“Coolant” light flashed up on my check panel Sunday and comes on after 5-10 minutes of driving. Coolant level is fine so I suspect the level sensor is busted. I could get one from the pick and pull but decided to order the OEM part from ECSTuning since it’s cheap. Hopefully part will arrive before next week when the e30 goes into the body shop for a new valance + some painting.
Coolant light flashed a couple times before staying off. Now I have a coolant level sensor I don’t need.
I picked up my e30 at Bavarian Motorsport today. In a word: wow. I’d heard that suspension can improve performance but I had no idea that the effect would be so remarkable. Point form notes:
- Ride: even though the new Ground Control setup is stiffer than stock it’s very comfortable and suitable for taking the family for a drive. Car handles small pot holes and bumps comfortably, and better than the old supsension. This was a surprise, I was expecting the ride to rattle my teeth. I’ll definitely tighten it up later.
- Shifting: smoother, faster, more mechanical feeling and less squishy. My shifting has improved by an order of magnitude, even my mechanic commented on it after listening to me take off from the shop. Ramon told me the pros and cons of a short shifter and I’m glad I didn’t go against his advice: this set up is perfect.
- Power: seems to have more power at the wheels. I’d heard that suspension would improve HP and torque but I had no idea how much or if even true. RPMs seem more stable during shifting too, no idea if that’s in my mind or reality. Might be related to the axle / guibo replacement.
- Noise: whole car is less noisy, even the muffler is quieter. Might be in my head or a by-product of being closer to the ground and better insulated from noise and vibration around the shifter.
I am extremely happy and while the upgrades were not cheap it will pay for itself in future enjoyment. I might not be able to sleep tonight, I may have to get up early and drive. The plan is to put 100 miles on the suspension this weekend so it can settle and be ready for a front end alignment and new wheels next week. Then a week after that I will be apart from the car again for some body work. I’m going to miss it.
I used to be the kind of person who thought cars were silly. Why would you be into cars? I almost regarded an interest in cars as non-sensical as having an interest in toasters. But now I think that if someone isn’t passionate about cars that they just haven’t driven the right car yet.
The rear suspension parts my car needs are still on order (probably until next week) so I’m going to pick my car up at the shop and enjoy driving it until they come in. Here’s the highlight of the work that was done:
- Flex Disc
- Drive Shaft
- Transmission Seal
- Shifter Bushings, Lever, O-Ring
- Weighted Shift Knob
- Subframe Bushings
- Differential Mount
- Brake Fluid Flush
- Coolant Temperature Sensors
- Temperature Gauge Sending Unit
- Ground Control Coil Overs
- Front Control Arm Bushings
I need to source some parts for the next round of repairs:
- Front Control Arm Mounting Bracket
- 14.5mm Rear Sway Bar
- Heat Shield (Above Exhaust, Below Drive Shaft)
And before it gets rainy I need tires. My new suspension will just make that all the more apparent. Thinking of getting these rims and these tires, and putting my bottlecaps in storage.
Man oh man oh man I am excited. My mechanic sent me these photos today. Coil overs are officially the nicest part of my car.
So much for “The Conclusion” of this tale. The story until now:
- my mechanic replaced water pump, belts, hoses, coolant reservoir cap and radiator in May when I got the car
- car was running cold in July and getting poor mileage, I replaced thermostat with a cheap one I had (may have been an 88C thermostat)
- car started overheating so again I replaced thermostat this time with with a Wahler 80C, flushed rad and put in fresh coolant
- ran fine for a couple days then more overheating. I replaced fan clutch, relay K1 and tested aux fan by jumpering switch
The last repairs were last weekend. On Thursday:
- suddenly overheats on a short drive and scares the crap out of me with visions of a blown head gasket, temp gauge got over 3/4! – turned the car off immediately.
- top rad hose is hot, bottom is cold
- coolant level is high, must be due to expansion I figure
- left the car on the street for a few hours and went back to get it after it cooled down
- top rad hose is still warm, bottom rad hose is cold
- squeeze the hoses, before and after thermostat housing and level in reservoir goes up and down
- top up my oil (didn’t see any water in it but i’m not sure what I’m looking for in the dark)
- drive it home
Get home, let it idle. Temperature goes a little over halfway but not to 3/4. Tapping the gauge sometimes made the temperature go back down. Fan is spinning great, chews up a cardboard tube nicely. Turn the car off.
- squeeze all the hoses and they are super firm, system has pressure I guess
- take the lid off the coolant reservoir and coolant spills out everywhere. that seems like it means something.
- coolant level appears to be a little over the cold level mark but under the cap it’s much higher, must be cause by a trapped air bubble
My conclusion is a head gasket problem, hopefully nothing fatal to the engine. I’m going to have it towed to Bavarian Motorsport tomorrow since the problem is beyond my resources to repair as I don’t have a garage. Here’s what I would need to check if I was doing it on my own:
- coolant leaking into the crankcase (milky emulsion in the oil)
- “foaming” in the coolant system as exhaust gases are ejected into it
- coolant leaking into a cylinder (white smoke from the exhaust)
- coolant leaking from the head
- oil leaking into a cylinder
- oil leaking from the head seam
- a leak from a cylinder to the cooling system
- a leak from a cylinder to an oil return passage
- a leak between cylinders
It will be a few days before my mechanic will be able to get back to me, I’m sure. Fixing this could be expensive so I’m thinking about my options:
- have the engine repaired (welded). may not be possible. $unknown
- get a new m20 block / head / engine. $200-1500 + labor
- perform an engine swap $2000-10,000 + labor
Really, option 3 is the most attractive even though it will financially set back all my other plans for a while. It’d be great to get a 240-300 HP engine in my little car and put a silver lining on all these problems. But it would be really nice if it was something cheaper to fix.
I’m going to point-form this rather than add a whole lot of narration that no one really cares about. Basically, since I replaced the thermostat the second time the car has been running hot, especially at idle. This is probably caused by one of three things:
1 – Coolant circulation problem:
- Radiator is clogged – doubtful, rad is only 2 months old
- Water pump is broken – doubtful, water pump is only 2 months old
- Air is in the system – doubtful, new thermostat has a hole in it and bleeding the system produced no air bubbles just coolant
- Coolant is low, coolant system is losing pressure – checked frequently, level holds steady. A pressure issue is unlikely without a leak.
2 – Air circulation problem:
- Mechanical fan is not working
- Auxiliary (electric) fan is not working
3 – Ignition or Valve Timing problem:
- Let’s not even go there… drive belt is 2 months old and car was professionally tuned.
My attention turned to the second set of possible causes for the overheating since it’s easy to test the air circulation system. From what I’ve read and been told, the mechanical fan should run all the time but run faster as coolant gets hotter and engages the fan’s clutch. At 80C the thermostat opens and allows coolant into the engine. If the coolant gets really hot the aux (electrical) fan will engage low speed mode at 91C, then go into high speed mode if the temperature continues to climb to 99C. That shouldn’t even happen because the mechanical fan should be sufficient to cool the rad and keep coolant below 91C. The mechanical fan would require parts but the electrical fan might be easier to fix so I checked that first:
GOOD: aux fan comes on when A/C is on, at least it runs as listed in the Bentley manual I jumpered the thermostat switch and found:
- GOOD: fan high-speed works
- BAD: fan low-speed did not work. Possible causes:
GOOD: Replaced relay K1 and low and behold now both low and high speed modes are working when jumpered
- could be the resistor, which comes in two variants and is very difficult to replace without removing the radiator
- fan relay is blown
- BAD: visually, the fan was turning a speed I would describe as “slow” even when hot
- VERY BAD: at operating temperature I was able to stop the fan blade using a single piece of cardboard (a rolled up newspaper could have been used too)
GOOD: belt seems tight when depressed with my finger, less than 1/4 of deviation
- BAD: both upper and lower hoses coming from rad were hot (only indicates a problem, not necessarily a clogged radiator)
I checked with my friend and mechanic (who will remain nameless so he will not be inundated with after hours petitions like mine) for guidance. He didn’t offer any alternative theories so I decided to go ahead with the fan clutch replacement. He hooked me up with a new fan clutch and most importantly a 32mm fan clutch wrench (which is long and thin) and a pulley retainer. If you ever do this job I cannot overstate the value of having the right tools especially the pulley retainer not sure of the quality but you can buy both from Amazon for under $30.00. You can use a regular 32mm wrench but there will not be room for a pulley retainer as well, therefore the special thin versions are required. Here’s how this went down:
- removed the old fan using the 32mm wrench by loosening the reverse threaded nut (when standing in front of the car righty loosey lefty tighty, or clockwise to loosen)
- didn’t need the pulley retainer here because the belts were nicely tensioned
- didn’t need to whack the wrench with a hammer, nut loosened easily probably because it hadn’t been on for long
- turned the fan mostly by hand until the last couple turns where the wrench was
- used the wrench and my spare hand to grab the fan but still almost dropped it
- there is only millimetres of extra space between the rad and the fan once it’s removed
- tried to remove the fan blade from the fan clutch
- my fan had regular bolts, not M6 (hex) bolts so there was little room for a socket between the bolt and the clutch
- fan kept wanting to spin out of my grip while trying to loosen the bolts
- vice grips couldn’t get good purchase anywhere
- breaker bar didn’t help, just aggravated the problem
- posted on facebook e30 group looking for either:
- A) a bench mounted vice to use
- B) a replacement fan
- thankfully someone (thanks, Vivek) was able to provide both but I had to remove the fan from a clutch myself and also the vice was not on a bench
- went to get fan
- needed pulley retainer in order to remove fan from donor vehicle
- noticed this fan had M6 bolts, was able to remove all of them by using my socket wrench and leveraging my grip against the edge of the fan directly across from the bolt I was removing
- did the same trick on 2 of the bolts on my fan
- used the vice clamped onto 2 screwdrivers stuck through the tines on the clutch to hold it in place and remove the last 2 bolts
- amazingly, the clutch will not come apart from the fan blade! no explanation for this. locktite?
- thankfully I had the fan blade from the donor vehicle
- paid vivek $5 for the fan blade
- went home, cleaned the fan and attached it to the new clutch (torqued M6 bolts to 80 +/-5 in. lbs.)
- carefully threaded new clutch onto water pump bolt by hand until the pulley and belt started moving
- used the pulley retainer again to finish the job and tighten the bolt with the wrench (guessed at how tight it should be… it’s reverse threaded so it shouldn’t fall off)
Mina really wanted to go for a drive in so we all piled in, got coffee and gas, went to Campbell, then back home, then to Los Gatos to drop off the tools at my friend’s place and back home again. When we were getting coffee I noticed this couple standing next to a BMW X3 who were smiling and nodding at me. His name was Will and he just wanted to say how great it was to see someone in an e30 with the whole family. It was cool to chat even for a couple minutes and it turns out he’s in the BMW Club so maybe I’ll see him again. Car was either running a little cool in traffic or just a tick warm at idle, but totally within allowable ranges. E30s are known for having jumpy, analog dials so this is fine. I’m really happy that my car is running properly again as I’ve been limiting myself to short trips and eyeing the temperature gauge nervously all week so I am glad that I can go for long morning drives again.
What caused all this? I think the fan clutch probably didn’t like being jostled so violently when I was hammering away on the thermostat two weeks ago. That’s the only explaination I have for it’s sudden failure.
Got the clutch off the fan blade. Hit it a few times with the hammer. Now I have a spare.