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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I found some cheap but apparently good condition all-red tail lights and picked them up. They have no markings on them and the clear coat seems good. Installed these and a UUC clutch stop this morning.
I need to reduce my e30 parts cache so I’m selling some things. I’ve had my OEM tail lights in a box for the last 6 months and decided to put them back on and sell the all red junkyard tail lights.
Here’s the junkyard reds: selling them go for $40.
Of course this in no way impedes functionality so replacement ranks low on the priority list. I’ve read that some (ABS) plastic can be bleached in peroxide and regain some of it’s original appearance but that can take weeks and produce marginal results. In most cases DIYers choose paint over replacement.
I’ve collected the following example photos of painted engine bay plastics for example:
My e30’s own coolant tank was especially pathetic. In addition to being cat-vomit brown it had picked up some overspray from the PO’s paint job and accumulated a thick layer of sludge in the bottom. The washer fluid tank suffered the same overspray but I painted that blue which I think really sets off well against the rest of the engine bay. I decided not to paint the coolant reservoir because I don’t have a space to paint in right now and it’s impossible to read the coolant level once painted.
During my engine swap I needed to fill out an order for some small parts and decided I’d add the tank to the order. I didn’t take any photos during the install but it was pretty straight forward and I think the results are nice.
Regardless of vintage BMW lists only one part number for the sunroof crank — BMW Part Number 54121859594. I’m not sure if BMW has developed a universal part or if this is an error: forum posts and personal experience indicate there are 2 styles of handles and they are not interchangable. The photo below shows the two different handle stlyes (without knobs).
The crank I’ve identified as “early model” is on the left. It’s wider and the knob post is taller. The “late model” crank is on the right. It’s important to get the right handle for your car.
There are essentially 2 styles of knobs and usage depends on the knob post design, again divided by early and late model e30s. I would illustrate the differences with photos but I destroyed most of the knobs trying to separate them from handles (more on that later). I can’t even find any pictures on the internet so we’ll have to make do with my 3D render:
Early Model Crank (Left) 1987 and Earlier
The early model sunroof handle has a plain knob that does not spin when you turn the handle. This is a poor design and I’m not surprised BMW engineers changed it. The knob is pressed onto a tall post and will crack if you try to remove it, even more so if it’s hot. If you are missing the knob you will likely need to replace the entire crank because the knobs are just not removable.
Late Model Crank (Right) 1988 and Later
The late model sunroof handle knob spins when you turn the handle and has a 2 part construction that manifests with a button-like depression on the top of the knob. The knob can be removed from the handle using warm or hot water. I’ve never cracked one of these knobs though there is some kind of glue inside the knob that can be messy and crumbles under heat. If you have a knobless late model crank you can probably find another one.
The crank attatches to the sunroof gears via a post. My old handle slipped on and off the gear post easily but when I finally found the appropriate replacement handle it was a very snug fit and required wiggling and pushing to install. I’m never taking it off now!
The hole looks identical between early and late model cranks but I believe they are yet again different. The hole and gear post are subtly keyed: one side of the hole / post is shorter than the other. You must align this to the gear post or it won’t fit.
The two styles of crank combined with this sneaky keyed design have stymied lots of people, according to forum threads I’ve read.
That’s it. I haven’t done a step by step removal / install because it’s just not that complicated (assuming you have the right parts). And now you know what the right parts are.
ECS Tuning sells a budget handle for $12.00
Removing the old ones can be done by hand, or if they are stubborn use a flat screwdriver to gently push sideways and pry the old sidemarker out. Also, for re-installation always install the light into the lens housing, then connect it to the wiring harness and snap into place. Otherwise any twisting of the housing may cause the bulb to work loose.
In other news, this morning when leaving to wash the car my clutch pedal would not fully spring back up and I had to pull it back with my foot. Since then the clutch only engages at the very end of it’s throw and it feels like I don’t have much distance to work with when shifting. This only happened once but I suspect my master cylinder is failing. It’s a $70-170.00 part (depending on the retailer and brand name) but there’s some know-how required to replace the part and bleed the system of air.
This, combined with engine and drivability issues detract slightly from my enjoyment of the car but I’m doing my best to keep it on the road but I don’t think I’ll be driving it until I get this sorted out sometime this week or next weekend. I may have to take it to a shop if I don’t have time to deal with it.
Front Turn Signal Bulb (Clear): Sylvania 7528
Front Turn Signal Bulb (Amber): Sylvania 1157A
Sidemarker Signal Bulb (Amber): Sylvania 2827
The amber front turn signal bulb is lower voltage, but is keyed correctly for the BMW e30 turn signal socket. This may cause the light to burn out more often or run hotter but it works.
The front sidemarkers on my car were crappy: one was always falling out a little, the other was collecting water. Replaced both, drilled a hole in the bottom of each so any moisture can drain.
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