Home » The Joy Of Owning Two Old German Cars Is Having Both Of Them Crap Out On You In The Same Week

The Joy Of Owning Two Old German Cars Is Having Both Of Them Crap Out On You In The Same Week

Double Trouble Ts2
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My BMW had let me down, throwing off its crank pulley in hilarious fashion at 50 mph. “No matter,” I said. “I’ll just drive my Mercedes until all this blows over.” So, champ, how’s that going for you?

Not well. I punted around in my 1998 Mercedes E240 for a week or so while I decided on a plan of action for the BMW. I’d sourced the cheapest crank pulley I could find—$120 AUD from Maxspeedingrods—and waited upon shipping. And yet, before I could deal with it came a warning, unwelcome. “COOLANT LEVEL” screeched the dash of the Mercedes. “Okay, maybe just a top-up needed,” I mused.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

No such luck. The next day, the same, with telltale spotting on the ground to boot. It was losing coolant fast enough to be a problem—my problem. I had two cars, and neither one would get me down the road. Two cars down in as many days! The shame of it all.

Worse, I felt powerless to deal with the problem. With the BMW, I was stuck waiting for parts to ship. With the Mercedes, I couldn’t even start to investigate. Some fool decided to landscape this place with chunky, ugly gravel. It makes even the simplest job an utter pain in the ass. If you’re gentle, you can maybe get down on to your back, and wiggle your way around on the pointy rocks, for about three minutes at a time. Then you explode in rage at the irritation of thousands of tiny points jabbing in your back, neck, and head. Even better when they’ve been heated to a nice roasting temperature by the giant cancer lamp Australia calls a sun.

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As best I could tell, the Mercedes was either leaking from the radiator, or close to it. But I couldn’t get under the car well enough to see, and I couldn’t get it on ramps because of the rocks. I couldn’t just yank the radiator, either. By virtue of being an automatic model, it has ATF lines running to the radiator that need to be disconnected from under the car. If I wanted to fix this car, I’d have to dig.

In a week with temperatures dancing around 100 F, I set about clearing a usable driveway. In the past, my tires had dug through the gravel to brick below, and I’d hoped that perhaps some remnants of a sane person’s driveway lurked beneath. A few heavy shovelfuls revealed my hunch to be right, and I started digging in earnest. It was hot, sweaty work, particularly for someone that spends 40 to 60 hours a week sitting on a chair for a living (sad, I know). But I persevered, and carved out a dusty, filthy little patch on which I could repair my car.

I set out my ramps, and tried to get the Mercedes in the air. By virtue of the slope of the drive, or maybe the heat affecting my judgement, my first attempt was a poor one. I overshot the end stop on the ramps, which ended up under the sills instead. A lovely benefit of owning plastic ramps is that this embarrassing faux pas of mine left no real damage. Round two, I got the car up just fine. I shored things up by building a gravel berm in front of the rear tire to ensure the car wouldn’t go anywhere.

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20240208 193732
Doesn’t look like much, but this took SO MUCH DIGGING

I then proceeded to fight the Mercedes for the radiator’s hand in marriage, or whatever. At first, it seemed like it would be easy. The top radiator support actually unbolts from the body of the car, no problem at all. “It’s like working on a tube-framed S13!” I chuckled, thinking this would be easy. But alas, no.

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I found myself laying on the brick driveway getting as filthy as a rat that doesn’t just eat garbage, but loves garbage. See, when you lay gravel, it turns out, it’s typical to lay down a layer of sand or other softer material underneath to give it something to sit in and grip on to. That thick layer of dust was getting all over me and in me, and it was barely any better than working in a mud bath as coolant and ATF rained down from above.

Oh, yeah, fun note. The coolant level warning comes up when you lose a liter or two (a quart or two, okay) of fluid from the overflow tank. The cooling system actually still had six or seven liters (six or seven quarts, keep up) inside, at least until it started spewing it all over dusty little me. My new red brick driveway was now covered in shades of green and brown.

20240212 192613
Yeah just bury the radiator under everything, it’s not like I’m a struggling young professional DROWNING IN COMMITMENTS that doesn’t have time to work on a car!

Beyond the hoses, I had to pull off front trim pieces, the electric fans, the airbox, a supplementary air duct, and I had to unbolt the air conditioning condenser, too. It seems Mercedes thought that a W210 having a radiator problem was pretty unlikely. Pretty bold stuff from whoever chose to spec out plastic end tanks.

After pulling apart what felt like half the front end, I finally wrested the radiator free. Only for it to appear largely intact. There were some marks on the sides where it appeared coolant had leaked, but I wanted a smoking gun. I needed to know that this was the part at fault, because it was proving incredibly difficult to find a replacement for less than $500.  The marks on the driveway suggested it was leaking from the passenger-side end tank, but I wanted to be completely certain.

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I ended up plugging all the outlets on the radiator and filling it up with water, praying that I could find a leak. I wasn’t heaps confident, because my garden hose in no way recreates the heat and pressure that the cooling system sees in use. It was possible that the end tank was only leaking when the engine was hot, which would make this a boondoggle. In the end, though, I found a small deformation in the end tank, a sort of dent, that seemed to be weeping slowly. I decided that was proof enough and elected to buy a new radiator.

I would have tried to source one from a local wrecker but E240s don’t come up all that often. Instead, I redoubled my efforts and found a decent candidate for a few hundred bucks. I’m waiting for that to ship now.

In amongst all this, though, I found time to enjoy a nice hot dog and moan about my car woes. I shot another episode of Sausages Und Sedans, the Internet’s only sausage car show. The Mercedes was the star, along with the Debrezener sausage from Hungary.

Bimmer Time

In the meantime, I’d had parts for the BMW finally show up. A new crank pulley, what joy! It attaches with four bolts, so it surely had to be an easy swap, right?

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Now all I had to do was change it over. I’d elected to go for a straight swap in the interest of saving money. My existing accessory belt and tensioner seemed fine, with no real wear or noise in the bearings to speak of. My cost saving ethos wasn’t all good, though. My cheap replacement pulley—just $120—had not come with replacement bolts.

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Why was this a problem? Well, certain bolts are designed as “torque to yield” fasteners. To understand that, we need to understand materials science. The very simplified explanation is that you can take something like a steel bolt, and stretch it. This is what happens when you tighten a fastener—it stretches a little bit longer, often imperceptibly so, as you’re tightening it down. If you do this a small amount, the deformation to the bolt remains in the “elastic” region, where the bolt will return to its original size when you untighten it. In contrast, torque-to-yield fasteners are tightened past the yield point of the material, and they are stretched into “plastic deformation.” When stretched to this level, the fastener does not return to its original size when loosened, and should be replaced after a single use. Torque-to-yield fasteners are chosen as the technique generates a higher preload on the bolt and increases its fatigue resistance, useful in high-stress applications like head bolts, for example.

It’s not absolutely clear to me whether the crankshaft pulley bolts are torque-to-yield fasteners. The M10 bolts have a torque spec of 40 Newton-meters, plus a further 120 degrees of rotation. This kind of spec is at times used for torque-to-yield fasteners. However, it’s also sometimes used as a more reliable way of ensuring a fastener is torqued properly, by ensuring a baseline plus some extra rotation. BMW seems to specify that they be replaced after a single use, but they do say that about a lot of things.

Okay, real talk. I’m supposed to be an engineer. We’re supposed to be able to answer questions like this using maths and paper, so that’s what I did. I wanted to find out whether it was likely these bolts were being torqued to the yield point of the material, and what the possible final torque value actually was. So I did a lot of maths using these formulas. This gets heavy; feel free to gloss over if you just want the answers.

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I made some assumptions that engineers will like to look over (k value of 0.2, lubrication factor of 20%, material of the bolts). I also based stress calcs off the minor diameter of an M10 bolt (8.97 mm), but did the torque calcs based on nominal diameter of 10 mm. I also may have made some major mistake somewhere; some of these numbers felt a little off. Take everything here with a grain of salt.

Big Maths

Anyway, based on these numbers, I estimate that the initial 40 Nm torque stretched the bolt by 2.27 mm, or roughly 0.09 inches. That sounds excessive to me. But then, based on the thread pitch of an M10 bolt, we can calculate that 120 degrees of rotation would stretch the bolt by a further 0.5 mm (~0.02 inches). So, for a total stretch of 2.77 mm (0.11 inches), I calculated the bolt was at a stress of around 554 MPa, with a final torque application of around 48.8 Nm.

There’s quite some stretch involved, to be sure. At the same time, that total stress of 554 MPa? Well, let’s look at that. If the crankshaft pulley bolts are say, Grade 8.8, medium carbon steel? They have a yield strength of 640 MPa. If a couple of my numbers shift, and the stress is a bit higher than I calculated, then yeah, maybe these fasteners were torqued into the yield region. But if the bolts are, say, Grade 10.9, which could be likely for a crankshaft-related fastener? The yield strength of that material is 940 MPa, and it’s unlikely the fasteners were plastically (permanently) deformed by the first tightening cycle.

Ultimately, all this math is pointless because I don’t actually know what metal the fasteners are made of. I did all the maths after the fact to see if I could justify reusing the fasteners. Really I should have just spent the extra money, but who has the time to wait for shipping?

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I elected to try my luck reusing the bolts. But first, I had to remove the damaged pulley. This looked easy enough, but the confines of the engine bay conspired against me. I could just about wedge my rattle gun onto the bolts, but it was jammed up against the radiator fans, leaving no room to actually back them out.

Instead, I had to crack them loose using the rattle gun, snug them back up gently, and then use hand tools to remove them. With the fasteners removed, the old pulley came straight off, and I even found a bonus chunk of rubber that had fallen off when the part failed. Bonus!

20240211 190757
“That’s the crank, baybee! New Yawk City, best city in da world, go da Mets baybee.” I’ve been writing too long today.
20240211 190632
“We got him.”

The new pulley slid right on, no problem. Tightening it up would prove more difficult, however. The initial part of the torque spec was to tighten all four fasteners to 40 Nm. Here’s the problem—the crankshaft moves. I’ve got an auto, and so there’s no way to jam the car in gear to lock out the crankshaft. You’re supposed to use a special tool to lock the crankshaft in place for this job, but, you guessed it, I didn’t have one. I found a guide online that explained how to use a borescope and an Allen key to lock out the crank at the back of the engine, but lack of access again seemed to make it impossible.

I re-watched a number of videos online, one of which explained that fitting the accessory belt can be done before fully torquing down the pulley. I tried that. I was able to get to about 33 Nm on each fastener reliably enough, tightening each one as the engine was on a compression stroke, which provided some resistance to rotation. I then did another pass and I reckon I probably got most, if not all four, up to 40 Nm. Ish.

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But what of the further 120 degrees of rotation required? Well, my inspiration here was straight out of the YouTube comments section. Simply use the rattle gun and watch the fastener as it rotates. I reckon I got about 90-120 degrees on each one. It probably helped I was using a semi-flat battery in the impact wrench. Fully charged it might have over done it, snapping the fasteners.

Starting the car, the engine burbled into life just fine, with the accessory drive neither self-destructing nor wailing a complaint. Generally, anything spinning at thousands of RPM will make you aware in short order if it’s unhappy. I’ve taken it on a few drives and it all seems to be happy enough.

But what of the bolts? Well, if they truly were fragile torque-to-yield bolts, I could have trouble in short order. I’ll be keeping a close eye on the crank pulley, making sure they stay torqued up. The math has me quietly confident they will. Worst case I can order some new fasteners and fix my work. Even then, I’d probably want a crank-locking tool to do the job properly, and that could be difficult to find or expensive.

Anyway, I drove around and parked my car somewhere to take photos, just to prove to you all that the Bimmer actually runs. And you know, so old mate Peter has something to use for a topshot.

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For now, though, my fleet is back to 50 percent readiness. I just need that radiator to come in and I can get the Mercedes back together, too. Let’s see what other sick surprises my German sedans have in store, though. I suspect my efforts to sell up and ship out could yet have further complications.

Image credits: Lewin Day

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Defenestrator
Defenestrator
3 days ago

The torque to yield bolts would have to be softer than whatever they’re threading into, right? Otherwise the block itself would become single-use. Which would be a bit excessive even for German Engineering. So, definitely not 10.9 and quite possibly something softer than 8.8. Worst case, they should at least last until you can get the other car running again before they start backing out.

Roofaloof
Roofaloof
7 days ago

Great article! I’m another ex-auto industry person. It’s good to not work there anymore 🙂

I’m impressed with your math(s)! I’m an engineer and would have struggled to remember all that stuff.

Musicman27
Musicman27
8 days ago

Maybe next time buy a Prius, more reliable and more fuel efficient.

Rapgomi
Rapgomi
9 days ago

While I had relatives visiting town for my brother in laws cancer treatment – all three of my good running 4 seat cars decided to act up! Jag XJR (mystery overheating) Jeep ZJ (heater core fails midwinter) LaForza (brake master cylinder). It was very frustrating. I never figured out why the Jag overheated, and it has never shown any cooling issues before or since. I sold the Jeep to my friends. The LaForza brakes will have to wait until its dry and warm this summer.

The best thing I’ve found for working under a car is harbor freight foam floor mats! They are super cheap, easy to clean, thick enough to let you work under a car on gravel, and waterproof for wet grass…. I use them anytime I need to kneel or lay down on a hard or dirty surface. And if you cut them up they make great padding to stop rattles or unwanted contact.

https://www.harborfreight.com/4-piece-anti-fatigue-foam-mat-set-94635.html?_br_psugg_q=floor+matt

Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
9 days ago
Reply to  Rapgomi

Those foam floor mats are great. I also have a couple of those plastic computer chair protectors that cracked but still work for under car jobs. I just leave them on the floor of my garage and park over them.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
8 days ago
Reply to  Rapgomi

That sounds like step up from using cardboard, which is my solution when I don’t want to jack a vehicle up enough to use my actual wheeled creeper. I can get a lot of jobs done with one wheel off and one jackstand to save wotk..

Gary Lynch
Gary Lynch
9 days ago

Ramps are a PITA. Use jack stands.

Parsko
Parsko
9 days ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

Wheel chocks. Get 2, one for in front of tire, one for behind. Also makes putting things on jacks much safer.

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
8 days ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

Which is why I built ramps. The delta between low and high (left / right) is about 4 inches and about 7 inches front to back. Thus the ramp is full length on one side and one wheel the high side. The slope is such that when the vehicle is level due to the rampsI have plenty of clearance to slide under. I have a Prius, so negligible clearance for doing anything without a ramp. When I was doing oil changes evey 10 weeks, it was a lifesaver. Along with some repurposed flattened large cardboard boxes to protect from the asphalt. I have a long 2×4 marked with the widths of the wheels for each of my vehicles so I can set it up easily.

I feel for you having lived with a gravel driveway for years.

GirchyGirchy
GirchyGirchy
8 days ago
Reply to  Gary Lynch

Jacks are a PITA. Use Ramps.

They each have their use…I have both and use them for different things. Depending on the car, it can be an ass ache to jack it up, but ramps are simple.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
9 days ago

But what of the bolts? Well, if they truly were fragile torque-to-yield bolts, I could have trouble in short order. I’ll be keeping a close eye on the crank pulley, making sure they stay torqued up. The math has me quietly confident they will. Worst case I can order some new fasteners and fix my work.

As a temporary fix, fine – but I recommend you get the right fasteners in there and do whatever is needed to get them torqued correctly.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 days ago

Lewin sorry to hear of your problems. I can’t help with the repairs but in the future a large piece of cardboard or old carpet works if you have room underneath. If you need to jack it up a trip to a metal business and $10 can get you two flat strong metal plates to sit on top of the gravel to support your ramps or Jack’s. (SORRY AUTO CORRECT)

Peter Andruskiewicz
Peter Andruskiewicz
9 days ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

That’s assuming Jack still lets you borrow his ramps…

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 days ago

I knew someone was going to say something. BTW try typing Jack’s in a sentence with auto correct on. No matter how many times you correct it it keeps changing it. Or at least mine did.Overactive? How do you get it too accept your last name without changing it?

Last edited 9 days ago by Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 days ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

Heads up rubber, hot day, long time to repair don’t mix. Cardboard and carpet don’t transfer heat as well. Although I do wonder about one of those plastic desk chair things and a mechanics dolly.

Roofaloof
Roofaloof
7 days ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

I call it luxury cardboard.

My driveway is so sloped I can’t really use a creeper. I slide some fresh cardboard under there when I have a more time-intensive repair

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
7 days ago
Reply to  Roofaloof

I call mine my British roadster oil catcher. I have built up a 4 foot stack of 4×4 cardboard. Great for painting, yardwork, working under the car. My brother staples it to his old wood floors for his kids to draw on. There are so many uses.

Clear_prop
Clear_prop
9 days ago

Who puts gravel over pavers?

If you have to work on gravel, a plastic snow sled could be helpful to your back. Sourcing one locally might be a challenge.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
9 days ago
Reply to  Clear_prop

I use an old foam pool float. I would image those would be much easier to source in Aussie-Land.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 days ago

Might work once gravel is a vitch.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
8 days ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

What I use is a 2″ thick squishy foam float, not an inflatable. Should last at least through a wrenching season.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 days ago
Reply to  Clear_prop

Providing one is still small enough to fit into a child’s sled. But I seem to remember seeing plastic toboggans just flat plastic about 2 ft 6 in pieces of stiff roll up plastic that might fit the more Rubinesque of us.

Mechjaz
Mechjaz
9 days ago

I feel extremely seen by this quote in particular:

>It was losing coolant fast enough to be a problem—my problem

This perfectly encapsulates 1. what happened with the truck over christmas and 2. the appropriate escalation of response to coolant leaks

Edit: The way you include the goofs is great. It feels much more real to know that you trying to speculatively suss out whether a bolt will yield as a result of its material properties but also overshooting the ramp is a perfect blend of knowledge and, let’s say, relatability.

I didn’t know torque-to-yield was a thing, either. I’m guessing they didn’t have the grade stamped on top as many-but-not-all bolts do?

Last edited 9 days ago by Mechjaz
Cerberus
Cerberus
9 days ago

A friend of mine who loved Audis would have three of them. Most of the time, he could keep one of them running by scavenging parts of the other two that he could then replace under less duress.

Torque
Torque
9 days ago

You have two aged German sedans as your sole means of transportation in a country the size of the contental United States with the population of Canada?…

‘That’s a bold move… Cotton’*

*this is from Dodgeball a terrible movie that if you turn your brain off can be quite funny

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 days ago
Reply to  Torque

I prefer Monty Python and The Holy Grail.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
9 days ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Why not both? They’re both hilarious in their own ways.

Interestingly, tempering German parts with Korean design isn’t the worst for reliability. Just be sure to keep up on fluid changes.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 days ago

For some reason I can’t stand Ben Stiller. I loved his folks both great comedians. He has never done anything to me personally. I did enjoy Night at the museum, and Something about Mary but Something about him. He isn’t even that great looking so not jealous. Maybe that he is always too manic. Overacting?

EmotionalSupportBMW
EmotionalSupportBMW
9 days ago

Emotional support will continue till moral improves!

Vanagons4Eva
Vanagons4Eva
9 days ago

Waiting for the shoe(s) to drop given my 3 German cars with combined 578,000 miles on them. Backup is a 34 year old Cadillac. It all seemed like a good idea at the time…

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
9 days ago

This is a prime example of something that I learned the hard way: figure out how to do the job and get everything that you need to do it before you start. It makes everything so, so much easier. Yeah, the bolts were an uexpected problem, but two hours spent reasing forms and online guides vs. 2 hours out in the heat swearing at your car….I know which I’d pick.

Peter Andruskiewicz
Peter Andruskiewicz
9 days ago
Reply to  Rollin Hand

Yea, a bit more forethought and planning would have made both these jobs a breeze.

1) put down large sheets of cardboard over the gravel to lay on – you can get them for free from behind most big-box stores or appliance stores if you don’t have any.
2) pressure test the radiator and cooling system to find the leak before removing parts
3) Used radiator, especially with plastic end caps, from a vehicle that is that old is just asking for more pain since its typically the changes in material properties over time and use that cause the failure, and the used part will likely have seen just as much use as what you’re removing
4) always drain the system you’re working on, EVEN IF YOU THINK ITS EMPTY! It never really is…
5) Laying down cardboard under the vehicle will also help to catch any spilled fluid in a quick, easy-to-clean up way.
6) Plan the work ahead of time – you’re loosening or tightening a bolt into something that spins, so you need to hold it in place. Does it have any holes to pass a screwdriver through to brace against something behind it? Can you wrap a belt around it to hold it, like a chain-wrench? A neat trick I’ve used is to grab a belt meant to go over three pulleys and just use it around two, turning the pulley with the bolt in the direction I’ll need to turn the bolt (so counter-clockwise for loosening) until the extra slack of the belt on the non-tensioned side gets pulled under the tensioned side, effectively locking it in place. You can’t remove tension at this point or the belt will likely slip off, but this can hold a surprising amount of torque – I’ve used this method for removing the crank bolts of a Subaru EJ25 when replacing the timing belt and components.

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
9 days ago

This is all really good advice. Being surprised that there was coolant in the system was… strange. I chucked at “it never really is [empty]” because it’s so true! Some coolant is always left over and will splash all over the floor/cardboard/engine/stray cat.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
9 days ago

I used to have a gravel drive. I had strips of old carpet I’d lay under the car when I was working. I dug pockets down to the tarmac for the jacks and axle stands, no need to move a ton of gravel to make it safe and comfortable.

A side benefit is that carpet is strong enough that you can lower an MX5 gearbox on it and just drag it out from under the car by pulling on the end of the carpet.

Tbird
Tbird
9 days ago

Bought a pre-bent box end wrench from Clark’s to access the belt tensioner on the ’62 Corvair I’m helping restore. Keep it in the car.

Ben
Ben
9 days ago
Reply to  Tbird

I actually bent a wrench myself in order to be able to get it on some suspension bolts in my truck. Just stuck it in the vice, heated it with a propane torch until it was glowing, then grabbed it with some plyers to put the bend in. Worked perfectly and now I have a “custom” tool sitting on my shelf. 🙂

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
9 days ago

Last year after a lot of unpleasantness, and with more on the horizon, I got rid of my beloved E86 Z4.

No more German unreliability for me.

Then when I had the front off my Toyota fixing the AC, my Honda decided to piss fuel out, but only when the engine was running.

This is why you should always have an emergency back-up third vehicle. I never though the Lotus would be the last one working.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
9 days ago
Reply to  Captain Muppet

I never though the Lotus would be the last one working.

Tell me you’re living in Bizzaro World without telling me you’re living in Bizzaro World.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
9 days ago
Reply to  Captain Muppet

Definitely laughing at “I never thought the Lotus would be the last one working”. For me that would be like having the FiST and the Suburban out of action and relying on the old Jag (although the Jag has had waaay fewer problems than one would expect).

JumboG
JumboG
9 days ago

The crank locking tool is just a rod that goes through a hole in the block and then into a hole in the flywheel. It’s actually a pretty easy design.

Sergey Pan
Sergey Pan
9 days ago

I just has similar situation: my 93 W124 started running rough, vacuum leaks…

and this morning my 88 E28 also started stuttering at the take off, almost the same symptoms as W124…. within a week.

Sergey Pan
Sergey Pan
8 days ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

haha, indeed. I have a continuation to this story.

Yesterday, for some reason (probably due to some wacky wiring) my radio fuse blew up. so while i was changing it and I decided to fill up my coolant to the full mark. when I was doing that I noticed a leak coming out of the bottom of my thermostat housing which I thought was a loose clamp. Was I wrong! it was the entire connector that just snapped off when I tried to tighten the clamp. It was from what looked like a very old crack that has been leaking for some time now when the level in the expansion tank goes over certain mark LOL. Just ordered new thermostat housing and gaskets…

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
9 days ago

“You’re supposed to use a special tool”

There is a special level of Hell reserved for engineers and management responsible for “special” parts and tools to service them when standard parts and tools would do just fine.

Looking at you random Honda engineer who designed the front ball joint on my Accord about half a mm wider than the widest setting on a standard ball joint separator, thus requiring a $450US dealer only tool to remove.

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
9 days ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

I agree with this to an extent. I am not aware of any car that doesn’t require some kind of special tool to hold the crank pulley in place, so here a special tool is warranted. Sometimes special tools make otherwise awful jobs much easier (e.g., the special bushing removal/installation tool for the E46/E83 differential may cost $110, but it gets that bushing removed and reinstalled in like 5 minutes drama-free).

Sometimes manufacturers design themselves into a corner and then have to make a special tool to compensate. Your Accord ball joint sounds like the latter. That is very silly.

Auto Guy
Auto Guy
9 days ago
Reply to  Micah Cameron

Honda tagline from a few years back: “we make it simple.”

Nope. Hasn’t been that way since their 70s dirt bikes.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
9 days ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

I dread one of these stories being about the assembly I’m responsible for that involves using a crows foot socket or cutting and welding a custom spanner.

Sometimes there just isn’t a better solution, but we’re sorry anyway.

Sometimes of course we’re lazy, stupid dicks. Unless you’re in the office at the time it’s hard to tell.

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
9 days ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

It’s the German love of mixing fasteners; it’s the mix of hex heads, Torx, and socket heads with a sprinkle of triple-square that drive me mad. But at least I can buy all of those tools.

Why can’t I disassemble 95% of my car with a 10mm socket like a Honda?

But, yeah, dealer-only tools are bullshite. Meant to force you to go and pay someone else to do it for you.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
9 days ago
Reply to  Spikedlemon

Its that last 5% that’ll get you!

VanGuy
VanGuy
9 days ago
Reply to  Spikedlemon

Reminds me of when a buddy was replacing the shocks on my ’97 Econoline…the front ones were fairly straightforward, but he didn’t even attempt the back. Looked at them, did some googling, found it requires some Ford tool that’s hundreds of dollars, “or a blue-tip wrench.” Learned a bit of mechanic lingo that day when he translated that for me.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
9 days ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

Just that much more motivation to buy a Lada. Hammer, tape, wire. That’s all you need

Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
9 days ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

If it’s just a half a mm can you not dremel a cheap ball joint separator? Not exactly a precision tool

Last edited 9 days ago by Rabob Rabob
Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
9 days ago
Reply to  Rabob Rabob

This was several years ago but no, not the one I had. IIRC it was pressed steel. Modifying it like that would have destroyed it. It had also been borrowed from the autostore.

Maybe I could have found one that I could have modified but at that point I had hit the point of no return, my car was apart and I couldn’t get it back together thanks to a secret and well hidden C clip on the half shaft’s transaxle splines preventing me from reassembling the thing. It was not mentioned in any of the videos or literature I had managed to scrounge.

Thanks for that too Honda.

As it was I had to have it towed into a sympathetic shop. At least they gave me a hefty discount on the job saying I had already done a lot of the work.

Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
9 days ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Most auto parts stores have $15 pot metal ones you can probably shave a little bit with an old industrial style file in your grandpapy’s tool chest.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
9 days ago
Reply to  Rabob Rabob

Hard to say without actually putting everything together. Until I did it looked like the thing would fit fine without a shave.

Unless you’re talking about the pickle fork kind. Use of those were expressly warned against due to the likelihood of damage. The job called for the clamp type.

Last edited 9 days ago by Cheap Bastard
Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
8 days ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

You sound like the type of guy who will never do anything outside the book so I guess I’m not gonna convince you

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
8 days ago
Reply to  Rabob Rabob

What gives you that idea? Because I am not willing to grind down a borrowed tool that even if I were willing to wreck someone else’s property looked like it could not handle such a modification or that I was unwilling to purchase and modify a tool I was expressly warned NOT to use?

Perhaps I should have strayed further from the book and tried dynamite. Next time I’ll give you a call and you can hold my beer.

Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
8 days ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Who said anything about destroying a borrowed tool? Who said anything about a pickle fork? Literally buy a cheapo pot metal ball joint separator, grind a way a little material. I’ve got a bunch of tools that weren’t “by the book”

https://www.amazon.com/RACOONA-Separator-Accessories-Adjustable-Compatible/dp/B0CHRQQZP5/ref=sr_1_18?crid=280LT5DZ7Q221&keywords=ball+joint+separator&qid=1707861059&sprefix=ball+joint+separato%2Caps%2C234&sr=8-18

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
8 days ago
Reply to  Rabob Rabob

That looks like the tool I had borrowed.. Again had I known it would be an issue I would have just bought the tool and made the mod BEFORE starting the job.

Instead by the time I found out my car was unusable. Between the ball joint fiasco and the half shaft not going back in I felt it was time to call in a pro. That turned out to be the right call. I had not yet resorted to more dramatic measures – like a large sledgehammer. Had I done that the damage might have just added to the final bill. The shop was able to finish the job for not too much and the car was fine. I considered it money well spent.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
9 days ago

They have Holdens in Australia, don’t they? Holdens with 3800s?
Yeah, that.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
8 days ago

All hail the 3800!

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
9 days ago

This is just… I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t think German car ownership for you.
Replacing the radiator in a W210 is a 1-hour job max. I get that it could be confusing the first time. Why you didn’t pressure test the system to definitively determine the source of the leak first is beyond me. You luckily guessed right, but that is not the way to repair a coolant leak. You should also inspect the rest of the cooling system and preventatively replace parts so this doesn’t happen again. I hope you topped up the ATF you lost, as the 722.6 does not like running low on fluid.

Buying a random cheap aftermarket harmonic balancer and re-using bolts that BMW explicitly states to replace on such a critical part of the vehicle is not a good idea. The way you torqued the fasteners is completely inappropriate. The proper crank holding tool and new bolts are not that expensive.

These are your cars, and if you want to cheap out on parts (I can’t believe you even considered a used radiator, and I wonder about the quality of the one you bought), then expect your two German cars to continue stranding you simultaneously. As a fan of both the W210 and E90, it hurts to see these cars treated so poorly. They both can be extremely reliable cars if they are treated right, repaired properly with quality parts, and if you keep up on preventative maintenance. From reading this article, I think you have 1 out of 3.

The math and explanation for the TTY fasteners was impressive and interesting to read.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
9 days ago
Reply to  Micah Cameron

You made some good points, but as I have said in another article from Lewin, If all of the Autopian writers drove Toyota’s there would be little to no content! ヽ(•‿•)ノ

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
9 days ago
Reply to  Shooting Brake

And if the Autopian writers were trained and certified mechanics with experience, working in professional service bays, the content wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining.

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
9 days ago

Well for sure. Although I am blessed with a garage and a set of Quick Jacks now, I’ve spent a lot of time on my back in gravel driveways. However, that is not an excuse for not following proper repair procedures, especially since Lewin knew the correct procedure for replacing the harmonic balancer and ignored it because (insert reason here as I really have no idea).

I do think it’s super weird that Lewin’s driveway has gravel over pavers. That makes no sense.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
9 days ago

Yep, we all have been in similar situations over the years, having to wrench on our own cars under less than ideal conditions. . I know I have!

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
9 days ago
Reply to  Shooting Brake

Absolutely, and as a German car enthusiast (particularly these two brands as I’ve owned four Mercedes and three BMWs), I would typically love seeing content like this. The cars that Mercedes and BMW produced from the late 90’s through about 2010 were the pinnacle of German engineering imho and they are really rewarding cars to own and drive.

Unfortunately the point of this article seems geared to reinforce the stereotype that all German cars are unreliable and difficult to work on. In this case, Lewin has two cars that are quite reliable and easy to work on, but he is passing off his incompetence as proof that the cars are not well-made.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
9 days ago
Reply to  Micah Cameron

“but he is passing off his incompetence as proof that the cars are not well-made.”

I think you’re being a little harsh on Lewin. He’s struggling with limited resources and finances which, when I was younger was the norm for me, so I can relate.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
9 days ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

You can hold your head high, Lewin!

Happy motoring! (ˇ‿ˇ)

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
9 days ago

Boy do I feel your pain.
Spun the oil pump nut off in my MRoadster Thursday. Hoping to get it towed today so I can drop the pan & asses the carnage. Keep thinking I should just LS it, but that would likely get me killed even more quickly.
At least it went out in a cloud of smoke 🙂

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
9 days ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

Oof. S54 I assume? I added safety wire and red thread locker to the oil pump nut on my E46 with the M52TU when I changed the oil pan gasket. Such a silly design from BMW. The fix is cheap and easy, but dropping the oil pan to get to the oil pump is a bit time consuming. I love the M Roadster so I hope you get it back on the road soon! An LS swap sounds awesome 🙂

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
9 days ago
Reply to  Micah Cameron

‘98, so S52. No traction control, either, so it’s been a bit of a learning curve as I was accustomed to fwd shitboxes. I’m not even mad: the last 7 months have been a blast.

Surprised me to see that Summit has the swap kit

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
9 days ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

Oh very cool. Isn’t the American S52 really reliable compared to the (more powerful) Euro S52 and the later S54? Shame the stupid nut took it out.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
9 days ago
Reply to  Micah Cameron

Reliable? I honestly don’t know the difference between the Euro & US S52s. I wouldn’t have been interested if it had been an S54, though: I didn’t need the extra hp with my background, and definitely don’t want the extra maintenance foibles.
I mean, I bought a high-mileage BMW and did fall leaf tours through the Blue Ridge Mountains chortling as the rear tires scrabbled for traction. Now it’s time to tear in and make it reliable 😉

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
9 days ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

Okay I was a little confused. The Euro market got the S50, which had ITBs and made way more power than the S52 at the expense of S54 levels of finickiness. For that reason, I appreciate the S52 as it still makes decent power while being quite reliable and easy to work on.

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