Making your service transcontinental

Jan. 1, 2020
While adding full line service of European makes to your existing capabilities will require initial costs in tool upgrades and training, starting off with routine services requires little more than the will to begin and a little extra reading. This m

Domestic vehicles? Of Course! Asian vehicles? Sure! Europeans? Well...

Drivability BMW 3 Series BMW automotive repair automotive maintenance vehicle maintenance automotive aftermarket In every shop that I have ever worked in, and in nearly every presentation I've given or attended where the topic was raised, the subject of working on cars bearing a European logo sends techs scrambling for the door. Yet for those who have taken the plunge and added European service to their menus, it has been a relatively simple addition with only a few glitches to overcome.

While adding full line service of European makes to your existing capabilities will require initial costs in tool upgrades and training, starting off with routine services requires little more than the will to begin and a little extra reading. This month we'll take a look at one model on which you can ease into service.

Focus on the BMW 3 Series

Ever wonder what the differences were in the 3, 5 or 7 Series Beemers? According to a German engineer I met at a Bosch event some time back, the first digit is representative of the overall level of the car. A 3 Series is considered more basic than, say, the 7 Series. In my opinion, the 3s are the entry level BMW, and there are a lot of them on the road.

The model also is a staple of the BMW lineup, a superb automobile in its own right. First introduced in 1975 as the E21 platform, it was the first BMW to feature a center console that was inclined toward the driver. Originally powered by a four-cylinder power plant, it received a horsepower boost in 1977 when the six-cylinder made its debut. Designated the 323i, it pumped out 143 hp with a top speed of 118 mph. By 1981, more than 1 million models had been sold. In 1982, the next generation E30 was introduced with more room, more power and more versions. More firsts for the E30 were the first diesel (324d), the first four-wheel-drive model (325iX), the first engine with four valves per cylinder (318is) and the first 3 Series equipped with a catalytic converter (325e).

The E36 took over in 1990, and this generation 3 Series brought us VANOS, the BMW variable cam control system and two turbocharged diesels: a four-cylinder and a six-cylinder. Eight years later, the E46 platform came to market. Among the innovations the E46 featured were xDrive four-wheel drive, VANOS on both cams of the 3.0 liter six and common rail injection on the diesel 330d. The most current platform, released in 2005, is the E90, and the latest generation of this long-lived model, the F30, should be unveiled as a 2012 model about the time you read this article.

Not only is the 3 Series an excellent car, but it also is a great model to start off your Euro experience. It can be intimidating at first, but its modular design makes service work rather straight forward once you know how.

A Word on Oil Changes

The E46 provided me with lots of opportunities for service, and they often started during a routine visual inspection of cars brought in for normal maintenance. To make sure you start off right with your new BMW customer, be sure to follow these simple tips when changing the 3.0-liter's oil.

The filter is located at the front left of the engine next to the power steering reservoir. It's a cartridge-type filter and should be removed before draining the crankcase. If you remove it after you've completed the bottom half of your service, oil remaining in the housing will drain into the empty crankcase and you'll likely overfill the engine. Replace the O-rings while you're servicing the filter housing and lube them prior to reinstallation.

The rubber gasket that seals the oil filter housing to the block is a common source of oil leaks. This is a repair best left for an experienced technician and can be done without removing the intake manifold assembly.
Use the correct synthetic oil when you refill the crankcase and don't forget to reset the oil change interval before returning the car to its owner.

It's Easier Than You Think

When you lift the hood on the BMW 3 Series with the intention of doing anything more involved than an oil change, it can look a little intimidating. The engine at first appears partially hidden under the cowling, and you can't easily see where some of the components are secured. While you can service the plugs and perform other routine service with everything in place, it is a lot easier if know a few little secrets.

Here's how to make access to the top end a breeze.

  • Remove the cabin air filter cover located in the center of the cowl by turning the three fasteners one-quarter turn.
  • Remove and inspect the cabin air filter.
  • Remove the wiring harness retainers using a small flat blade screwdriver, inserting it into the back of the clip and lightly prying out and up.
  • Loosen the four Torx head fasteners securing the filter box to the body. The bolts will stay in place in the filter box.
  • Lift the filter box up and out and set it aside.
Now you easily can reach the fuel rail cover and the valve cover trim. Both have two trim blanks that snap over the fasteners you'll need to access. Just look for the little slot next to each cover and lift them up and out of the way. From there, changing the plugs is a breeze. You'll find a few ground straps attached to the coil mounts. Be sure you put them back where you found them as you button things up.

While you're changing the plugs, keep an eye out for oil leaking into the plug wells. The valve cover uses a rubber gasket that hardens with age. The valve cover bolts also have rubber grommets that should be replaced at the same time as the gasket, so make sure your kit comes with them.

Cooling System Notes

A code P0128 is a common reason for the malfunction indicator lamp (MIL) to illuminate. This is a generic code that tells the tech the ECM thinks the engine is not warming up as quickly as it should. The most common cause of this code on the Beemer is a failed thermostat, and the replacement comes as an assembly that includes the thermostat outlet housing. If you look closely, you'll see a two-wire connector at the top of the housing you may first think is a temperature sensor.

It actually is a heater that is part of the temperature control strategy designed by the engineers. Engines run most efficiently when they run at the upper end of their operating temperature range. So the thermostat itself has a pretty high temperature specification. In real world driving, though, high loads can cause a sudden rise in engine temperature and the engine could cross the line into the danger zone. So the ECM turns on the thermostat heater to get it to open sooner than it normally would on its own, when the situation calls for it.

Replacement is no problem. Take a few minutes to remove the air box by loosening the intake boot clamp at the mass airflow sensor, disconnecting the sensor and removing the top of the chamber. Remove the filter, then the two fasteners holding the lower chamber in place and finally lift it out and set it aside. The coolant hoses clip into place and might take a little coaxing to separate them from their outlets after lifting the retaining clips up to their stops. Return the clips to their normal position and use a light coating of antifreeze on the sealing rings to make reinstallation a lot easier.

Fan clutch failures are not uncommon on cars with some time on their clocks, and leaks in the system caused by plastic fatigue in the radiator tanks and/or reservoir can result in systems that are pretty low on coolant. These cars do not like to overheat, and the plastic impellers used on the OE water pumps and some aftermarket units can either separate or outright melt.

According to one BMW technical service bulletin (TSB), if an overheat condition occurs and certain inspection criteria are not met, nearly every plastic component in the cooling system should be replaced. I've never had to go that far, but just be aware that a simple leak repair could turn into a bit more and inspect accordingly.

Belt replacement often is easier to do from underneath. There is a cover over the center of the tensioner pulley, exposing the large bolt that secures the pulley to the assembly and is not the point used to release the tension on the belt. Look a little up and to the left, and you'll see the 14 mm cast head you need to pivot the tensioner with.

Brake Pulsation?

The 3 Series can suffer from brake pulsation issues that are not necessarily caused by what you might be thinking. The lower control arm is located on the back half by a large, fluid-filled bushing, and they are common failure items. Grab the front wheels the same way you would to check for steering linkage play, and watch the movement in the rear half of the arm. In moderate to severe cases, the wheels will shift under braking and produce the same kind of pedal feel as rotors that are suffering from too much lateral runout.

Replacement can be done in the car. First, gain access by removing the plastic access covers and the frame reinforcement plate. Then remove the two bolts that secure the bushings to the frame. Using a pair of channel lock pliers, rotate the bushing on the control arm to break it free. Generous application of a lubricant will help in sliding the old bushing assembly off. Clean the control arm with a shop rag and then lube the arm and the new bushing with silicone grease.

There are two slightly raised guides on the control arm, and two corresponding notches in the bushing. There is a left and right side, so make sure you grab the right one. Slide the new bushing all the way on, then reattach using the new hardware the kit comes with. A word of caution, though: there are two locating bosses on the frame. You need to make sure the new assembly is all the way flush with the frame before you tighten the fasteners down. While it won't hurt to check the alignment after you're done, you really didn't change anything in the repair that should have altered the angles from what they were when the car first arrived.

These are just a few of the most common service issues I've personally seen on this popular car, and I'm sure that many of you who focus even more on servicing the BMW line can add plenty of your own. I invite you to do just that by logging on and joining me in our online community, the AutoPro Workshop. You'll help techs around the country and may have some fun in the process. Check it out at www. and then click on the "Community" tab in the upper right corner of the page.

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