Monday, July 7, 2014

Chronicling the E46 Project Car - Part 1

She was a black 2002 BMW 325i. It was 5-speed, RWD, and she needed A LOT of work. She came to me neglected and abused, desperately in need of some love and attention. But she is still a beautiful sight to be seen - black on black leather, with 30% black tinted windows and perfect 17" stock wheels.

Then I took her out for a date. Late at night when there was no traffic, we looped around the Southern State, up the Bethpage State Parkway and through the switchbacks in Bethpage State Park. I forgot how good it felt to drive a manual transmission. The suspension was so stiff and the steering so responsive, yet I could kick out the rear end on my command. The interior was supple yet supportive black leather, bathed in an orange glow from the instrument cluster. Sure the shift knob disconnected in my hand during a couple of enthusiastic gear changes, and I had to slow by downshifting, lest any police officers behind me notice the failed brake lights due to the faulty electrical system. But it didn't matter.

It was at that moment I made a fatal mistake; the same error chronicled through history as a precursor to many bad decisions.  I fell in love.

So the story goes like this. This particular model was a prime example of the E46, arguably BMW's most desirable 3 series. It had all the bells and whistles and sport packages available for the 2002 model year, but had 140K on the clock. Mechanically, the 2.5 liter inline 6 motor sounded good, but the clutch was completely shot. So bad in fact that every time I depressed the clutch pedal fully, the engine would grind. I almost named the car "Quackers" because every time I ran through the gears it would sound like a duck at every shift. I ruled this out to be a faulty throw out bearing, which was on its way out, and taking the clutch and flywheel with it. that's a $2000 job. I also needed to put  new tire on it. The one on the rim was flat, and apparently the previous owners attempt at sealing it with tire gunk were unsuccessful. I wonder why.
For reasons unknown, tire gunk failed to fix this flat tire...
It also needed some body work, with many scratches and dings, and missing a corner lamp with a cracked remnant was held on by painters tape. The sunroof made a terrible grinding noise when you tried to operate it, but it didn't seem to be leaking yet. Since it was an Arizona car, the sun damage was also very apparent on it, with all of the black trim rendered a permanent light grey, while the headlights were fogged beyond functionality. I also had to park it in-gear on a flat surface, because the e-brake was shot. but still I saw potential. 

I decided to buy this car both to enjoy it for some time and to flip it. I knew I could do the majority of the work myself, and as long as I set realistic budgets, I could make a nice 1-2K profit from this car.

The transaction complete, I set out to work. I regulated it only to around town travel and short trips, and used it to only commute to the office on Fridays.  
Her first mugshot, it aint too pretty
The first step was to fix the cars electric, sunroof and cornering lamp to make it derivable. This is when I discovered the website apparently, car parts are stupid cheap if you know where to get them. I got a new corner light for under 20 bucks, and slapped it in with about 5 minutes of labor. 
New cornering lamp installed, but
 only a good amount of Goo-Gone
could get the painters tape
off of the paint.
The electric was almost as easy. It looks like the previous owner had actually forced in the wrong kind of bulb to the tail lights, which caused a short and melted some of the harnesses. A few bucks in parts later and some new bulbs, and the tail lights were good as new. The battery though was still on its way out and needed replacing, as it wouldn't start after a few cold nights. it turns out, that the cold actually wreaked more havoc than I thought on this car. 

If you drive stick, you know an e-brake, or parking brake is absolutely a necessity to keep the car from rolling when parked. I took apart the console housing, and milled some of the shattered pieces of the brake mechanism back together. I secured it with some clamps for reinforcement, and now it works just fine. I will have to be gentle with it, but it holds securely. 

Then came the sunroof. The car had developed a leak in the rain, where pools of water would form on the rear passenger floor. My immediate thought was that the sunroof was the culprit, so I started working on that. My first mistake here was that i didn't Google "E46 sunroof problem" before I bought the car. Now is when I also realized one more thing; I'm no stranger to turning wrenches on Japanese and American cars. I have a pretty good tool set, and I know my way around a motor. But this is like learning everything all over again. It's all backwards, not where it should be, and instead of screws, everything is held down with Torx bolts, which are seriously annoying. But back to the sunroof...

After some searching through the forums, there appeared to be a pretty major design flaw within the E46, with the sunroof. Apparently, the sun shade rides on a track that is made of plastic. These plastic pieces of course break prematurely, and get stuck in the drive mechanism for the sunroof. This then bends and distorts the sunroof's mechanicals, rendering it useless. The solution is to spend 300 bucks on a new sunroof cassette and then a weekend installing it. So I closed the sunroof and disconnected the switch. This also solved the problem. 
The view with the sunroof removed. the track on the left is completely fouled and needs replacement. 

A few days later, I went out to the car after a storm, only to find more water. After more time on the forums, I found BMW massive design flaw #2. Apparently, the doors all have a "vapor barrier" on them, which is a layer of foam between the door and the interior door panel. When it gets cold, the factory sealant becomes brittle and comes off, which makes the doors leak. A lot. So begins the very messy job of ripping off every single door, and putting them back together using a very tacky RTV silicone adhesive. This took my about a six pack to complete to get everything to dry. Now the car is dry as a bone.

Applying the RTV silicone sealant to the
vapor barrier to stop the leakage
The door exposed to reveal the vapor barrier
that had come loose

Now that it was getting warmer the next job to tackle was the body work. There was some paint and scratch repair, and a full compounding the entire body was needed for the oxidized paint. This was followed by a thorough waxing and interior detailing. 

If you like black cars as much as I do, you probably realize that it s a love hate relationship; they are impossible to keep clean, but no color looks better than black when its clean and waxed. For this I use a great product on all my cars called the Black Box by Turtle wax. The black wax itself doesn't last long, but I coat that with an additional layer of Mother's liquid carnuba wax on top of it to retain the shine for a few more months. Next, the black trim was weathered beyond salvage, or so I thought. I sanded it down to smooth it out, and then hit it with about 5 coats of Maguiar's ultimate black plastic restorer, which works miracles.  I took a day off of work to clean my cars, which was only a 5 beer job.
After a days work of body work, she is looking good. 

Then came the headlights. This car came with beautifully crafted HID projectors, but they were hiding behind a very thick fog of corrosion. After doing some research, I settled on another Maguiar's product, Their heavy duty headlight restoration kit. See the below pics for a testimonial, this stuff worked great, and they are still flawless.
Before and After of the headlight restoration. 

Now that she was looking proper, it was time to dive into the motor. One day, after a spirited ride, I notice a drip, drip, HISSSSSSSS of oil droplets hitting the manifold. This terrified me, and immediately thought head gasket. So I checked the coolant, smelled the exhaust and inspected the oil cap, and the HG seemed to be intact. But there was a pretty good size trail of oil oil running through the engine compartment, and by the looks of it, the slow leak had been for some time.  Back to the forums I went. 

This is when I found yet another design flaw, which is premature failure of the Valve Cover Gasket. The parts only cost me about 20 bucks, and required doing open heart surgery on the motor to rectify. After ripping apart the whole block, the hardest part was actually chipping out the brittle, cracked old gasket without getting any into the crankcase. While I was in there, I also took the time to inspect the plugs, crank and timing chains, and all looked to be in perfect condition. but I definitely found the oil leak, installed the new gasket, doused it in RTV, and put the motor back together. The whole process took about 3 beers to do, which ins't that bad. 

Inside the inline 6 cylnder is a wonderful example of German engineering and
precision. Note the bottom right, where the gasket failed and the oil leak originated.
The next project is going to be the big one, which is the clutch and flywheel. apparently BMW felt that is was necessary to use a heavier, super expensive and more prone to failure dual-mass flywheel in their transmission construction, which is super helpful. Right now I'm getting slippage in 1st and 3rd, so I know the clutch is on its final miles. Driving is now limited to 5th gear highway cruising and the bare minimum to keep the motor healthy until this gets taken care of.

Budget: (Target $2500 )
Car - $1500
Tags/ Title / Registration: $200
Corner lamp assembly: $19
Valve cover gasket set: $22
various chemicals for detailing: $25
Maguiar's Headlight kit: $25
AMS Auto RhinoPak Clutch kit: $190
Insurance: $200
Beer: $20
Total so far: About $2200

So that's where we are. Overall, I want to thank my wife for her help on this. Well, rather her tolerance anyway. I kinda feel bad for her, because in the last few months, she has come to the realization the she married a car guy. Now I'm already hungry for my next flip project.

Stay tuned for part 2, which is going to be clutch installation and the actual flip of the car.