A Hot Shower with Helena

I don't normally name my cars. In fact, I've never named a car. I nicknamed my hatchback Hatchy but, I never really thought of it as a name. It was just a quick way of saying: The hatchback. This one was different though. This 328 had spoken to my soul somehow. This little silver beauty, although not perfect, was exactly what I was looking for. It didn't seem fair to not give her a name. 

You can force things like names. They have to fall in place. I had talked about this same thing prior with Jeremy when we first got the car but, I wanted some time to think about it. It was time to give the poor car a good cleaning. We had taken the passenger side seat out of the car to check what color the seat reclining gear was. This allowed full access to give the carpets a good scrub and vacuuming*.

The carpet was not terrible by any means. In fact it looked as if someone may have tried cleaning the front and rear sections before. You can never get all the crevasses with the seats in though. Under the passenger seat we found where the Strawberry smell was coming from. A long forgotten scent can of the strawberry variety lay wedged under there. Yum, yum. To the trash it goes.

The smoky essence still laid thick in the black carpet. We have some really decent Enzyme cleaner called Branch Basics. My wife mixed it with some lavender essential oils so I had an ever so slight scent of that which didn't bother me. I sprayed the carpets down fairly well. Then, you wait. The buggers gotta eat for a bit. There was what looked like some soda spilled around the shoddy cup holders. I gave that one a second spray down.

I didn't have a good brush so instead I used a few microfiber towels. I wish I had taken a picture of the mess that came up out of that carpet. Blackened goop from the ages. The car was smelling fresher already. It took some time and a good bit of muscle but, the passenger side carpet was looking pretty good. 

  The inside of all the windows had that smoker haze as well. Unfortunate. Some Windex, newspaper, and more microfiber towels fixed those up as well. The other interior pieces I had touched so far were all sticky. No Windex for those of course. Again back to my enzyme cleaner. I wiped down all the dash pieces, door cards, and other assorted interior plastics. I pulled the nasty steering wheel cover off. It ripped at the seams while I tried sliding it off the wheel. It was disgusting. I cleaned the shift knob and steering wheel at least a dozen times. There was a lot of glitter on this stuff.

Everything at this point was less sticky, glittery, and smoky. Awesome! Since the car was attractive from the outside but, gross inside it got me thinking. The car wasn't old enough to be a Helga but, I liked the ring to Helena. Attractive from the outside but, scary to get into for multiple reasons... A perfect fit for my little 328. So Helena it is. I don't think I'll ever get all the glitter out either which, is kind of fitting.

Now it was time for a good shower of the outside of the little lady. After giving the car a good cleaning outside the flaws in the paint work are more noticeable. I have a few areas I need to address. Nothing major but, they stand out to me. Overall the body was in good shape for its age. It still looked clean and there was no peeling clear coat or rust. I was a proud man person standing beside my freshly washed Helena. Never mind the car was auto and the front suspension was shot. Oh and you know I tire shined the hell out of those fresh kicks!

*I honestly wish I would have shampooed the carpet. Not that its a huge deal to do at this point. Just saying.

Align Time

So I had my appointment setup for Monday to get my tires and an alignment. The call was made with Shelly at Bolton James to order in a set of Hankook Ventrus V12s. Now I just had to wait for Monday. I took the time off for another reason but, things worked out nicely being able to have Friday and Monday available for the car stuff.

Over the weekend I had some conversation with my buddy Eric about the front end stuff. He suggested I look into the toe settings that the factory specifies for the E36. For his E46 the toe was rather aggressive from the factory. I thought about this for a while. All I could come up with was that BMW wanted the front end to slide before the rear due to safety concerns. You know, for all the Moms making high speed maneuvers on the high way to get their kids to soccer practice.

Bimmerforums - The Definitive Alignment Guide for your E36 M3
Bimmer Haus Alignment Guide

Monday rolls in, I drop off the car. I wanted to talk to the alignment tech handling the car. His name was Barry. Nice older gentleman. I asked him about setting the toe at 0 degrees for me. He looks at me funny and says: "What does that mean, an 1/8 inch, 1/4 inch."

I'm looking stupid at this point because, I have no idea. Not my job! You figure out the conversion between fractions and degrees. Haha. I began to explain the story of the toe in situation. I also explained that I have no idea about anything on this car because I just bought it used. I took a quick look at the front end but, I didn't spend any good time under there taking anything apart. Barry asked if I had an appointment for this because they were very full already. I explained that I did. He didn't leave me feeling too confident at this point. He said ok and we shook hands.

Not but an hour or so later I get a phone call from Barry. He tells me that the front passenger side strut is leaking fluid, the ball joint is tore up, and the strut mount was torn. Bummer. He told me that the rear end looked real good. He did a 4 wheel alignment but, he couldn't guarantee the front would stay because of the bad passenger side stuff so, he was only charging me for a two wheel. Once I get the front suspension fixed up to come back in for a two wheel alignment only. He also said that he saw what I meant by the toe settings on the front and was able to adjust that out.

Talk about going from uncertainty, to clarity. That's why I appreciate Bolton James and the work they do. I made my check list for the next steps. I asked if it would be alright to drive it until I can get everything fixed up. Barry said he wasn't concerned about anything safety wise but, that I needed to get that Strut taken care of. Yes sir, will do.

We went to pick her up. There she was parked out front. I ran in, took care of my dues to them, they handed me the key, and I was out of there. I love the smell of fresh tires in the morning. No skids, just freshly mounted rubber. The Hankook's looked pretty. A nice new set of shoes. So, the moment of truth: How did she feel now? I started her up. A nice hum. Then, it was time for a short trip.

Exiting the parking lot the car already felt completely different. No terrible pull to the right. No flop, flop from the front. Just a nice composed drive forward.  I took the car on a short run through a local back road. Even with the floppy suspension out front the car felt wonderful. I can only imagine how much better it will be once I put some real struts and shocks on this thing. Not bad, not bad at all. Another step towards getting her back together properly. Next up, a good cleaning.


E36 Seat Gear Replacement

This write up pertains to 98 328i Powered Sport seats. 

I've written this as a companion to the great write up from Odometer Gears here: http://www.odometergears.com/howto/E36_Seat_Gear_Replacement.pdf
Remove seat from the car. Have a friend help you take out the weighed beasts to help avoid scratching up all your plastics in there. Since the backs were stuck in the laid back position it was easier for us to pull them out through the back doors. 

There are two 16mm front nuts on the seat. They have black plastic cover caps on them. Note: You can move power seats without having the key in the ignition. There are two 16mm bolts out back. They are not covered with caps. 
Please note that if your seat is heated then, you will have a few extra wires clips to separate. 

 Drivers side - 5 clips.
  Passenger side - 6 clips
Turn the seats upside down. Remove the plastic cover off the bottom of the seat. 1 star - T30 is holding it in place. This exposes the motors.
Now is a great time to clean your carpet and suck all the nasty's out. I made almost $3 during this whole thing as well. It's hard to tell from this picture but, due to the amount of glitter this car has in it we have dubbed it the stellar glittercorn.

Getting the first motor out is a pain. We struggled with getting the right extensions to the two star T25 bolts on it. We used a normal 1/4 drive short ext and a twisty socket. After the first one comes out, the second is not as difficult.

We discovered that there is a bracket holding both motors together. Removing one of the T25s from this made getting the second motor out of the way much easier. I'll do this first next time. 
Here's a template I made with cardboard. The two T25s are the bottom side by side.

The gear box has six bolts holding it together. 4 are about an inch long T20s. Two at the bottom are about 4 inches long. They are T25s. 
When we took the cover off the passenger seat, the plastic gear just fell out in pieces. This is the worm gear, c clip, and broken green seat gear.
Be sure to clean any remaining pieces out just as the Odometer Gear walk through suggests. Having broken pieces of plastic coming in between that worm gear and the drive seems like a bad idea. Unless of course you enjoy replacing your seat gears. Its an easy step but, I'm sure it can be just as easily overlooked.

Getting the cover off was a bit challenging. As well as getting it back on. Those two large round discs in the center of the gear box is where the tough part seems to come in. The diameter on the cover is very close, not a press fit, just snug. My buddy helping me just wiggled it by hand until it popped off.

Installed the green seat gear. Different color lube. Bearing grease and lithium grease are the same right?

We used the tapping method described in the odometer gears guide. I sat the gear on the piece of 2x4 we were using. Then I sat the metal worm drive on top of the gear. To start it I tapped it very gently. I didn't want to break this one. Then, after its started, I tapped with a standard metal hammer until the gear was snugly fit in place.
It helps to have a hole, or make a hole, just bigger than the size of the worm gear in the 2x4 (or whatever smooth, flat piece of wood) that you are using. There was a convenient nail hole that fit just right. This helps near the end of the "press fit" for he gear. The worm drive shaft is proud of the green plastic gear by just a bit. I didn't take a measurement but, I'd say maybe 1/8 of an inch.
The seat belt bracket bolt is a T50. The angle faces inward toward the seat. Don't forget to put this through the plastic seat rail cover first. To remove this: There are two push clips holding the seat rail cover on. One in front underneath and one on the side of the rail on the back. The front ones had center pins that were supposed to come out first. I was unaware of this so I broke one of them. The two back ones heads are facing towards the center of the car. 
Also note that you won't be able to access this T50 when the seat is mounted in its correct position. Put the seat belt back on first then, position the seat in place.

There you have it. Now if all is back together correctly you should be able to enjoy moving the back of your seats again. Another check off the list. I'm getting there.


Taxes, Title, Tags, and Tires

  Took a Friday off to take care of the car taxes. These things normally take all day so I wanted to be prepared. Early mornings are always best at county offices. Same goes for the DMV.

  First stop taxes. In SC we pay taxes for the car when purchased and then, every year after. The initial tax receipt is the first step in the car titling process for us. Instead of having to pay a notary, if a car is bought and titled in SC all you need is a signature of the previous owner on the title itself. Makes things easy. So waited in line for a bit. Gave the quasi nice lady my stuff. After that it's on to the next cow line. A quick swipe of the card and we are through. Taxes paid. Next stop the DMV. 

  There are two DMVs near us. The primary site near the college is not the place you want to be, ever. After several dealings with them I was shown the light. A friend told me about the one on the north side of town. It's still a DMV with the normal herding lines and massive waiting area. The difference lies in the number of people that go there. Maybe less people are in the know about this other location. So I'm not going to talk it up too much. I mean really it sucks just the same. You really wouldn't want to go there...

  Anyways, I started filling out my paperwork. The only good place to get your 20 sheets of paperwork situated is at the only stand up desk thing. The problem with this for me is that my back is turned to the whole room. This is an uncomfortable feeling for myself. I could barely get my paperwork filled out before I called up to the desk. Good and a bad thing.

  The woman at the desk was fairly pleasant. She gave me a moment to fill out the rest of my papers. She asked which plate I would like. We have choices here in SC. I finished up the other paperwork and she tallied up my total. What's the damage? Not terrible. A swipe of the card and on we go. The whole process wasn't too bad. I even got a small smile out of her. Nice conversation at a DMV is nearly impossible. The car gods must have been smiling down on me.

  Which taxes paid, title situated, and tags in hand it was time to focus on what was next, tires. I'm of course partial to Michelin Pilot Sports but, they are costly. I'm on a tight budget here. The local garage I deal with had two other options for me. I could get the BFGoodrich g-Force Super Sports or the Hankook Ventrus V12s. Two fine choices. I'm glad I didn't have more because doing tire research is so challenging. There are so many factor to think about.

  The price difference was only a bit more. I looked at all the Tirerack.com reviews and checked the forums. Both tires seemed neck and neck. Dry traction seemed a bit better with the BF but wet traction seemed better with the Hankook. There were some negatives about the BF due to road noise. This was negligible for me because I'm used to all the road noise. At the end of day I decided on the Hankook's because of the wet traction and the tread pattern.

  I also had personal driving experiences with this tire in an e36 and an e46. The V12's are a great balance between performance and comfort. I was going with 225/50 on the 16 inch sport wheels that came on the 328. At this point performance didn't matter that much given the fact that the front struts were shot.

  This led to another concern: If I'm going to spend money on new tires I better make sure that the alignment gets done at the same time. I don't want to shred all my tire meat right off in a couple miles. So I set up an appointment to get the tires on and a four wheel alignment on Monday.


E36 Cabin Annoyances - The 50 Mile Low Down

  So I took the 328i out for more of a long distance drive. My daughter was with me this time around and it was close to nap time. For any first time parents, the car seat is a magic tool for nap time. She fell asleep on the way to where I wanted to go so, a small detour was in order. My daughter of course needed a good nap, else she would be cranky. No one likes a cranky toddler. Here are my opinions in 50 miles.

  - Cup holders.

  The cup holders are tapered, large at top to smaller at the bottom. I decided to go through a drive-through. I picked the fast food joint of my choice this time being Wendy's. All the normal drive-thru stuff happens. The scratchy, cracky speaker that 's hard to hear, the roll up to the window, the cash exchange. All good so far, a typical drive-thru experience. Next, they hand me my food. Smells good! Yum. They asked if I needed a drink holder. A drink holder? Haha! This is a BMW mam, I've go two perfectly good cup holders right here.

Then, the drink comes my way. Now I'm not talking about a Large drink here, I'm talking about a medium. The cup size is a somewhat normal 16-20ish oz container. The cup fits into the second of the tapered rings. This is where my confidence in the German cup holder engineering started to diminish. The cup is physically being held by about an inch worth of plastic. It is sitting up high because of the tapper of the holder. It can not go any lower without smashing the cup. The situation was made worse but adding a second drink. I really wanted to test the cup holders with a two drink setup. Go big or go home, right? Same size as the first. It sat in the cup holder closest the arm rest.

  So now I've got two normal sized drinks, filled to the brim with sticky, delicious soda, and flimsy plastic lids holding it all in. As I drive forward the cups teeter back. Just laughing at me as they change positions precariously. This car is still feeling new to me. I've put a decent amount of time cleaning her out at this point as well. So I'd really like to not have soda spilled everywhere.

  To exit the drive through its a right hand turn downhill slightly. I'm was really trying to drive, watch traffic, and keep an eye on the drinks at the same time. This didn't work out so well unfortunately I didn't even make one turn without issue here guys! The second drink closest to the arm rest tipped in ward. I'm surprised at the strength of those flimsy lids. It stayed on but, that still didn't keep Sprite from erupting forth. Spilling all over the e-brake handle and down the crevasse between the carpet and driver's seat. I'm sure this won't be the first incident. Cars were meant to be driven, ect ect. :/

 - Turn Signal, Cruise Control, and Wiper Levers

  This one will not be as drawn out as the cup holder situation. I simply feel like they are too far back from the wheel. *Edit - Perhaps too far back is a bad explanation. They also seem too short length wise.* 

  It always feels as if I'm groping for them when I need them. It could simply be that I'm not used to things on this vehicle yet but, I've never sit in a car and said hey, these signal levers seem to be hard to get to.

- Volume Knob on the stock stereo

  When you spin the knob the volume doesn't go up or down. You have to apply slight pressure down for it actually change the volume.

- Power Lock on driver's door

  I hear this is a super common issue. When you have your arm out the window for any reason. For me it happens often when I'm trying to scan my badge to get in the gate at work. If you bump the lock then, all the doors lock. Not an unusual thing just, it scares you the first time it happens. It happened to me today getting into the same gate. The problem I ran into is trying to get out after. The drivers door handle seemed hard to pull. Then, I gave it a bit more gusto, all the locks, in all the doors moved to the unlocked position, and the drivers door opened as normal. I had that feeling for a moment that my door was stuck closed and I'd have to climb out the window, Bandit style. Because race car!

  I'd mention the headlights but, they are not stock. More to come on this subject.

Rough Idle - A shaky situation

A day or so later after the excursion home the 328 still sat quietly in the garage. I really wanted to drive her back and forth to work but, I needed to title her, pay taxes, and give the car a good inspection.

The idling situation was on my mind but the tires were nagging at me more so. I had limited funds available at this point so I wasn't sure which direction to go in terms of tire tread or repairs. Both, at this point, seem rather high on the priority list.

Later that evening, thankfully, a buddy of mine (Jeremy) was able to come by and help me take a look see at the car. All the motivation I needed. He, being the same guy who was knowledgeable in the e36 market, was ready to get his hand dirty. Bring out the floor jack!

Laying under the 328 was a much different scene than hatch I was used to spending time under. Not knowing where every nut and bolt is located is, well, exciting. Basking under the inline six's cast iron bottom end, front mount steering rack, and elongated rear drive transmission was strange and wonderful.

We scoped out the suspension first. Definitely all stock. Passenger side: A ripped boot on the ball joint, cracks on the lolly pop bushing. The M3s have a more solid front rubber bushing. The 328 only has rubber material on the left and right side only. The rest is open. Hot spots for troubles and with 154K on the clock definitely in need of replacement. The driver side didn't look too bad. Tell, tell signs of why that passenger side tire looks so bad.

On to the oil leak situation. We could see fresh oil running down from the valve cover and what looked like the head gasket. Couldn't be sure. I thought for a moment that we could start the car then, see where the oil is dripping. Then my senses came back to me. Laying under a running car and watching for oil to come dripping out seems like bad idea. With no definite answers on the oil leak we moved on to the misfire issue.

I took the car off the heavy duty jack stands. Lowered her back down to the earth. Jeremy suggested that we start the car and pull the coil pack clip off to find the trouble spot. So that's what we did. An easy diagnosis. Looks like the issue resided with ole cylinder number 6. I also noticed that two of the coils looked different. I wonder what happened here?
  So we took out the coil pack and discovered that the spark plug boot was in bad shape. A nasty crack right down the side. Hmm, this could most assuredly be the issue.

The e36 328i has independent coils on each cylinder instead of a distributor. The spark still has to get to the spark plug so, in this case, the charge travels through a short spark plug boot. Back to the story.

After a quick change of the spark plug boot for another that Jeremy brought along with him, we put the pieces back together. I hoped in and started her up. Awesome! It did the trick no more misfire. The engine sounded good and revved freely.

We took a short trip just to see if things we solid. She felt good, purring on all cylinders now. Smooth and powerful. Ah, the torques. 

The automatics have a 3.93 rear diff, most of the time, and with only 4 gears in the trans it's a quick little car in 1st and 2nd. This is of course as long as the torque converter isn't slipping and you have good traction. Do you even drift bro?!
  Suspension: crap.
  Oil leak: not sure.
  Misfire: fixed. Yay!
  Power seats: still gangster
  Smell: smoky strawberries
  Glitter: everywhere
  We are getting there.