I sold a car on eBay without any hassle

It took me a year to sell my 1999 BMW 528i. No, I did not spend a year advertising it and dealing with no-shows and time wasters. It just took that long to work up the courage to actually list the car on eBay.

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Replacing the front lower control arm on an E39

About six weeks ago, we returned from a trouble-free 2200-mile road trip around Europe. Nothing went wrong, nothing broke, nothing happened that should not have happened. However, not 300 miles later, I found myself with this:

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2178 miles around Europe in a £1000 E39

Tell someone that you are about to embark on a 2000-mile road trip in a 19-year-old car you paid £1000 for more than two years ago, and they’re likely to question your judgement. Cue Jeremy Clarkson leaning in towards the camera, raising an eyebrow, and uttering those immortal words: ‘What could possibly go wrong?’

Well, in this case, absolutely nothing went wrong. In fact, thanks to the car, this was probably the most comfortable and enjoyable road trip I’ve ever been on.

A wet Monday morning, all packed and ready to go.

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Preparing the E39 for a 2000-mile road trip

Some time ago, when planning holidays for this year, my wife and I decided this was the year we would finally do the family road trip round Europe. We have lived in the United Kingdom for seven years now, and though we’ve visited a number of different places on the continent, we haven’t yet done a full-on road trip. So we marked out a route, picked some dates, and booked a few AirBnBs.

The next step, of course, was to decide on the car. The E39 has served admirably on a number of occasions for family trips, but as I have said far too many times, I’ve been itching for something different. Knowing we would be taking a few smaller trips with my in-laws when they arrived in the summer, I started hunting for a second-generation Volvo V70/XC70, a car that has been on my radar for a while, particularly because of its seven-seat option. However, a couple of months ago, with the search for a seven-seat V70 with the right engine coming to naught, I decided we would just stick with the E39. After all, it has proved its reliability time after time, it’s big and comfortable, and would do the job well.

That said, I knew the car would need a bit of work before it would be ready for a 2000-mile road trip. There were three essential jobs that needed to be done: new front struts, new tyres, and a new water pump. I also wanted to replace the rear differential bushes, rear anti-roll bar bushes, and address a few other minor things. Though the parts ended up totalling more than I had really wanted to put into this car, the work had to be done if it was going to ferry us round Europe safely and comfortably. Continue reading “Preparing the E39 for a 2000-mile road trip”

Flex disc woes

On most rear-wheel drive vehicles, a flex disc, sometimes called a giubo (which, you may be interested to know, is properly pronounced JOO-boh), is fitted where the gearbox and propshaft flanges meet. Flex discs are designed to help smooth out the transfer of torque between the gearbox and the rear wheels. You can see it in place on my E39 below, with the gearbox crossmember removed, which you need out of the way in order to access the flex disc.

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The photo below shows the old flex disc from my car on the left, and the new one on the right. Now, if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you will know that I replaced this last March. So why am I doing it again now, and more importantly, why is the old one so distressed already? Continue reading “Flex disc woes”

Talking about BMWs on the Both Hand Drive podcast

squarelogo_small-e1495969861356Ian Wright, the man behind the Both Hand Drive podcast, very kindly invited me to join him the other day for a casual chat about all kinds of things, mostly to do with BMWs. He’s a great host, and I had a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I was only using the built-in microphone on my MacBook, so the sound from my end isn’t great, but if you want to have a listen, you can find the podcast on iTunes (and presumably on Google Play, although I can’t seem to find a link for it), or on ShoutEngine. And be sure to subscribe!

Improving performance by cleaning and re-crimping electrical connections

A few weeks ago, I replaced the seals on the VANOS unit on my E39. Replacing the seals is supposed to restore low-end power and response, increase fuel economy, and help the car idle better. I can’t say I have noticed any dramatic improvement in how the car runs since doing the job. Granted, my seals were only partially worn, but in the 500 miles I’ve driven in the past few weeks, the only noticeable change has been a slightly smoother idle when cold. Continue reading “Improving performance by cleaning and re-crimping electrical connections”

I nearly wrote my car off today

Because I spent the first 24 years of my life near Toronto, Canada, I have seen my fair share of winter driving, occasionally in some pretty extreme conditions. So it was to my surprise today to find myself in the middle of the most terrifying winter driving experience I’ve ever had, in the North of England, with only a couple of inches of snow on the ground.

Wandering into the North Yorkshire Moors for a lazy morning of recreational motoring, I found myself on a rather narrow, snow-covered road. The road had a few hills, but was relatively flat, and I was having no trouble with traction in the E39. Following the map, I could see that I was about to rejoin a proper two-lane B-road, so decided to press on. What I wasn’t expecting was for the last half mile of the road to feature a 15-20% downhill grade. Or that it would be covered in a sheet of ice.

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Repairing the VANOS seals on BMW’s M52TU/M54/M56 engines

Since 1992, BMW has used a variable valve timing unit, called VANOS (an abbreviation for the German, variable Nockenwellensteuerung), which advances or retards the timing based on readings from the ECU in order to optimise performance. Initially, a single VANOS setup adjusted only the intake timing, but BMW introduced a double VANOS setup in 1996 to adjust both intake and exhaust timing. The unit sits at the front of the cylinder head, and the readings from the ECU send a signal to the VANOS solenoid, which then adjusts oil pressure to operate two pistons inside the unit. The pistons in turn adjust the timing by advancing or retarding the camshafts. Continue reading “Repairing the VANOS seals on BMW’s M52TU/M54/M56 engines”