I compiled the following list of cooling system temperatures to establish a baseline for monitoring temperature issues and I’ve posted it here in case it’s useful to anyone else. I’m assuming that my car is running at a “normal” temperature and I’m not accounting for ambient air temperature.

IMG_0118

In my experience there is no change in readings when switching from OEM to the Mishimoto radiator but the only way to state that confidently would be to account for ambient temperature and engine load.

Thermostat housing temperature varied +/-10˚C over my tests and should not be considered accurate.

65˚C – Thermostat Housing +/-10˚C
80˚C – Top Radiator Hose
73˚C – Water Pump to Thermostat Housing Hose
75˚C – Bottom Radiator Hose

BMW e30 thermostat housing stat temperature
BMW e30 top radiator hose temperature
IMG_0123
BMW e30 lower radiator hose temperature

October 16, 2014 mechanical, Uncategorized

A common cause of a jumpy and inaccurate temperature gauge needle is a loose ground or a short circuit in the instrument cluster. However, because the e30 has a real temperature sender that isn’t buffered or averaged out it’s prone to some erratic movement as warmer or colder coolant passes through the thermostat housing.

The jumpy needle can indicate a loose ground in the cluster, a fault in the wiring harness or might even indicate a cooling issue such a failing head gasket. I swapped in a performance radiator because I wanted to ensure maximum cooling but to solve the jumpy needle I needed to check the other possibilities.

bmws e30 temperature gauge normal

Above: Generally considered ‘normal’ e30 running temperature.

When troubleshooting anything I always start with the easiest, simplest solution just in case it proves correct. In this case that’s the ground on the temperature VDO gauge. I decided to check it, and do a few other cosmetic things on the cluster while I was in there:

  • Find and tighten the ground nut on for the temperature gauge.
  • Replace the missing Anti-Lock bulb to help further diagnose my non-functioning ABS.
  • Replace the plastic gauge rings the PO added.
  • Touch up the red needles the PO painted.

Temperature Needle Ground Nut


After removing the cluster I used a 7mm screwdriver socket bit that I got with a euro toolkit to tighten the nut. It’s not a common tool so you may have to buy a thin wall socket just for this job. On my cluster it appears that someone already tightened the fuel gauge nut but used some pliers which damaged the plastic around the nut. The PO is always the worst person.

BMW e30 rear of cluster showing temperature gauge nut to tighten

Above: The brass temp gauge ground nut is next to the blue plug.

I used light pressure to tighten the nut until it felt about as tight as the fuel gauge nut. The cluster is mostly plastic so over tightening would be a terrible thing. I’m happy to report that it looks like this has fixed my jumpy temperature gauge entirely.

Anti-Lock Bulb


Replacing the bulb is straight forward. Now I need to diagnose my non-functioning ABS which is causing the bulb to light. In the above picture the anti-lock bulb socket is just a plastic hole. The bulb is actually attached to the harness. More on that in another blog entry.

Gauge Rings and Needles


The previous owner put ABS plastic rings around the instrument gauges and even though they are kind of ricey I admit that I’ve grown fond of them. I ordered two sets of real metal rings from Bavarian Restoration (I ordered mine via R3vlimited): polished aluminum and brushed metal. The brushed metal appeared to bright to me so I opted for the polished aluminum.

Bavarian Restoration chrome and matte cluster rings on BMW e30 instrument cluster

Above: Polished vs matte cluster rings.

Fitment of the Bavarian Restoration rings was excellent and required only firm, even pressure to snap into the cluster. While I had the cluster I also used some red Sharpie to touch up the PO’s sloppy paint job on the gauge needles.

Using sharpie to paint e30 gauge needles red

October 8, 2014 cosmetic

All-aluminum radiators are a popular choice for race applications and cars with modified engines. My daily driver with stock m20 motor fits neither category but I’ve been diagnosing the common jumpy temp gauge and wanted to make sure my radiator is flowing freely and providing maximum cooling. Also, the super clean appearance of aluminum radiators appeals to my sense of aesthetics so I basically convinced myself to do this upgrade.

My criteria for the replacement radiator was improved cooling and OEM fitment. I set on the Mishimoto e30 / e36 radiator after recommendations from friends and finding only positive reviews in online BMW forums. Mishimoto offers a lifetime warranty which is comforting.

e30 Mishimoto radiator in box

However, my decision shouldn’t be taken as endorsement and I haven’t run this radiator long enough to provide a real product review. After I installed this my close friend and local e30 expert Eric Berger told me that he knows several people who have had these radiators fail. In some cases the failure resulted in motor damage: it’s “buyer beware” as always. For the record Eric recommends Behr.

Because of Eric’s emphatic warning I’m going to monitor this radiator very closely especially as it approaches the first year of service. I did some further internet searches and found few reports of failures with the Mishimoto products. Mostly I found complaints about fitment. The few cases I found of failure were related to running straight water (no coolant) for long periods of time and in some cases not even using distilled water. Since coolant lubricates the moving parts of the cooling system and iron in water reacts with aluminum I blame careless owners for those failures I read about. I’m not sure what the issues were with the other local guys who had failures.

IMG_9789

Build Quality and Fitment


I found the quality of the Mishimoto radiator to be good and I would rate it a 9/10. It loses points for two reasons. Firstly, some of the fins were bent and a couple near the top were sheared off out of the box. Radiators are delicate but I’d expect it to be perfect on arrival. There’s a tool that can fix bent fins so I guess I’ll buy one.

Secondly I found fitment to be imperfect. One of the support posts was angled slightly outward. From post edge to post edge the radiator should be 26″ across but because of this defect my Mishimoto radiator was 26.15″ across. The solution was to cut down one of the rubber radiator mounts so that it would still seat to the radiator support. I don’t like this solution as it looks sloppy and failure due to a weakened mount is a concern.

Not necessarily a show stopper but there’s no fan shroud for a mechanical m20 fan that fits on the Mishimoto. I mean, you can throw one on but there’s no where to zip tie or clip it onto the rad. I’m still researching that.

mishimoto e30 radiator mounts wrong fitment

Above: This post for the radiator mounts is angled incorrectly which caused improper fitment.

mishimoto e30 radiator fitment adjusting mounts with knife

Above: Cutting the passenger side rubber radiator mount for fitment.

Installation Notes


  • Installation was easy. It took 30 minutes to remove the hood and old radiator and another 45 minutes to install and reconnect the new radiator including the time it took to solve the problem with the radiator mounts. From start to finish including bleeding it took me 3 hours. I ran into no problems because my hoses are all fresh and flexible. Older hoses may cause more problems.
  • Don’t forget to buy high temp teflon tape for your fan switch. The radiator ships with an aluminum delete plug for the switch port.
  • The Mishimoto drains directly from the bottom of the rad. Draining will splash coolant off the radiator support and make a big mess. Some kind of petcock with a 12mm x 1.5 would help but there’s not much room to fit it.

Mishimoto radiator installed in my late model 1989 BMW 325i e30
Mishimoto radiator installed in my late model 1989 BMW 325i e30

Above: Mishimoto radiator installed in my 1989 BMW e30.

October 5, 2014 mechanical, repairs

I bought a Ireland Engineering Strut Tower Brace several months ago (over a year?) and put off installing it because I wasn’t entirely sure it would fit. A test fitting indicated it might not fit without jacking up part or all of the car to move the strut towers further apart. But with last month’s steering rack swap it seemed like a good time to put the bar on and have an alignment done.

Install was easy and required only minimal wiggling with the car on the ground but there were two problems: The brace was touching the intake manifold. And when I took the brace off there was a scuff mark to prove it. Also the cruise control bowden cable was crushed under the bar. I was mostly concerned about the the contact between the bar and manifold so I emailed Ireland Engineering and the response was basically

“It is just kind of parr for the course, but you can bend the bar slightly there (or a decent wack with a hammer [after heating up the bar to a good couple hundred degree’s right there as to keep the p.c. from cracking]).”

1989 BMW e30 with IE Ireland Engineering Strut Tower Bar or Brace Installed
IMG_9135
IE Ireland Engineering Strut Tower Bar or Brace rubbing intake manifold
IMG_9148

And this is where I’ll review the product:

  • Once installed the product performs it’s intended function, though I should drill another hole in the strut towers and utilize the 3rd bolt hole to maximize stability.
  • The bar arrived with numerous scratches in the powder coating, some of which were covered up with permanent marker. This should have been a warning sign that build quality is low.
  • The round cut out on each brace end does not match the round extrusion on top of the strut tower. If it was just a little wider it would fit better, instead I had to rely on the strut bolts to pull the bar over that lip.
  • And as mentioned above, the bar will not clear a stock m20 intake manifold. I didn’t buy this bar expecting to mod it myself.
  • If you’re looking for a bar that should fit and have better build quality then I will pass on the recommendation I received, which is the UUC Strutbarbarian. This bar has a bracket to reroute cruise control which shows some thoughtful design. Though I have heard horror stories about UUC build quality (specifically brand new parts breaking during track events) but I believe that the strut bar is a simple enough thing that it can be trusted not to break.

    Hindsight is always 20/20. I got my tools and set about modding the bar. I’m not experienced with fabrication but after only a couple of hits I realized that the powder coating was not going to stay on the bar and I’d have to touch up with regular paint. Thankfully this part isn’t visible because it’s between the bar and the intake manifold.

    Tools for modifying IE Ireland Engineering e30 strut tower brace
    cracked powder coating on strut tower brace
    IMG_9463

    The next project related to this will be sorting out the cruise control cable.

September 29, 2014 mechanical

At my two most recent BMW CCA autocross events the typical comment from my instructors (i’m still a ‘novice’) has been “wow, you’re pretty smooth even though you have to shuffle steer.” It became clear that the stock 4-turn e30 steering rack was slowing me down and needed to be swapped out.


At the outset I thought this project would take a day, maybe two at the most. It actually took 3 weekends to complete because of missing parts and tools. I also wasted a lot of time researching various steps and confirming that I was doing the right thing. Hopefully my experience will help you with your own steering rack swap. I learned some valuable lessons about this kind of work:

  1. Test fit everything “on the ground” before the day of install. This includes checking bolt fitment in new parts and final assembly. Don’t assume all parts were shipped.
  2. Check all available photos and diagrams for parts and examples of how final install should look before the day of install.

I started my research by asking for some opinions which fell into two categories:

  1. The e36 z3 rack is too twitchy, go with a 95 e36 M3 rack with a lock to lock of 3.0 turns.
  2. You can handle it, go for the e36 z3 rack with a lock to lock of 2.7 turns.

e30 rack vs z3 rack

Above: Comparison of Racks. (Photo Source)

I heard so much praise for the z3 rack, like “best mod ever for an e30″, that I decided to pursue it. Next I started researching the method: most of my web searches turned up the same DIY (posted on R3vlimited) time and again so I decided to follow it. Going with the DIY seemed like the only option but was my first and most costly, time consuming mistake.

I want to put a very fine point on this: If you are planning to do an e30 steering rack to e36 m3 or e36 z3 steering rack swap you should buy a complete kit. There may be other retailers but the kit used by people I know is available from Zionsville Autosport. The pros to buying the complete kit is substantial savings over buying the component parts and the kit is complete requiring no retrofitting or fabrication to install unlike the DIY procedure. I wasted a lot of time blocked because of missing tools, fiddling with retrofits and installing things incorrectly. Save yourself the trouble and buy the kit.

But I didn’t know about the complete kits when I started so I set about ordering the parts I’d need. Web searching led me to The Rack Doctor who I ordered from because I felt most confident that I was getting the rack I wanted. On a scale of 1-5 I’d say my experience was a 3.5.

Pros:


  • Rack was clean, painted
  • They called to confirm that I wanted e36 tie rod arms vs. e30 (there is a difference)
  • New copper crush washers were included but just for the rack, not the pump
  • Shipping was quick

Cons:


  • Paint chipped horribly during install especially on some of the plastic hoses
  • Some important nuts and lock clamps for tie rods were not included which delayed install
  • High core charge not refundable except for identical core return

The DIY I referenced listed out the following parts:

DIY Parts List (DO NOT ORDER FROM THIS LIST):


2x 7/16 Bolt 2 Inches Long
2x Bolt M10x50 26111226737
2x Self Locking Nuts 07129964672
4x Copper Seals 14×20 32411093596
4x Copper Seals 16×22 32411093597
4x Self Locking Nuts 07129922716
1x Power Steering Reservoir 32411097164
1x High Pres. PS Hose 32411141953
1x Spacer 72118119268
2x Spacer 72111847480
2x Nut 721119779250
2x LP PS Return Hoses
1x Bottle of ATF

Some of these parts are NLA or the author just didn’t list part numbers. I have crossed out the list entirely because I don’t think you should reference it. Here’s my recommended parts list:

My Updated Parts List:


4x Copper Seals 14×20 32411093596
4x Copper Seals 16×22 32411093597
1x Power Steering Reservoir 32411097164
1x High Pres. PS Hose 32411141953
1x LP PS Return Hose 32411135936
1x LP PS Return Hose 32411133401
1x e30 to e36 Steering Knuckle Kit (either RPKIT or the kit from here)
1x *e36 Left Ball Joint 32111139313
1x *e36 Right Ball Joint 32111139314
2x *Clamp Ring 32111136179
2x *Nuts 32111136494
1x Bottle ATF Fluid

*Necessary only if you get the e36 ball joints and these parts are not included. e30 tie rods require a different locking nut and may be reused from your old rack. Probably.

BMW e36 tie rod clamp ring parts
BMW e36 tie rod clamp ring parts

Above: Clamp rings and chunky nuts required but not mentioned in the DIY.

IMG_8733

Above: The tiny nut shipped with the e36 z3 rack that is not suitable for this swap.

Additional Tools:


Two 15mm wrenches (for the knuckle)
8mm and 6mm extended hex bits (for installing the knuckle kit around the parts of the knuckle – you’ll see!)
Tie Rod Puller
Bottle Jack (for flattening the rack tabs)
C-Clamps (for depressing brake cylinders)

A note about tie rod pullers: There are two styles. The most common style you’ll find at your local auto supply store features a single U shaped clamp with a bolt through the center. This bolt has a pointed tip that seats in the top of the ball joint bolt. The bolt must have a divot in the top for this tip to seat in otherwise it will not work, and it should be noted that the e36 arms do NOT have this divot. Also note that in order to use the U shaped puller you will need to take off the rotors and loosen the dust shield. It’s really loud when the bolt finally breaks loose but a little less violent than banging on it with a hammer or a pickle fork. The other kind of puller looks like a metal clothes pin and a bolt is used to close the jaws of the pin, again pushing the ball joint bolt out. This tool works by pressing down on the ball joint bolt with a flat surface and therefore works on bolts that do NOT have a divot in the top. Like e36 tie rods and ball joints. So if you have the choice get the clothes pin kind of tool since it’s more versatile.

BMW e30 e36 Two kinds of tie rod pullers

Above: Two different styles of tie rod end pullers.

BMW e30 e36 Tie rod puller in use how to

Above: The clothes pin style of tie rod puller in use.

Notes and Addendum to the DIY:


  1. Disconnecting the ball joints and tie rods was impossible for me without using a puller. A hammer and block of wood only resulted in destroying the wood. Tie rod removal also required the removal of the brake calipers and loosening the dust plate to make enough room for the puller.
  2. BMW e30 tie rod end arm puller removal

    Above: The U style puller. Notice how much room it requires next to the dust shield.
  3. I used zip ties and plastic bags to keep the hoses from dripping after disconnecting them. Keep your work space clean.
  4. Take photos of where the old hoses run so you can run the new hoses along the same pathway.
  5. Removing (and installing) hoses on the rack need to be done in order: there is not room to remove the upper banjo bolt while the lower bolt is in place.
  6. The DIY called for bending the rack tabs on the center cross member to make room to drop the rack. In retrospect lifting the motor or bending these tabs the very smallest amount required would be advisable. I spent 2 hours working the tabs back into place with a bottle jack and some folks posit that bending the tabs weakens them.
  7. Plan to soak the knuckle to rack spline in PB blaster over night. The knuckle to steering column spline slipped right off but I could not remove the knuckle from the steering rack and ended up sourcing a donor knuckle while waiting for the PB blaster to work. I finally got the knuckle off by standing on the old rack and pulling. I can deadlift 300 lb. so that says something about how seized up the splines may be. Also note that the bolt on the rack side of the knuckle must be completely removed as it passes through a slot in the spine that holds it on. You cannot remove the knuckle with the bolt merely loosened.
  8. If modifying your current knuckle i.e. not using a pre-fabricated knuckle then you need to remember that the kit or shortened spacer is used to make the knuckle shorter NOT longer. You will need to enlarge two of the holes on the knuckle to fit the bolts through. A 23/32 drill bit was the right size for me but you should use a bit gauge to measure your bolts.
  9. I needed to tap the knuckle onto the rack spline using a hammer. Actually a friend with more experience did it for me. This should not be necessary but if you simply can’t work the knuckle on by hand then be very sure that the splines are not binding and are lined up properly before gently tapping it onto the spline. Go slow, you’re not driving a nail.
  10. The rack and knuckle need to connect to the steering spline when both are centered (this is mentioned in the DIY). I used a protractor and made a measuring tool to count the number of degrees in a complete lock to lock rotation, dividing the total by 2 and then finding that middle point in the racks rotation. In my case middle was 510 degrees. This is very accurate and does not require the removal of the boots, etc. to measure the tie rod ends. I marked this middle point on the rack and spline using a white paint marker for reference during install but marked it on the side I couldn’t see: make your marks so they are visible when the spline is on your left.
  11. Using rubber bicycle inner tube to protect splines
    e30 rack swap how to center rack
    e30 rack swap how to center rack

    Above: Finding the center of the rack.
  12. Even after finding center I still had to disconnect the rack and knuckle and move it over a single spline tooth. If you put a peice of tape at dead center on your wheel and turn it all the way to the left and right you should see that the terminal position of each is the mirror image of the other. My first attempt found it to be 2″ off (about the amount of a single spline tooth).
  13. The DIY reads “if there is binding use your Dremel to grind the knuckle joint.” You should assume that the knuckle will bind and grind it down on your bench where you have maximum control NOT when it’s installed in the car like the DIY shows. I recommend using a cutting bit not a grinding bit as the amount of metal you need to remove is significant. I removed metal from the U but in hindsight grinding down the edges of the fork may have been tidier and resulted in less cutting.
  14. Dremel cutter grinder bit for shaving down steering knuckle in e30 z3 swap
    Dremel cutter grinder bit for shaving down steering knuckle in e30 z3 swap

    Above: The correct Dremel cutter bit used for shaving down the knuckle to prevent binding.
  15. The DIY calls for tapping the cross member tabs into place with a hammer. This is impossible as the tabs will bounce and absorb all the force of the hammer. Using vice grips mangled the tabs. I recommend using a bottle jack and wood blocks under the tabs to bend them into place but be careful not to lift the car by accident. Putting the rack and spacer on the tab while bending the tabs up will help make sure you don’t bend the tabs too far the other way.
  16. bmw e30 z3 rack install bending cross member tabs back into place

  17. If you use the hoses called for in the DIY you can bend the new high pressure hose into place using your hands, or a little heat and your gloved hands. Using a vice or bender should not be required. Only the pump side should require bending. Study my photos and try to match what I’ve done.
  18. BMW e30 steering rack swap high pressure hose bends
    BMW e30 steering rack swap high pressure hose bends
    BMW e30 steering rack swap high pressure hose bends

  19. The new hoses are a tight fit. The new high pressure hose will need to go over the motor mount arm. Just make sure there is a finger’s width between each hose as you tighten it down because rubbing hoses will eventually spring a leak. Two sets of hands can be helpful here.
  20. During bleeding of the steering rack do not press the brakes because you may over extend the brake piston. If you do this by accident you may be able to use a c-clamp to compress the piston back down. Otherwise a bleed and flush will be required.

BMW e30 e36 z3 rack swap tie rod arm bolt and clamp
1989 BMW e30 sedan blue on flat bed recovery vehicle

Above: Towing my e30 to Bavarian Motorsport in Milpitas, CA for an alignment.

1989 BMW e30 alignment at Bavarian Motorsport

Above: My 1989 BMW e30 on the alignment rack at Bavarian Motorsport in Milpitas.

August 29, 2014 mechanical, repairs

It seems this blog is getting traffic mostly from e30 searches people are making on Google. I’ve been just enjoying my car and doing other stuff instead of blogging but rest assured that I will make some posts soon. Things that will be covered (here or on bmw.iamgary.com):

  1. e30 airbag light troubleshooting
  2. e30 windshield replacement
  3. e30 axles (with Eric Berger)
  4. e39 touring sport suspension update
  5. e36 center console swap
  6. e36 brake switch replacement
  7. e36 airbag light reset

Plus lots of random pictures from fixes and car events over the last 9 months. Come back soon!

1989 BMW e30 325i sedan two bucket wash

June 13, 2014 status

My windshield has always been so pitted that I couldn’t see when driving into the sun. After a chunk of dry wall fell off a truck and left a scratch directly in front of my view of the road I decided to call Safelite and have it replaced.

Total cost for the window with installation was a mere $275 and I saved a little bit by reusing the window weather strip. The black metal spacer (called a cup) and the flexible metal trim are always reused.

I was very impressed with the window tech’s knowledge of european cars and we talked about e30s the entire time he was working. I was especially interested in his technique for replacing the metal gasket which you can see in one of the photos below. I’ve seen this done with soapy water and hand pressure but the diamond shaped loop tool he used made it look easy.

BMW e30 windshield metal cup or spacer

IMG_5504

bmw e30 with window removed

IMG_5508

BMW e30 using a tool to fit the trim into the gasket

April 30, 2014 cosmetic, repairs

I recorded this time-lapse video on the last drive I took in my 1989 BMW 325i before leaving the country for the Christmas break. I travelled south on California Hwy. 1 from Pacifica to Santa Cruz expecting to view sunrise at the halfway point but the mountains delayed sunrise by about 15 minutes. The video is as much about showing the great colours of the early morning sky as it is about the road and other scenery. I wish I could have driven the entire distance without stopping but I needed to text my wife and let her know where I was… and also find my sunglasses.

Please watch it in HD for the best viewing experience.


December 15, 2013 driver's log, video

christmas.jpg.scaled1000

Photo Source: Bimmerforums

Last year I put together a list of holiday gift ideas for the e30 lover (or BMW enthusiast) on your list. But a new year welcomes new ideas and so I present my 2013 Gift Guide. Happy shopping!

Gift Suggestions


  1. BMW Fabric Wallets: WalletWerks.com makes simple billfold style wallets in popular BMW fabrics that any enthusiast will recognize and appreciate. The Mtechnic fabric is represented here as well as Alpina. Priced under $60 for a billfold and matching keychain or $20 for a card wallet this gift is classy and budget friendly. There are officially licensed versions available from BMW or Amazon but the WalletWerks billfolds have classic charm and no faux-chrome.
  2. Keychains: BMW leather keychains are NLA (no longer available) from retailers like Turner Motorsport but they can still be found on eBay as reproductions or NOS (new old stock). A search on Ebay for BMW leather keychain will turn up some vintage items. Don’t wait to the last minute to order or your may not get it by Christmas.
  3. Driving Gloves: Last year I recommended cheap gloves which I use myself but this year go all out and get the Lowly Gentlemen gloves.
  4. Diecast Models: There is a limited range of BMW models available but the BMW M3 will be popular with every e30 fan. Check Amazon for other options.
  5. Fender Mat: The real deal with a BMW logo would come from a mechanic who doesn’t need it. They are very rare. But you can make one by ordering a plain black fender mat from Amazon or the Griot’s Garage red fender mat and adding a BMW iron-on patch from an Etsy seller to the bottom corner.
  6. BMW Car Blanket: BMW swag can be hit or miss with the vintage enthusiast but a car blanket is a timeless classic. These are no longer available on Amazon but can be found on Ebay and Etsy. They are probably not officially licensed. BMW club members can buy official licensed picnic blankets through the club shop.
  7. That’s my 2013 list. There are a couple other good ideas on last year’s list so be sure to check that out. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!

December 4, 2013 guide

1989 BMW 325i Sedan Avus Blue

As my co-worker points out, my e30 could basically fit inside the BED of that truck parked next to it.

November 18, 2013 photos

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