I can tell I have not written on this subject in more than 10 years.

In January 2007 I was writing about oil filters, and I wrote that in addition to the oil filter, air filter, fuel filter, and cabin filter, your Bimmer also has a power-steering filter. This filter is located in the bottom of the powersteering- fluid reservoir, and unfortunately, unless your Bimmer is 40 or so years old, the filter is not replaceable without changing the reservoir.

Photo #1 depicts the power-steering reservoir found on many Bimmers from model year 1982 right up to much later models, such as the E84 X1 and E87 1-Series. Photo #2 shows a reservoir cut in half to reveal the internal filter. I think it a good idea to change the reservoir/filter whenever you do maintenance on the power-steering system such as changing the fluid, hoses, pump, or steering box. While you’re at it [actually, before you install any new parts], it’s also a good idea to flush out the system. The January 2007 Philes’ Forum [available on the NJ Chapter Website], describes one procedure for flushing the power-steering fluid.

Photo #1 – Ubiquitous Power Steering Reservoir
Photo #2 – Power Steering Filter Revealed

Driver-school Padrone Jeff White emailed me about his 2000 528i E39 5-Series touring [manual trans!]. Jeff is replacing the power-steering reservoir, and the replacement-reservoir’s cap indicates that Pentosin CHF 11.S fluid is required, and Jeff has been using Dexron-type automatictransmission fluid [ATF] as specified in his owner manual. Jeff was told by the aftermarket supplier of the new reservoir that Jeff needed to convert the system to CHF 11.S fluid, and Jeff questioned me on how to do this.

The current BMW part number for Jeff’s power-steering reservoir is 32 41 6 851 217. The only apparent difference between the current version and superseded versions [eg: 32 41 1 097 164] is that the cap on the current version specifies CHF 11.S fluid, not ATF. See Photo #3 [Courtesy of Jeff White].

Photo #3 – Cap From Current Replacement Reservoir
Photo by Jeff White

My response to Jeff is that the steering-system design, not the reservoir, is what determines which fluid is to be used, and that he should continue to use ATF in the E39’s power steering. Just to double-check, I contacted Matt Kimple, service manager at Bridgewater BMW, and he confirmed that IF YOUR BIMMER ORIGINALLY USED ATF IN ITS POWER-STEERING, DO NOT PUT CHF 11.S IN IT, REGARDLESS OF WHAT THE RESERVOIR CAP INDICATES. If you are in doubt about which fluid to use, call Bridgewater’s parts department [888-579-0048] with you VIN and they will supply the correct fluid. Pentosin CHF 11.S fluid is greenish in color while ATF is reddish. Old yucky ATF can be a reddish-brownish.

Further investigation suggests that when BMW switched to CHF 11.S steering fluid on most models beginning circa the E60 5- Series, they changed the fluid-reservoir cap such that it indicates that CHF 11.S is required. But what if you, like Jeff, need a reservoir for an older model? BMW thought of this as well, and provides a label indicating that ATF should be used.

The part number of this label for Jeff’s E39 is 71-24-6-798-132. Or you can make your own label like Jeff did. That’s what I would do. So too would Trip.

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.

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.

Philes Forum – Fall 2016


By Vic Lucariello, Sr.

Hello, bimmerphiles! I am closing the 30th year of Philes’ Forum publication with a few unrelated tech tips.

Most of us know about or have patronized Harbor Freight Tools. While some tool snobs out there might pooh-pooh HF stuff, my opinion is that some of their hand tools provide good value, especially for occasional or DIY use. Hey, a set of inexpensive combination wrenches in the trunk of your Bimmer beats the heck out of no wrenches. However, according to reports on iATN [International Automobile Technicians Network], you should be wary of HF automotive fuses. These fuses, which come in an assortment, look pretty much like fuses from traditional manufacturers such as Bussman and Littelfuse.

In a recent thread, an iATN member reports testing the fuses from one HF 5-30 amp fuse assortment. He reports that they ALL held about 75 [that’s seventy-five, folks, you read it correctly] amps before blowing! Fuses have a temperature-time curve, meaning that the time to failure depends not only on the amount of current flowing through the fuse, but the amount of time the current flows. For example, a 10-amp fuse might endure 13 amps or so for a few minutes before blowing, while the same fuse should blow much more quickly at 20 amps. Regardless, a 5-amp fuse holding 75 amps for any amount of time is pretty scary.

So, while carrying an HF wrench set in your Bimmer may be a good idea, carrying their fuse assortment might not be.

After writing the foregoing I happened to see the following HF ad for a ½- inch pneumatic impact gun:

The ad claims that the HF is more powerful, lighter and quieter than a Snap-on model, at less than 1/3 the price!

Many of you change your own brake pads, and hopefully you don’t use pads from HF [kidding of course]. I’m sure you use OE [Original Equipment – from your BMW dealer] or OE-quality pads from a reputable aftermarket source, but what about that new pad-wear sensor?

I have previously written about the evolution of BMW brake-padwear sensors, so I won’t repeat my tome other than to say that recent Bimmers use sensors that actually predict how many miles remain until the pads need replacing. Older sensors simply illuminated a dash lamp when he pads wore to the replacement point. The old-style sensors could be reused if they hadn’t yet turned the lamp on, but I always replace them. On cars with the newer-style sensor and the Condition Based Service [CBS] feature, it is important that you use an OE or OE-quality new wear sensor when you replace brake pads. I have experienced difficulty, and read others’ reports to this effect, in getting the CBS brake-pad monitor to reset after the new pads and sensor have been installed, and the problem turned out to be an aftermarket pad-wear sensor that the CBS electronics didn’t “like”. An OE sensor fixed things. So, if you are buying brake parts from an aftermarket source, be sure to confirm with them beforehand that the pad-wear sensors they supply will not cause CBS-reset problems. If you inform them of problems afterwards, be prepared to be told that you don’t know how to reset the CBS. [Heck, you will probably be told this anyway.] Personally, I always use OE sensors, regardless of what brake pad I am installing.

Although the following applies to many Bimmer models, some as much as twenty or more years old, this specific account applies to an E46 325i with over 150,000 miles. A fellow had a valvecover- gasket oil leak [Imagine that!] and after replacing the valve-cover gasket he had no more oil leak but he had an illuminated “Check Engine” lamp. OBD II diagnostic trouble codes P0171 and P0174 were stored in the engine control computer [DME in BMW-speak]. WTF!?

These codes set when the DME detects a lean-running condition; the 171 code is for Engine-Cylinder Bank 1 and the 174 code is for Bank 2. Banks on an in-line six? Yes: Bank 1 is cylinders 1-3 and Bank 2 is cylinders 4-6. So the codes suggest that the whole engine is running lean. But how can a valve-cover-gasket replacement cause the engine to run lean?

First of all, whenever you remove a “plastic” valve cover from any BMW engine, especially a six, it is not unlikely that the cover will be warped. Removing the cover and replacing the gasket will NOT correct the warp situation; Indeed, it will probably make the problem worse. Don’t ask me why this is, but it is so. [Remember that on the subject E46, there were no lean-running codes stored prior to the valve-cover-gasket replacement.]

Second, BMW’s engine-crankcase-ventilation [PCV] system tries to maintain a prescribed vacuum on the engine internals. The actual vacuum spec varies from engine-to-engine, but the vacuum one should measure on a warm-idling E46 325i is about 4 inches of water column. If there is an air leak on the valve cover, either due to a bad gasket or that warped valve cover, the PCV will, in trying to maintain the engine internals at the prescribed vacuum, suck a lot of unwanted air into the intake manifold and…..BINGO…..the DME will set lean-running codes.

On the subject E46, the owner lucked out with the valve cover itself insofar as warpage, but when he checked his work, he found a piece of the original gasket had been left on the cylinder head when the valve cover was removed the first time. So the piece of old gasket created the air leak that caused the lean running codes.

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.

© 2016; V.M. Lucariello, P.E.

Philes’ Forum – Summer 2016


By Vic Lucariello, Sr.

Hello, bimmerphiles! I hope you are enjoying the hot NJ Summer. I write this at our new place in Colorado. This time out I talk about a problem that I have seen on many OBD II [1996 and newer] Bimmers. The problem presents itself as a misfire, on one or more cylinders, shortly after a cold start. The “Check Engine” indication [Official OBD II Name: Malfunction Indicator Lamp, or MIL] comes on and sometimes flashes. If the engine is shut off and restarted, the misfire is gone and the engine runs seemingly perfectly until the next cold start, or maybe the following cold start. The MIL goes off. Sound familiar?

In some cases, the problem begins with an occasional misfire or rough running after a cold start, with or without the MIL. As the engine warms up, things smooth out. The problem becomes more frequent and severe over time, finally getting to the point where you need to stop and restart the engine in order to clear the misfire and get the MIL to go off.

What the heck is OBD II, you may ask? Well, OBD II stands for On Board Diagnostics, Level II, and it has been federally mandated for about twenty years now. OBD II vehicles have sophisticated software that monitors a large number of parameters that can affect exhaust and/or evaporative emissions. Examples of things that are monitored are:

  • The vapor integrity of the fuel tank, lines and gas cap
  • The signal quality of sensors such as the crankshaft-position sensor
  • How efficient the catalytic converter[s] is
  • The response of the oxygen and/or fuel/air-ratio sensors
  • Whether the engine is running rich or lean
  • Whether the VANOS is properly positioning the camshafts
  • How smoothly the engine is running

In monitoring how smoothly the engine is running [This is called the Misfire Monitor, and BMW calls it the “Smooth Running” monitor.] the engine-control computer [DME in BMW-Speak] looks at minute changes in crankshaft rotational speed and acceleration every time a cylinder fires. The DME can detect if a cylinder is not contributing as much as it should, and if the contribution is below a threshold, the MIL comes on. If the contribution is below another threshold, the fuel injector for that cylinder is deactivated in order to protect the catalytic converter from being damaged by unburned fuel. The cylinder will remain deactivated until the engine is stopped and restarted. If the cylinder is still misfiring, its injector is again deactivated and the MIL stays on. If the cylinder contribution is acceptable, the MIL goes off and the cylinder remains in service.

If you have read this far, you are seeing how OBD II monitoring can be involved in the problem we are discussing. But what can cause a cold-start-only misfire on an otherwise perfectly running Bavarian Work of Engine Art?

A lot of things can, but most if not all of them will also affect the warm running of the engine. You may not perceive a problem with the warm running, but examination of the running data [another OBD II feature] in the DME will usually contain a clue. But that is a topic for a future Philes’ Forum.

A common cause of a cold-start misfire, cylinder deactivation and MIL illumination is a sticking valve or sticking hydraulic lifter. What happens is that an intake or exhaust valve fails to close fully, thereby reducing the compression pressure in that cylinder below what is necessary for ignition. Believe me, a lot of parts have been thrown at this problem, both by individuals and shops. Moreover, the problem is difficult to diagnose because the symptom is sometimes so fleeting.

Depending on the severity of the problem, engine disassembly may be required. However, in many cases, the following procedure has been proven to reduce or eliminate the problem, especially if the symptom has recently presented itself:

  • Put some Marvel Mystery Oil, CRC Valvekleen, or the snake oil of your choice in your crankcase. Some techs use ATF, but I like the CRC stuff. While you are at it, check your oil level. On Bimmers without a dipstick, this is done via the instrument panel. See your owner manual.
  • Warm the engine up by driving slowly and at low RPM.
  • Get on the highway where you can maintain a steady speed for, say, a half-hour. This may be difficult and you may have to do this at night or on a Sunday morning.
  • Select your transmission gear such that the engine is running at about 4000 RPM or so and you are not exceeding the speed limit.
  • After running like this for a half-hour, change the oil and filter while everything is still hot. The idea is not to let the oil cool off.

How to prevent the problem in the first place? I’m glad you asked. Use a high-quality “synthetic” oil of the correct viscosity and change it more frequently than suggested by your on-board maintenance reminder. In selecting your oil, consider using oil right from your BMW dealer. Use an OE-quality oil filter. While used-oil analyses are the only real way to determine the optimal oil-change interval for your particular oil and driving, sometimes it is better simply to put the oil-analysis cost towards an oil change. For some time now, I have been recommending an oil-change interval of, at most, about half of what your maintenance reminder suggests. If you do a lot of short-trip driving, a third of the maintenance-reminder interval may be better.

I hesitate to recommend a particular oil, because seemingly everyone has one that they just know to be the best. But I can tell you that I have had great success for many years with BMW oil, Mobil 1, Lubro-Moly [now Liqui-Moly], and Redline.

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, emissions-inspection sagas, product evaluations, etc.

© 2016; V.M. Lucariello, P.E.

Philes’ Forum – Spring 2016


By Vic Lucariello, Sr.

Hello, bimmerphiles! This time out I have some tips for both E90 owners and E30 owners. How’s that for spanning the decades?

Out of respect, let’s begin with the venerable E30 [’84 – ’91 3-Series], which in my opinion may be the best car BMW has ever built. The E30s were available with several engine types, but the vast majority of them came with the M20 six-cylinder, which was also available in the 5 -Series of the era.

The M20 six, available in the U.S. in 2.5 and 2.7 liter displacements, is about as bulletproof an engine as you are likely to find, especially the low-revving 2.7s. This, provided you replace the timing belt at the interval prescribed by BMW. [For you non-gearhead types who read Philes’ simply for its stunning literary content, the timing belt is a cogged, flat “rubber” belt that drives the engine’s camshaft. If the belt breaks or slips, expensive noises escape from the engine, followed by profound silence punctuated only by the expletives emanating from you when you learn the cost of repair.] Insofar as I know, despite the improvements in timing-belt materials in the last quarter century, BMW still recommends 5 years or 50,000 miles [whichever occurs first] as the replacement interval. More modern timing-belt engines from other manufacturers have longer intervals, typically 100,000 miles.

M20 timing-belt replacement has been written about extensively over the years, both in Philes’ and elsewhere, so I won’t bore you with the whole procedure. However, every time I replace one I think of one or more things I would like to share with you, and the latest job was no exception:

  • You don’t have to remove the radiator, but the radiator fins will gladly lacerate your knuckles if you don’t wear latex or nitrile gloves.
  • Replace the water pump whether it needs it or not. Buy a quality pump either from your BMW dealer or a supplier of OE-grade replacement parts. Aftermarket pumps usually come with the gasket, but at your dealer you will need to order it separately. The astoundingly poor quality of some aftermarket parts is a constant topic of conversation and ranting on professionaltechnician forums such as iATN.
  • Conti makes a nice timing-belt kit that includes a new timing-belt tensioner. Always replace the tensioner.
  • Being you are draining the cooling system anyway, this is a good time to flush it out. Be sure to obtain a new seal ring for the block-drain plug. Part # 07-11-9-963-200.
  • Before you install the new water pump, check its block-mating surface for any imperfections and run a very fine file over the surface as shown in Photo #1. This will identify and remove any high spots or machining burrs, and yes, there will be some.
Photo #1 – Checking for machining burrs
  • Before you install the new water pump, thread the engine-cooling fan onto the pump hub to ensure that the pump threads are good. Remember it is a left-hand thread. See Photo #2. Uh, remove the fan before you install the pump. I like to put a bit of anti-seize compound on the pump-hub threads.
Photo #2 – Checking the fan hub threads
  • After thoroughly cleaning the block-gasket surface, use gasket cement to attach the new pump gasket to the block surface. Ensure the gasket is installed in the correct “clock” position.
  • Before you put the pump in place on the block, make yourself a guide pin by cutting the head off an M8-1.25 bolt that is about 40- mm long. Install this stud temporarily in one of the water-pumpmounting- bolt holes in the block. This will greatly facilitate getting the pump in the correct position on the first try without moving the gasket out of place. You can use the same M8 stud for reinstalling the drive-belt pulley on the crankshaft damper.
  • Ensure that you use the correct-length water-pump-mounting bolts. One time, Bimmerphile Mark Derienzo and I went nuts trying to figure out why several new water pumps we installed on a 5-Series M20 leaked as soon as we put coolant in. One of the water-pump bolts was a tad too long and was bottoming out in the block. The correct bolt is 20-mm [about 25/32] from under the head to the end of the threads. Part # 07-11-9-903-039 [3 required]. Install new M8 wave washers on the bolts [07-11-9-932- 095].
  • The standard procedure for tensioning the timing belt is to release the tensioner-pinch bolt and pivot bolt after installing the new belt, then tighten them. What I like to do after doing this is to rotate the engine through two complete crankshaft revolutions, recheck that the timing marks still align, then release the tensioner-pinch and -pivot bolts again, then tighten them to specs.
  • Before you rotate the engine as described above, #1 Cylinder is already at TDC, so adjust its valves. As you proceed through the two crankshaft revolutions, watch the other valves, and when they are closed [watch the camshaft and rocker-arm positions], adjust them as well. Your M20 will love you for it.

The E90 tip is a simple one, but it can save you some time and angst, especially if you are doing the job in the evening or on the weekend, when parts sources may be closed. This applies to E9X 3-Series [’05 – ‘12] with manual transmissions. If you change your clutch-slave cylinder, be advised that the replacement cylinder [especially if it is an aftermarket part] may not mate up with the old metal hydraulic line, as some part-number supersessions are in play here. The result will be a leak. Your safest bet here may be to source both the line and the slave cylinder from a reputable source of BMW parts. [That is good advice regardless of what part you are buying.] The clutch-slave cylinder and hydraulic line are listed as fitting a plethora of BMW models, so this tip I think applies to other models as well.

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, emissions-inspection sagas, product evaluations, etc.

© 2016; V.M. Lucariello, P.E.

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