Sunday 21 July 2013

E39 530d: Air-Con Drive Belt Snapped - Fixed, now heatwave over...

With the recent heatwave I noticed my air-conditioning appeared to be struggling. It must have been over a year since I last stuck it on full snowflake mode and I know these things fade-off, but it had been working fine, so before I shelled out the £40 or so to get the system re-charged with gas, I figured I'd check the pipes and filters to make sure nothing was clogged up, as everything else had been round MOT time. Apart from a few errant sycamore seeds the system beneath the filters was like new, so a quick peer down the front of the engine showed the real culprit - the drive-belt had snapped and was wrapped like a snake, almost out of view, around a radiator hose.

I was surprised there is no warning-light on the dashboard or the climate-control unit for this, as there is with the alternator-belt, the air-con simply stops and the system functions like a normal blower/heater. With British summers being the way they've been, the belt may have been snapped a year or two ago and I've been totally unaware. It took our recent heatwave, and this is the first time it's been anywhere near 30 degrees for 5 or 6 years, to decide something was actually wrong. I think the most likely cause is all the time I spent running the car with the compressor turned fully off while the battery was in poor health, the constant resistance snapping the belt.

Naturally I would have gone straight to BMW for an OEM belt, but it was 2.30 on Saturday afternoon and they'd closed for the weekend, so I hit up Euro Car Parts, who had the right belt in stock at their new branch which is less than 2 miles from my house. It's an OEM quality part, made by Continental and came to £9.84, so I can't really complain!


I fitted the belt in about 30 minutes, without raising the car, removing the fan or even moving it onto the drive, using a quick and dirty method, which is fine for the air-con belt, but wouldn't work for the main drive-belt covered in this post.

1. Remove the front-piece of the engine cover [the slim one covering the PAS-fluid filler] by undoing the two bolts on top and one down the left-hand side using an M4 allen-key.

2. Undo the six fastening lugs for the front engine-undertray using a crosshead screwdriver, bend the tray back, free the leading edge from the front-bumper and lower it out of the way.

3. Place the new drive-belt over the two main pulleys from above and wedge the belt over the tensioning-pulley so it doesn't slip off and can be accessed from beneath the car.

4. From below the engine, hold the belt in place at the tensioning pulley and use a 16mm ring-spanner to rotate the tensioning-pulley downwards on its spring-bracket. [An open-end spanner will slip off easily and there isn't quite room for a ratchet-handle without removing the fan.]

5. Push the belt over the tensioning-pulley so it forms a 'pair-of-glasses' shape, as shown on this page of Ensure the belt is still in place over the two main pulleys, it may take quite a bit of rotating the tensioner to achieve this, and release the tensioning-pulley.

6. Refit the engine-cover and undertray - you're done, cold air!

E39 530d: Shock MOT Fail! - Tyres, drop-links and handbrake.

This is my third MOT since buying the car and the first time it has even come up with an advisory item, let alone a fail, but I guess it had to happen eventually. I took it back to Walsh Autos in Birkenhead who know me and are usually very fair, but I think the problem was the 5-series hadn't been washed in about 12 months and was absolutely caked with bird muck and grime. It looked like it had been standing under a tree for that time and the fresh tax-disc didn't help, so I guess the tester thought I was dragging her out to sell and was a bit harsh on the checks. The moral of the story here would be to always give the car a wash prior to an MOT so the car appears cherished.

The fail items were:

Both N/S Tyres tread too low - I went for top-of-the-range Nexen nBlue through work with our trade discount, which worked out at £50 each for 225/55/16. This was still slightly cheaper than the low-range Pirelli and Continental and had a much better spec - extra-load, higher-speed, quieter and with an eco-rating, so I let my usual tyre-snobbey slip and plumped for good budget ones. If cash had been tighter though, lower-range Nexen and the worringly named Achilles budgets could be had for as little as £32. Still, £100 for 2 tyres is still good, considering the price for one entry-level Pirelli at Kwik Fit is £124.50!

O/S Anti-Roll Bar Drop-Link rubber boot perished - It was the original and had begun to let dirt in, so I figured the N/S one wouldn't be far behind and replaced both. The N/S one appeared to have been replace a few years ago and was in good nick, but when it's a matched pair of something - shocks or top-mounts - it's best to renew both at the same time. This is a problem that would have been avoided had the previous owner replaced both, but I guess this is easy to say when doing the work myself and not leaving it at BMW after the MOT. The drop-links were £9 each, again through work, but can be bought for a similar price on eBay.

I won't be needing to put a guide up on how to do the front drop-links, as our mate Clint @ has already done one for his daily-driver E39 540i - Also check out his awesome E21 3-series engine-swap and drift-car build and, of course, my E21 stance-car build -

O/S Parking-Brake efficiency little or no effort - I tightened up the handbrake last year, but it soon started to loosen off again. It's a heavy car, so the cables or inner brake-shoes will likely need replacing at some point. To get it through the test, I cranked the cables up a bit and adjusted the shoes as far as they would go, using the method in this older post - . That was a week ago,

O/S No. Plate Light not working - Turned out to be a 5W festoon type bulb, which I had a few of lying around, so didn't cost anything. Be careful when popping the lens out, it does not press in from the side with the recess, as that would be too obvious - it presses in from the opposite side!

The overall cost for the MOT repairs was £120, so not bad at all really. It was the tyres that cost the lion's share and without them this would have been very cheap indeed, but they had to come round eventually. Even so, the money I saved by doing the work at home speaks for itself - throwing the car into a dealership I estimate to have come to £400+

Saturday 20 July 2013

E21 316: Sculpting New Arches...

The car survived a trip with 3 people in and no scrubbing at all on the 16x9s, which I found very surprising, but still I figure the arches are good to finish off. I've neatened up the pulled lips and made a start to filling in and re-sculpting the shape of the wheel-arches, but progress has been slow and my intentions of selling the complete project this summer are looking unlikely. I spoke to the guy who did the re-spray for me originally and he said to get the arches as good as could be and pass it back over to him to smooth them off and repaint them without having to go over the whole car again. Great, though I can't keep hurling money at it, and with more to do over summer I've had less time to spend on the E21 and more time spent enjoying driving it on the new wheels for a few weekends in the sunshine like I intended, not just the odd trip to work. Oh and there is the matter of my daily driver needing MOT attention, but that's a different story.

Never the less, both the o/s arches have begun to take shape. Getting the lips off the bigger wheels and tyres was too extreme a job for my arch-rolling kit, so I had to pull them out with grips in the end. This meant a fair bit less grinding on the o/s rear wheel arch and none at all needed up front. The arch-lip needed to be low for as much tuck as possible, I don't like the cut-arch look, so I got the pulled out lip roughly in line with the slope of the arch and built it up flush with P38 filler. This is as close to the look of those European BBS'd E21s as I could figure, with a slight flare to the lip rather than the flat-edged look of the original arches. This is probably the easiest method of smoothing and saves on a bit of body-filler, enough of which is being used already.

I haven't touched the nearside arches yet, the main thing putting me off being the n/s rear one that was used to test fit those oversized Yokohama tyres and has suffered greatly from the spinning-disc. With the extra lip cut off the rigidity has been lost and the general shape of the arch has deformed, as well as more tyre being visible, about 10mm of tuck being lost. I guess my only options are to try and spot-weld the rough section of lip back on that was cut too far, which I still have, and rebuild the shape of the entire arch in filler, or buy a patterned-part wheel-arch off eBay for £25, cut out the current one, weld in the new one, smooth it off, pull the lip out and fill all that in. Well, there's no doubt the first method is cheaper and a lot less work, but this is a large area to be filling and smoothing and a wide margin for error, plus I don't even know if the bent arch will accept the bit I cut off without messing it up even further... watch this space!