There I have been, touring the place in my W124. I know what you’re thinking. The poor M3 is in the unit, doing sod all, despite it being sunny outside with me sweating like mental in a non-AC’d W124! Up until a week ago you were right!
BUT, prior to it coming out I did actually do some rectification. What was it this time? The VANOS. Earlier on, some of you may recollect how I changed the pressure regulator seals along with the VANOS filter, changed the solenoid seals, cleaned out the valve body and also changed the solenoid pack, since mine seemed to be faulty. But what I forgot to say was that when I took the pressure regulator out for the VANOS refurbishment one of the seals, despite being a genuine BMW seal and having a total of 10,000 miles on it, was going square yet again!
It was fair to say that I wasn’t best pleased. It seemed that their normal rubber couldn’t take the temperatures. But since I had a couple of Viton seals, courtesy of Hack Engineering I figured now was the time to fit them. This involved cutting off the old seal. Note how square the black seal has become:
With the new Viton items the whole assembly was prelubricated and refited. Has it made a difference? Not really but it will be interesting to see how these new items fare.
It’s just as well I got around to this as I would take the car to MotorPunk’s inaugral event. Now that was a great day out!
While I was debating over changing the big end bearings in my E46 M3 I needed to improve the audio interface. I had been full circle here like a few people. My car like a few of my age came with a tape deck and a 6 CD Autochanger. Great if you listen to both mediums. If you are like me this can get rather clumsy and limit you, especially in the days of Spotify, and MP3s being around:
Yup, I soon realised I needed a handsfree version of Bluetooth in my life. So this happened:
So, the Alpine worked great with the steering controls and gave me great Sat Nav directions via the phone! But it wouldn’t fit right due to depth issues and it well, looked crap! It would take a year before I decided what to do!
The E46 HU choices have been discussed here many times over the years. Some things to me weren’t clear which I will discuss. I never realised that installing a Double DIN HU would require a chunk of fabrication, even with the shallow depth units.
We all know that conventional (read most) Double DIN headunits will not fit the car without compromising the heater function, specifically the foot and window demister function. Furthermore it will require a bit of cutting of the heater box. While you can buy kits to make the heater box functional again it does add cost on and further work to make it work. This of course leaves you with two choices:
1) Get one of the Chinese E46 Lookalike HUs. These seem to have a variable reputation with some being better than others like the Dynavin and the Eonon. These can work with Android phones however. Some people like the look, but a few also feel the quality of these is poor despite looking fine in the photos.
2) Consider Alpine’s iLX-702E46. This does DAB, has built-in Sat-Nav and has Bluetooth & Apple CarPlay. However, it is rather expensive at £750. It is one of the few plug-and-play conversions out there. If you want a zero hassle conversion that does almost everything this possibly the headunit for you:
3) Look at the Alpine iLX-700 and Parrot Asteroid Smart. Both have their pros and cons. The Alpine doesn’t have Bluetooth, and the Parrot is a little pricey in addition to some people not getting on with the interface; it seems fine from what I’ve seen. Both however will still require fabrication of the cage to actually mount them. Some people use the fascia which looks like it was never designed for that kind of job, others modify their single DIN/heater control unit cage to mount the lot while others will get a metal cage for around £60 to mount the HU on. If you pay someone to install it that cost naturally will increase significantly. There is also a Kenwood HU on the market which is also a shallow depth head unit.
4) Get the Sony XAV-AX100. With the Enfig kit this is a plug-and-play affair, circumventing the need to construct cages etc. and the fascia kit for this HU from Enfig is of a very high quality. If BMW did a factory Double DIN Conversion like they did for the Single DINs it looks like it may have been this. Most people out there could install this.
The Sony also comes with a couple of bonus features too. Firstly, you can buy a TomTom module from Sony to give you permanent Sat-Nav for £180 more, it has Bluetooth unlike the Alpine and it can also do Android Auto. If its CarPlay is as good as it has been so far I would expect similar results on Android Auto. This is great news for people with a robot phone.
Anyway, it’s time to bore you folks here with my experience. This can be done in the next instalment.
I left you folks at the edge of your seat wondering what was happening with my engine. The truth is I was anxious myself! I have worked on the car almost solely over the years, with it only seeing garages for an MOT, manufacturer recalls as well as Rear Axle Carrier Panel (RACP) reinforcement. ETA were considered for the big end bearings but getting to Brands Hatch on weekdays only can be a royal pain.
I’ll be honest, I wanted the phone to ring ASAP with good news after that!
So there I was, sat at work worrying about the engine. I was hoping that welding a bolt onto the bolt would free it. In short, it did! My relief, however, did not come until I came back home and I had a text stating the car was ready to be picked up! Without hesitating, I arranged some transport at short notice and got down to Autobahn. There Rob talked me through what he had done. Then he showed me partly what I wanted to know; the state of the bearings that came out. With 138k on the clock were they beyond gone? The answer?
One was(ish) on the limit with some copper showing but the rest were not too terrible. A few were scuffed as you can tell. But compared to others I have seen removed with less mileage mine were in a pretty decent state; many after even 70k generally have some copper showing on all of the shells! Some would argue I should have left them in! But at least I have the confidence to drive my M3 as intended :).
Maybe this maintenance has had the wrong effect on me. Only time will tell, however.
It’s fair to say the car hasn’t been the cheapest thing to run, where thoughts of selling up were dancing in the horizons of my mind. They often do when faced with expenditure. Why? I wished to change the big-end bearings.
But why? That is pretty simple really. The way I see it, two things can finish off an M3, well, make keeping the car unviable:
1) A boot floor cracked badly enough to warrant a new Rear Axle Carrier Panel (RACP); About £5k no matter where you go
2) The Rod Bearings; If these go and the crank is marked/scored there is a question mark over whether the crankshaft can be saved; They are tuftrided from the factory and it is said generally reground cranks aren’t as strong as original items. A shame as a new crank is over £2k from BMW, and even the S54 engines are £3k secondhand! That is before fitting!
Yes, head gaskets, VANOS & SMG pumps can go, but generally, the expense is much smaller and easier to spot without generally writing the car off. In those cases, cheaper and potentially longer lasting solutions have been found too in the case of the VANOS & SMG gubbins.
With that in mind I dropped the car off to Autobahn in Halesowen.
Given that Rob was known to colleagues of mine in addition to him racing E46 M3s I figured the car would be in safe hands.
All was going well! I dropped the car off on a Saturday, and then went to the Restoration show at the NEC. That was until Tuesday. I had a phonecall to say that one of my rod bearing bolts was being stubborn.
It was fair to say that I was slightly anxious at this point! But how would it all go? Would this really be a big stalling point?
It’s funny really. Sometimes you see a minor problem and hope that it goes away. On a few occasions however it will linger like a bad smell. This was certainly the case for my VANOS! It started during autumn during an oil change. Not a kiss as Hot Chocolate put it. There I was checking away the car’s diagnostic system using the much-fabled INPA system. All was well until I checked the engine’s codes. Two codes came back.
P0012 (BMW 72, 0x48): Vanos intake timing over retarded
Pxxxx (BMW 184, 0xB8): Vanos intake position control
Crumbs, crap! This is not a set of codes that I wanted. After doing some research it did seem that something as simple as an iffy connection to the VANOS solenoid pack could do this! With that in mind, I cleaned out the connection, refitted it, cleared and codes and waited to see what would happen. To my relief, the codes did not come back after running the car. Not then anyway.
However, come a week before I put the car away again for the winter period I was greeted with a very flat feeling engine! Sure, it was not dead slow but it was felt very flat for an M3! On top of that I also had an EML light make an appearance! Once again, I got my diagnostic kit out, INPA for those wondering. If you have a BMW this software is well worth the purchase price!
Like before, the codes came back. Also like before, I tried to clear the codes! This time however, code 182 refused to go. Great!
After doing some research it became apparent that these codes are common codes to get on an E46 M3, even from many years ago! It pointed to my VANOS seals and my solenoid pack going. With that in mind I ordered a set of Beisan Systems Viton VANOS solenoid seals in addition to their refurbished solenoid pack, all of it coming from Hack Engineering. With those things ordered it was time to crack on with the job with the help of a trusty teaboy. OK, I lied, I meant a friend.
How easy is it to change these seals? Very! With the Beisan Systems guide, this job is a doddle. The instructions for changing the components can be found here. But I’ll take you through it, just in case you are having your doubts,
Once I took off the all too familiar engine dressing parts with nothing more than a screwdriver and a pair of pliers. With that done I took the opportunity to loosen the VANOS pressure regulator. I then carefully removed the solenoid connection and undid the VANOS solenoid bolts. With rags underneath the solenoid to catch any lost oil, I put the valve block and solenoid assembly onto the bench.
This is where the real work began! I started by separating the solenoid pack from the valve body. One thing the Beisan guide omits is that these solenoid bolts can get rusty; I’d purchase a set of these from BMW at the same time as getting the revised valve body bolts. It will simply make life easier.
While my friend cleaned out the valve block as best as he could with a can of highly pressurised carb clean in addition to a magnet (allowing the valves to open for further cleaning), I cracked on and removed the seals from the sealing plate.
It was fair to say that my seals were shot! You can buy a complete sealing plate from BMW for around £30. However, considering that the Beisan seals are cheaper and made of more heat resistant Viton I went ahead and installed the Viton items into place:
With the valve body clean I attached the refurbished solenoid pack onto the now cleaned valve body.
With the Solenoid,Valve block and Sealing plate assembly all done it was time to put it back into place! Not only did it brighten up the engine bay a little it also would end up cleaning the codes for good! For £170 all in including the revised bolts from BMW it was a good result all in! I didn’t change my VANOS filter as I previously did that almost a year ago. I did however change the pressure regulator seals to the Viton items; the inner seal was already going square surprisingly!
The CTEK was put onto the car since the poor car had been off the road for a month with all of the salt about on the roads!
Another job I got around to sorting was the appalling handbrake! With the entire assembly stripped down I went ahead and cleaned everything! Armed with some Ceramic grease I carefully applied it, reassembled the brakes and all was well again!
I know what it sounds like! The car has broken again! I did however do some fun stuff! But that can wait until the next installment.
Sometimes, just sometimes, you hope that a problem will go away. This was certainly the case after a routine diagnostic scan during Autumn! Thankfully, I cleared the codes and they didn’t come back when I checked a week later.
It is just as well as I decided to go on yet another little road trip! This time, somewhere a little closer to home. That is the much coveted Buttertubs Pass in the Yorkshire Dales, sitting between Hawes and Thwaite. It is also a road revered by Jeremy Clarkson, which may be why some of you have heard of it. For many years I had been meaning to try this road, right from the moment I read about it and then saw it on the big screen! If my balls were bigger over a decade ago I would have taken a previous car that I enjoyed & owned. The cult classic, the one and only Peugeot 306 GTi-6:
So I had a great car back in 2008. What stopped me from progressing beyond the drawing board? Fear. In that case, it was the fear that the car would have a lift-off oversteer moment and send me down the valley to my untimely death! The cost and being in the midst of a recession probably didn’t help either! In hindsight, it was a silly reason, but probably wise, given my lack of talent and then a little lack of restraint at times! But anyway, let’s go back to 2017!
After doing the necessary things like booking a hotel and coming up with a plan of what to do, I finally made my voyage up to the Yorkshire Dales. Before I even hit the Buttertub’s pass the scenery was quite stunning along with the roads! As was the drop in temperature from 7 degrees Celsius to a chilling -1! Yes, the elevation was quite high as I got there! The roads, and view, however, were more than worth it!
Like many I planned the route thoroughly, looking at Google Maps previously to see where the Buttertub’s Pass started from Hawes. It was wonderful driving through the idyllic towns! However, as always, I almost missed the turning for the very spot I wanted! Climbing that elevation however soon had me on the road that I wanted. What did I make of the road though?
Honestly? It’s a great road but maybe not for an M3 in the depths of winter with its tight twists and turns. The scenery is beyond stunning; you forget about the beauty present within the UK when you reside in the Midlands, and boy is there plenty to admire! It is fascinating driving down a very thin road but with nothing except a hosepipe to save you from slipping and falling down a 200-foot drop into a valley! It is terrifying yet somehow exhilarating! Do I get why the Buttertubs is revered by a few people? Absolutely! Once I got there it wasn’t a case of ‘why did I do it’, it was more one of ‘why did I leave it this long?’. I am very glad that I took the 150-mile trip up North to give the famous pass in the Dales a drive and in a spectacular car to boot!
But as always, the Buttertubs was only part of my journey there. Not far from the Buttertubs is an old relic, a treasure showing what man and achieve and how magnificent it can be. It is also a stark reminder of what cost it comes at. In this case, it wasn’t just a monetary cost, but also a human death toll. I am talking about none other but the Ribblehead Viaduct in Ingleton.
Is this the way to the Ribblehead Viaduct?
It is a stunning piece of architecture!
A reminder of what cost it came at, despite its usefuleness
I did spend a couple of hours admiring the structure it has to be said. Soon however, it was getting dark and so I went to my humble abode in York to stay and get some much-needed rest With the car put into Auto, and me making light work of the traffic I arrived in York being tired but relaxed; I guess I did travel half of the country, leaving from Warwickshire! But hang on a second, I hear you ask, York is miles away from the Dales! You’d be quite right there!
The truth is I had a few things to see in Yorkshire, with it being a 3 hour trip up to the Dales from my place! One such thing I had put off for a long time also was the Yorkshire Railway Museum; Yes I do have a thing for Yorkshire it has to be said! Upon entering the train haven I was enjoying it but thinking it was a little small with a few trains up right at the entrance. Little did I know, this place would be the equivalent of a train collector’s tardis!
There were not just a few trains dotted around the place, but something of a secretive lair about the Railway Station! As you in the main entrance hall with the always surprisingly massive trains you cannot help but just stand there in awe! Every walk through a doorway proved to be an expansive trip into yet another hidden part of the museum, including stumbling into a Coronation themed railway station! It is fair to say that I loved my trip to the Railway Museum; this is a destination I can recommend going to, especially considering that it is free! With York left to explore it really is somewhere you truly can make a great weekend of! Did I drive away a pleased man? Absolutely, especially considering that the main focus of my trip was the Buttertubs Pass, which mothballed into much more!
And what about the M3? Like the trip to Spain, the old girl really proved itself in being competent, yet being a fun & comfortable accomplice for my trip up North! The trip proved something however. As a great bloke I know once said, it’s not a case “If only you were closer”, it’s more a case of “If only I was there!”. Here is to taking a more proactive approach to exploring more places, be it a trip to the North or outside of the country with whatever cars I have!
With Christmas done, how would the New Year treat me? That can wait until the next update.
It was fair to say that I was lovely Valencia! Like a lot of Spain you find it hard to leave the great places ; the chilled atmosphere, great food and friendly people certainly do not help here! However, the next leg would leave me with a good reason to leave!
Leaving Valencia was like most other Spainish cities. Plenty of motorways with lots of heat. However, I never remember the speed limits changing quite so frequently as they did as I was experiencing on this trip! I guess its one way the Spanish could break up the monotony of motorway driving! Not that you really need it in an M3!
However I soon saw another reason to keep myself awake. That was to turn off the A7 onto the CV790 heading towards Costa Blanca, or rather, Benidorm. This road soon renewed our vigour from a driver’s perspective. I can’t say that my passenger shared my enthusiasm on some of the bends where I enjoyed myself! It was a little like the Italian job pilot scene, albeit without the snow and the Lamborghini! I was loving many of the tight bends I was contending with but also the changing camber of the corners, even if they did catch me out on a few occasions! It’s times like these that you learn more about driving as well as about your car behaves itself!
Before we knew it we had arrived into the outskirts of Benidorm, ready to have a good night’s sleep, a few beers as what most people do on a holiday, relax! That said I did bring along another passenger for the trip, in the form of a bird that I unintentionally hit!
At this point the M3 would prove it’s worth as a practical car once again! With my friend’s car being strictly a two seater it was the car of choice whenever we left the house. Not a bad way to travel in the Spanish sun you could say! Naturally we spent most of the time just chilling out rather than driving!
Before we knew it we would be well rested and travelling back to the UK. As always the M3 munched up the miles with ease as we cruised back doing a 2 night stop. This involved going through the Pyrenees and many single cross country roads as well as towns, which broke up the scenery nicely initially. It was also strange going through a tunnel where there was a 15 degrees temperature drop in comparison to outside!
It was fair to say that this trip have been epic! So right on so many levels, yet with a lot of trepidation! It was a shame to be back home, but in another, also quite a relief given the baggage an E46 M3 comes with. All in, the trip was superb and the car proved itself as a European tourer that can master many trades. Here is to the next road trip of many!
With me coming into Valencia things seemed different immediately. From travelling on the Spanish motorways with barely any traffic we suddenly saw many more cars around us! The cruise control would not be all that useful now! But at least I was in the right car for the job.
When it came to parking the car up however you could tell the car was hot. The temp gauge was stuck smack bang in the middle of the gauge and the viscous fan was fully locked up. Yup, it was warm alright. But at least the car could have a well deserved rest for a few days; it even had a companion in the form of a friend’s E89 Z4 30i sDrive. It’s just as well as I had heard on the grapevine that Valencia is not what you would call car friendly. But for once that didn’t matter.
The accommodation was spot on for the break. In the heart of the city with it only being a stone’s throw away from the main square it certainly felt like we were living the high life! Gorgeous buildings with a chilled atmosphere and variety? This is the place! Oh, and a bit of sunshine to go with it.
But I had to be honest. Valencia is no place for a car. With that in mind a friend suggested that we store our cars at Valencia Airport while we were there. After seeing the many webs of one way streets in Valencia this seemed like a good shout in hindsight.
But a lack of cars between us would not spoil the fun, oh no! After all, a lot of the a places to visit in Valencia were accessible by foot. However, they were even more accessible by bike! It’s almost like Valencia is built for bike travel ; it’s matrix of cycle lanes make it a breeze to go around on bike ; I could have been there all day! The UK could learn a thing or two here in the quest to harmonise and reduce traffic. Make no mistake, I love my cars, but I also hate traffic jams and waiting!
With that in mind we were just lapping up the scenery. However, the day would come that we would have to leave Valencia. This would not be without sampling part of the Formula 1 track first. After all, when in Rome, even if it was on bike!
The next leg of the trip would be interesting. Partly because it was very familiar territory to use. But also partly because we had a surprise in store as well.
It is fair to say that I was dreading the leg from Calais to Pamplona. It was a 10 hour drive with stops allowed for with almost 600 miles to cover in a day! All to be done in a car with a reputation for not being mega reliable, and high performance one at that getting on for 14 years old! You can imagine my relief that it made it down! Then again you always worry more when it is your own car.
It was then time to explore Pamplona, and what a city it is! Famed for the questionable bullfighting as well as Ernest Hemmingway residing there during the 1920s. Yup, there was plenty to see, but we decided to try something different first, something carcentric. But in Spain? How? This one was simple. We took a 40 minute trip out in the M3 from the great city of Pamplona to Circuito de Navarra.
Experiencing the atmosphere at a clubman level in Spain was very interesting. Interesting enough for me to say that it was fantastic. Sure, there were pit girls and the usual stuff at the bike event but there was more. There were loads of people present to watch the entry level series where the youth would prove their worth by their skill level, not necessarily by what the bikes could do. The bar was rammed with people ordering Jamon bocadillos. Beers, soft drinks and the odd coffee were being ordered too, all being sold at reasonable prices! There was no overpriced bar here, just loads of people having a great time and watching the racing their mates and loved ones.
It was strange how the entry level events were more fun to watch than the bigger Super 1000s. There were more chances being taken and more rawness present during the racing! If there is an event on here it is well worth the visit.
After this day however we decided to chill out in the city itself. The second day was mostly spent looking at Café Iruna, a lovely café that Ernest Hemingway used to frequent, as well as a bar in the same square, again another one of Hemingway’s haunts.
From then on thanks to some local Spanish company we ended spending quite a bit of the day indulging in many canas and quite a lot of tapas! From mussels to strangely fried eggs it was all lovely,
The day would come however that we would move onto our second destination, Valencia. In comparison to driving down to Pamplona this trip was quite a bit shorter! It was however as hot as Bordeaux the closer we got to Spain. At one point it did go hotter, 35 degrees centigrade to exact! The car’s viscous fan fully locked up on a number of occasions on the way down once the temperature went north 30.
However, Valencia does not have a reputation of being kind on traffic. I had heard from a few sources that Valencia could be a pain to drive in! How would we cope? By the looks of it some cars were forlorn already at Valencia Airport! Our fingers would be crossed.
From where I last was with the the old girl it was fair to say that it was busy redeeming itself. For the next 3 months it was nice where the car had been spend free for once. It was 3 months in come August when I would broke this rule. Why? I needed cupholders and an SMG relay. While the relay could be justified what about the former item? This was easy ; I was going to drive the M3 down to Spain for a bit of a trip.
Given their reputation these days for many things going wrong I was apprehensive about doing so. Thoughts about the head gasket, SMG pump, VANOS and bottom end issues all went through my head. I had taken £200 shitters previously across Europe so why worry so much about this trip? I guess when it is your pride and joy that has cost you a few quid to maintain this feeling is quite normal.
Since the car had a service during the oil cooler saga only months before I left I knew it would be a case of checking the car over. Before I knew it there was little else to do but fit the new cupholders. While there was a mixup with the colour of the cupholders being delivered to me Cotswold BMW to their credit bent over backwards to get me out of this jam.
The correct items in place. The colours actually OK despite the photos showing otherwise
I did not hesitate to fit the grey cupholders and to pack my tools and spares for the trip. Little did I know the time for me to leave the UK for Spain would creep up very quickly! But at least the car was a joy to drive down, with me having some great company in the form of a good friend for the trip. Leaving at 6pm on a Thursday night however would hamper how much progress we made in France that day, especially when the Eurotunnel had a delay on of an hour until we actually would get onto the boat. With that in mind we made ourselves comfortable and attempted to sleep on the train and while waiting for the train with limited success.
Once in France and the time now being past 12AM we decided to call it a night and stopped off just outside Calais to rest and hit the road the next day.
This day would be testing. We would be driving from Boulogne-Sur-Mer to Pamplona, Spain. In a day. Yup, it was not going to be a short hop. With that in mind we jumped into the car and hit the autoroute. The M3 did come into its own here
Despite it being 14 years old and with a few miles on the clock it literally cruised all of the way down through France. 4 hours felt more like 2 and even the weather was cheering up for us. This would all change when he hit Bordeaux at 4pm that day. Going through the hot traffic you could hear the car’s fan operating at maximum speed as the heat went up to 33 degrees centigrade. The car by this point had been running for 7 hours with us only stopping for lunch and fuel. Before 5PM with the car crawling around Bordeaux a few warning lights came on! It was running cool (albeit the oil temps going to over 100 degrees centigrade) and generally fine however. With this in mind I decided to stop off and let the car cool off for ½ an hour and let the traffic die down. Oh, and treat myself to an ice cream.
You have to love the French motorways. Quick and stress free driving!
The M3 certainly was a great companion in France
With that done it was then time to hit the road again with our next stop being Pamplona. After Bordeaux however this leg would drag on a little. However, we made it to Pamplona for 9:30 to meet up with our friend who had been there for quite some time. Not a bad time to get there really!
After having a beer and a small meal we all knew it was time to get to bed and to see what sights Pamplona had to offer. The truth is it was more than I was expecting!