Tuesday, September 16, 2008

1993 BMW 525i

I was looking at the BMW listings on craigslist back in mid July and found a 93 525i that appeared to be in not too bad of shape that was listed for sale at $1500. The guy said it ran well, but that it had a bad water pump on it. He also said that it had a problem with the power seats not working right.

After working on the 95 525i and knowing that changing a bad water pump wasn't any big deal, I called the guy and went and looked at it. Other than the water pump the only thing I noticed was that it had a major oil leak that was coming from a bad valve cover gasket, it was pretty obvious. It definitely needed some work, but I thought it had potential. In California, it is the responsibility of the seller to provide a current (within 90 days) smog certificate. This guy had no idea, and I thought that I could take care of it so I told him that if he took off a hundred bucks, I'd buy the car, he jumped on the offer. As you will see later in the story this was not such a good call on my part.

The interior of the car was in pretty good shape, other than the common BMW seat twist problem. Everything seemed to work, except there were a few burned out bulbs in the dash area. Since the water pump was trash, there was no way I could drive it home, so I made arrangements to rent a car hauling trailer and tow it home. I will write another post about this experience later. It deserves more time than the bit I would give it here.

So, I get the car home, barely. I order the parts I know it needs right away and wait for them to arrive. While I'm waiting, I take everything apart that I'm going to replace. I buy my parts mainly from Autohausaz.com. Their shipping is quick (and free if you purchase at least $50 worth of parts) and by far they have the best prices that I've been able to find.

The first batch of parts show up and I put them on. New water pump, new thermostat and housing, new belts, new radiator hoses, new air filter, new ac filter, new spark plugs and connectors, new valve cover gasket, spark plug gasket and grommets, new breather hose (from MAF to TB), new fuel filter.

Once I had all of those parts installed, I started the car and found what I thought was a bad pulley on one of the belt tensioners. I was getting a brake pad sensor warning along with a F/FOGLIGHT warning and a Coolant Level warning. I also plugged in my code reader and found that I had a bad knock/ping sensor (4-6 cylinders) and a bad coolant temperature sensor. So back to the parts ordering. Since I knew what it takes to do the knock sensors, I ordered two knock sensors, intake manifold gaskets, TB gasket, new coolant temperature sensor, new front and rear brake pads, new front and rear rotors and new brake pad wear sensors.

When these parts showed up, I put them on. It didn't take me quite as long this time to replace the knock sensors as it did the first time on the 95 525. Anyway, that gets done and while doing so, I bumped up against the brake fluid reservoir, and I heard a crack and all of a sudden I'm leaking brake fluid all over the floor, not a fast leak, but steady. So I go inside, find a reservoir at autohaus and order it along with the two rubber grommets that the reservoir mounts on. So, while waiting for the reservoir to arrive, I figure what the heck, I'll remove the reservoir and get a head start. So, I find that the reservoir wasn't broke, just the grommets were basically eaten away. I pull the reservoir off, clean it up and leave it off. I plugged the two holes in the master cylinder and waited for the grommets to arrive. The next day I'm home, they had arrived and I replace the grommets and have my wife and son help me to flush the brake fluid in the system. To do that you pump the brake pedal with the engine off and do so about 10 times per wheel starting on the right rear wheel, then the left rear, then the right front and then the left front. It was amazing how dirty the old fluid was in the system. It has new clean fluid now.

So when we get the fluid flushed and bled, I'm going to start working on the brakes since they're shot. I get in the car and turn the ignition key and it just spins in the slot. The only thing that happens is that the "Key in Ignition" warning on the LCD dislay is showing. Wonderful...

Well, I wanted to finish up the brakes, change all the rotors and pads and put on the new pad wear sensors. Once I'm done, I turn my attention to the ignition key problem.

So I go check in the Bentley's manual on what might be wrong. All I can find is how to take the ignition key cylinder out of the steering column. I follow the instructions on how to remove it and nothing happens. I keep trying and trying and nothing. You are supposed to be able to stick a piece of stiff wire in a small hole on the side of the cylinder, push and the cylinder just slides out. For me it wasn't happening. I just kept at it and after a couple of hours of trying different things it finally pops out in my hand. I later find that for a car that old you have pretty much won the lottery if you can get the cylinder out without breaking it, I guess I will never win the lottery now since I used up all my luck on the cylinder. So, once it's out I look inside the hole where it fits and see that there is some metal parts broken inside, GREAT...

I do some more searching on the internet and find that what is broken is the
ignition lock housing/steering lock housing. This thing costs $121. To get to it, you have to completely dissassemble the steering wheel/steering column and cover. Also you have to remove most of the covers and shields at the drivers feet covering all of the wiring under the dash. So, I start taking things apart, amazingly things come apart way easier than I thought they would. After about an hour I've got things down to where I can tell where the housing actually is. To get it out is fairly simple except for one thing, there are two security bolts that are installed that have no type of slot or hex head to get a screwdriver or wrench on. They are called fracture bolts that have an external torx head on them that are cut off once installed. So, back to the internet. I found a post on a message board that was extremely helpful to me, otherwise it probably would have gone to a repair shop to complete the job. Regretfully, I can't find the site now, I will keep looking to see if I can put a link here. I will try to list the steps from memory since I did it almost two months ago. Once you get down to the housing, you need to remove the ignition switch, that is covered in the Bentley manual. I'd already removed the lock cylinder, so I start to take off everything that has to come off to get the housing out. The steering wheel has to come off, so I look up in Bentley's how to do that and follow the instructions, just make sure you disconnect the battery before trying to take off the steering wheel or you may activate the airbag, which you don't want to do. So, I finally get to the point where I can work on the fracture/security bolts. The website I found said that the way he got them out was to take a dremmel tool with a cutoff wheel and cut slots in the top of the bolts. So I try it and it worked great... on one of them. The other did not want to come out. I tried and tried, but nothing. Apparently the way they get these bolts out at the shop is they break them somehow, so I try pounding on it with a hammer and screwdriver but it won't budge. After doing that for about 20 minutes, I'm ready to give up. I try one more time to unscrew it with a screwdriver and it comes right out, what luck!!!

So, I remove the housing and get everything ready to put back together when the new housing arrives. It arrives in a couple of days and I put everything back together and it works like new. I even put new fracture bolts in, but I left the external torx on them instead of removing them just in case I ever have to work on it again.

I've done quite a bit of work on the car and may have some of this stuff out of order, but it's pretty close to what I've done.

So, I'm having a problem with a LCD message "Brake Lt. Circuit". I'm thinking it's a bad bulb, so I check and find the left brake light bulb is out, I replace it, still getting the message. I remember that there is the third center brake light and find out how to get to it and replace it. It works one time and then nothing, all of the brake lights don't work. I'm still getting the same message and no lights now. I go back to the internet and look for a solution. I'm reading a lot about the "LKM" or Light Control Module. This is the main control for the lighting on the car to put it simply. Sometimes the circuit board gets a bad solder joint and can be a cause for the "Brake Lt. Circuit" message. Luckily for me it ended up being the brake light switch being burned out. Too bad I didn't know about it when I had the lower dash area apart working on the ignition housing because that switch goes down there at the brake pedal. Once I put it in the brake lights worked fine.

So finally, I can drive the car to see if it works OK. The brakes work, the car runs, it doesn't overheat, but I still have a noise that sounds like a diesel engine running. I get my mechanics stethoscope out and try listening to everything that's turning on the motor. It's so noisy that I can't really tell. I had already replaced all of the pulleys, so they weren't causing the noise. I started thinking about the noise and remembered that a bad VANOS made a noise similar to what I was hearing. I read up on it a bit and decided that was my problem. I found this website called Dr. Vanos. They rebuild the VANOS units and sell them for way cheaper than you can get anywhere else, so I order one. It comes, I put it on and the noise is still there, GREAT...

So, I get the stethoscope out again and listen much more carefully. I find that the tensioner shock on the water pump/alternator side has worn an oblong hole in its mount and is really loose. I order a new one and replace it. It quiets the noise down a lot, but doesn't get rid of it all. Since most of the noise is gone now, I can hear better with the stethoscope and find that I have a bad bearing on the alternator. I order a new/rebuilt one and put it on and now it runs smooth as silk with no weird noises.

The motor actually runs really well considering the shape everything was in when I got it. I was fearing the worst when I couldn't pinpoint where the noise was coming from.

At this point in time, I haven't been able to run it too long, so I drive it around a bit and smoke is pouring from under the hood. I can smell it and know it's from all of the oil that leaked on and around the exhaust manifold from the really leaky valve cover gasket.

So, I'm finally to the point where I can get it tested for smog compliance. I take it in to the Test Station and it fails, miserably. It had really high CO and NOX. I ask the guy at the Testing place what could cause that and he gives me the run around about how BMW's are such highly technical cars that he couldn't even begin to guess. So I ask him a hypothetical question if this wasn't a BMW what would you suspect, he tells me the Catalytic Converter. He gives me the name of a repair shop who he said does excellent work on BMW's. I call them and they tell me the same thing, that it's more than likely the Cats. They give me a quote of $1200 to fix the car. I said I'd have to think about it.

I start looking on the internet for Catalytic Converters and find a "Direct Fit" replacement sold on ebay and made by CATCO. The price is nearly half of what it would cost to buy one through autohaus. I order it and it arrives about 10 days later. I pull the exhaust system out of the car and try and hook up the supposedly "Direct Fit" replacement and it doesn't even come close to fitting. I call CATCO up twice and talk to their engineering department and finally was told that I should just return the Cat to whoever I bought it through.

I contact the company and talk to the customer service department. They have outsourced this to India I'm pretty sure because they all have very thick accents and I'm having a hard time understanding them. I tell them the whole story and finally get them to send me an RMA # so I can send it back. They tell me that I have to send it back in the original packaging. I tell them that the box that it was sent it was nearly destroyed when they shipped it to me. They were adamant that it be sent back in the same box, so I asked if I could patch it up using other cardboard, and they said I could. When I finally got the RMA authorization it told me that the original box had to be intact and that I could use no tape on the outside of the box. I had already prepared the box by making several patches and used tons of tape to secure them. I called CATCO to find out if it would be a problem since they had shipped to me directly from their warehouse. The person I talked to told me it wouldn't be a problem, so I sent it back. I'm currently waiting for a credit to my credit card, I'm preparing for a battle to get my money back, I doubt this will end easily. (Update: Had no issue getting my money back, once it arrived back at CATCO, the company refunded promptly. I was happy to say the least!)

Anyway, when I took the exhaust out of the car, I noticed that the heat shield protecting the drive shaft was a bit mangled. I figured that while I had it apart, I would remove the shield and try and straighten it out a bit. I'm glad I did, because I found that the flex disc and the center support bearing were bad. The flex disc would have lasted a while longer, but had several cracks in it. The center support bearing was nearly torn through all of the rubber bearing holder. That must have been why I was getting a "wump, wump, wump" noise when I would start from a stop. The drive shaft was sort of just flopping around until it got spinning good. So, I ordered a new flex disc and center support bearing. I followed the instructions I found in Bentley and on the BMWe34 website. It is fairly simple if you take your time.

While I'm waiting for the disc and bearing, I start calling around and find that I can get the Cats installed with new mufflers at a good Muffler shop for $450. When I dropped the exhaust system to put on the other Cat, I found that the OEM muffler was shot too. I went ahead and put everything back together, the flex disc, the center support bearing, straightened the heat shield and put the exhaust system back in. I drive it over to the muffler shop the next morning and drop it off. I pick it up later in the afternoon and it's all done, ready to be smogged.

Before I take it back for the retest, I take it on the freeway and get everything nice and hot. I had put in some Chevron Techron to help with the Fuel System on a recommendation of this old guy I know who has been a mechanic for over 60 years, I respect his opinion. I get to the Test place and it passes with Flying Colors. I can finally register it after almost two months of working on it. It is finally legal to drive.

As you can see, my decision to buy the car without having the previous owner smog it was a big mistake. I'm guessing that it cost me over $500 to get it smogged.

Now that it's running, I had a couple of other things that needed to be done. I replaced the transmission fluid and the filter. I couldn't believe how dirty the fluid was and the filter was black. There is a magnet in the bottom of the main pan that attracts any metal shavings or pieces to keep them from circulating in the transmission. It was about three times it's normal size with all the small metal bits and dirt mixed up that were stuck to it. It seems to shift much smoother now that it's got a clean filter and clean fluid.

I also replaced the shocks and struts on the car along with the control arms and thrust arms and new front sway bar links. I nearly killed myself when doing the first front strut. I got ahead of myself and spun off the main bolt that holds everything together with my impact wrench before I put my spring compressors on. I was shocked to find my arm flying up in the air and the impact wrench being thrown out of my hand. Parts went everywhere. All I can say is that I'm lucky my head wasn't over the top of the strut when it let loose. Luckily, I wasn't hurt, nothing was broken and I didn't lose any of the parts. I did the rest of the struts/shocks/control arms/thrust arms/sway bar links much more cautiously and everything went as planned. The car rides so much nicer now. No more feeling like you just got off of a boat on a rough sea.

That is where I'm at now. I've actually done much more to this car than I've written about, much of it just small jobs. It really isn't much to look at, but should be a safe vehicle to drive for me and my kids for the next couple of years. To tell you the truth, for the most part, I really enjoyed working on it and I learned a lot about the car.

22 comments:

bennyboyhead said...

I've got a 95 525i and have done or will soon be doing most of the jobs you described here. I have just one question: Where the crap did you find a shop that would replace both mufflers for $500?! The lowest price I've found in my area is $1200, and that doesn't include any additional cat work.
I'd really appreciate the info.

Thanks
Ben

Almost Gone said...

Ben, There is a shop that I've used numerous times for muffler work who I trust in a neighboring city. Just so you know, I didn't install OEM mufflers on the car. The shop put on a couple of glass paks and it looks OEM from the outside, but it has a nice little rumble now. I could have had just the CATS replaced for $250, but since the muffler was shot, it cost another $200 for the glass paks and labor. I'm really happy with the way it turned out. This car is for my son to drive back and forth to school and work. I wasn't really that interested in keeping it original.

bennyboyhead said...

Ahh, that explains it. Thanks. Keep up the posts. I'm learning a lot.

My old '92:
http://www.bimmerboard.com/forums/posts/402442

Almost Gone said...

I'm glad that I've been able to help. Don't hesitate to ask if you have any other questions.

eric r said...

i have a 1993 bmw 525i, and im having trouble getting it to pickup fast, when i step on it, it just takes off slow, do you know wat it might be.....thanks

Almost Gone said...

eric r, Unless I had a chance to look at it or had a bit more information, it would be very difficult to diagnose. There are tons of things it could be with what you've told me.

If you like, email me and maybe we can get to the bottom of it.

Pam said...

Whew!!! I have a 1993 525i that I've driven for 4 years with no repairs. Had been well maintained when I bought it. Now, car still runs very well but is having a lot of issues. I don't know if it's worth repairing or I just need to sell. Issues:passenger seat won't go in upright position, needs at least shocks (bouncy ride), needs tires, headliner coming loose in some areas, crack in windshield. If I repair, how much should I pay for all the repairs?

Almost Gone said...

Pam, I wish I could give you a better idea on what your repairs would be. If you're paying someone to do these things, it may or may not be worth it to repair. The windshield can be replaced for about $200. The headliner I have no idea. New tires can be had for about $300-350 as long as they are the original size rims. The seat tilt problem is an easy fix if you do it yourself, if you pay someone I'd guess about $150-200. Shocks and struts if you have someone do it will cost around $1200 - $1500. I did my own for about $400. Hope this helps.

Michael D said...

Hello, Almost Gone. I just want to say that I throughly enjoy reading your E34 525i posts. Thanks for posting and being so detailed too. I picked up a '93 525i with 140k for $3,000 that so far is running perfectly, as it was luckily maintained very well. Knock on wood! I definitely know where to come is I have a problem though. If seems you've done most of the possible repairs that can be done on a 525i so far! Anyway, you seem like a great and very patient guy. I would have been out of my mind doing all those repairs...

Almost Gone said...

Michael D...

Thanks for the kind comments. Like I said, I'm not a professional mechanic, but I do enjoy working on cars. If you ever need some help, let me know I'll be glad to tell you what I know.

Michael D said...

Well I really appreciate knowing that - thanks much. Btw, how many miles do you have on your Bimmers? Are your engines still running strong with good compression (besides the gasket and cracked head issues? I was surprised to see how little wear your engine seemed to have in the pics of the head gasket repair.

Almost Gone said...

The 95 has almost 200K, the 93 is at 192K. They both seem to run fairly strong. The 93 has a little bit of lifter noise when you first start it up on a cold morning, but other than that, they are good.

Anonymous said...

Wow- Enjoyed your writing.. I am stuck with my 1993 525i, and luckily came across your post. Hopefully you have a moment to help. Had about 230k and ran great. Started to overheat, so we replaced the thermostat, and all is well. (not really). I may have filled it with generic coolant, and think it is causing an issue with the vehicle putting it into a "safe' mode? Wont move over 10miles an hour. Then, I replaced the batter, but not sure I vented it at all ( read that I may need a special battery? Anyway, curious if you know what may be prompting that vehicle to enter this safe mode, and if I need to reset a computer or something. Constantly uplugged the battery, charged it, and put it in again. SOmehow, it keeps draiining. Cant get the security code for the BMW either. It was just such a nice car, something tells me it is a simple fix somehwere! Thanks again if you get this... fonzanule30@aol.com

Almost Gone said...

Anonymous...

I don't think that the Generic Coolant would cause your problem. From what I've read, not ever having the "Safe Mode" warning, is that is a Transmission problem, not a problem with the motor. It may be a problem with the battery too. It may be that you just need to do a reset on the computer. Not being there, it is a bit difficult to diagnose.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I have enjoyed your blog, I just got a bmw 525i, sadly from a dishonest person. It started to overheat before we got out of town and he was gone. I believe it is just the thermostat, I towed the car home to prevent damage. I ordered the stat, gasket and housing gasket. Can you give me insight on how to change it easily?? It looks real tight to me. Also, i saw in a recent blog a word about generic coolant, is that stuff a problem, i figured green stuff was green stuff. Your help is greatly appreciated.

Almost Gone said...

Anonymous...

Send me an email at station75@gmail.com and I'll help you out.

Lou said...

Hey almost gone

I have a 1993 525I. The car past down to me. I was wondering if you could help give me instruction on how to replace the water pump. I have no clue on where to start.

Email me : mlkvang@gmail.com

Almost Gone said...

Lou, you have mail.
AG

Shamus said...

Hi AG!,

I have a 1993 525i Wagon that I just had the entire front stearing rack replaced by a friend for really cheap. But I still need the front struts replaced and I don't want to ask him to do this as well since I already OWE him in a big way. After reading your blog, I'm now kinda scared to do this, with you describing it shooting into the air and taking your tool with it.
Is there a good guide somewhere that I can download to show step-by-step insructions to do this so I don't kill myself while trying to replace these? i really would love to do it myself and not have to pay someone 1200.00
thanks in advance.

Almost Gone said...

Shamus, if you follow instructions, especially the first time you do it, you shouldn't have any problem replacing the struts. My mistake was getting ahead of myself and not going step by step. I had done it once on my 95 525i and thought I was following the steps as written in the Bentley manual. I obviously got too far ahead.

Anyway, I don't know of any good step by step instructions for the E34 on the internet. There are some for the E32 chassis, but they are just a bit different than the E34. The instructions in the Bentley manual are very complete. Like I've told others, I don't do a step by step if there are good ones available elsewhere. The Bentley will get you where you need to go.

Good Luck.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I just bought a 1993 BMW 525IT. I just got it home and found the back window pops open, or unlocks when the car goes into reverse. Any ideas?

Almost Gone said...

Anon,

Haven't had any dealings with the Touring version of the 525i. The only thing I could think of that would cause that is a weak latch or one that is out of adjustment. Not knowing for sure, that is about the best I can offer you, Sorry!