Tuesday, August 18, 2009

BMW 3 Series (E46) Evaporator Temperature Sensor and Dash removal DIY

Every car has it's share of problems. For Toyota's, it might be water pumps and weak CV axles, for Nissan's it might be motor mounts that prematurely crack and break, for Hondas, you might experience havoc if your timing belt breaks prematurely.

BMW's have their own set of issues. One of them is the A/C evaporator. Most often, these develop a leak and the cooling ability of your air conditioner quickly comes to grinding halt.

One of the reasons this particular problem is so annoying is because the amount of work (labor) it takes to replace one. It took us (myself, the owner and a very savvy mechanic) about 6 hours of total labor. If you're thinking about making this one a do-it-yourself (DIY) project, then you'd better cancel all your plans for the weekend! But... have faith, it can be done.

We followed the Bentley BMW 3 series service manual, which has very good photos and decent descriptions on how to take the dash completely out.

Here we have most of the dash components already taken out. The steering wheel has already been removed.

The A/C vent comes out by grabbing it with your thumbs and pulling slightly upwards and out to release the clips underneath.

Watch carefully how the A/C vent cable is installed before removing it.

You're going to end up with a LOT of screws. It might be a good idea to put the screws in a zip-lock bag and label each of them.

Removing the airbag is pretty straight forward. Just be careful where you store it, and make sure to disconnect the cable without breaking the plastic harness.

Here's a shot with the dash completely removed. You'll need some help taking it out. The center console and gear shifter are kind of in the way. We were able to remove it from the passenger side by turning it and guiding it out slowly. Watch the headliner during this operation, especially if it's in good shape.

This is the driver's side. The only tricky part here is the headlight switch wiring harness. You have to slide the white collar around in order to release it. This took me a little while to figure out, and the Bentley manual wasn't of much help here.

Notice all the wiring harnesses. Try to remember which one went where, but don't panic -- it's pretty obvious where everything plugs in once you start putting everything back together.

This is the one of the evaporator temperature sensors connectors. The actual sensor is on the other side, in front of the heater core.

The second sensor is near the riverside right foot well area. The while harness with the green and white wire is the connector. The actual sensor is behind the connector itself. Don't worry about where the other end of the green and white wire goes.

The steering wheel airbag has to be removed. This is the sport steering wheel, so you have to insert a little screw driver in the slits on the side of the steering column to release the air bag assembly.

The wiring harnesses here are different. First you release the collar of the harness then pull up to disconnect. Again, be careful where you store the airbag.

Here's a shot of the car with the dashboard removed. Looks pretty overwhelming, but it's not actually as bad as it seems. Just keep track of all the screws and harnesses and don't rush!

When putting everything back together, go backwards, and make sure you have all the wiring harnesses connected before screwing in each part.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bling out your Hummer

Hummers are synonymous with excess. Originally a military vehicle, now a style statement for civilians. I always chuckle when I see commercials for the H2 and H3 - is General Motors trying to create some class conflict within?

So if you had the hummer, and you lived in a major metropolitan area where this type of display of excess has almost become common place, how do you stand out? How about you bling it out with gold bumpers and spare tire housing. It'll definitely garner attention you crave, albeit not necessarily the right kind.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

BMW 3 series (E46) poor quality plastic interior peels off

If you've owned an E46 3 series, you probably noticed that the plastics on the interior start to peel after only a few short years of use. The parts that are most affected are the oddments tray, the cup holder, the entire center console, the rear ash-tray surround, and the storage compartment in the dash.

Your only choice is either to take it up with the warranty department at BMW, or go buy replacement parts for the dealer and replace everything yourself. The hardest piece to change is the center console, but still the price for all these pieces isn't exactly cheap!

I hope BMW has improved their quality of interior plastics on the new generation 3 series (E90 and E92) .

Picture of old (left) and new (right).

Reset oil service indicator for all 3 series (1998–2006) E46 BMW cars

For BMW 318i, 323i, 325i, 328i, 330i, 525i, 528i, 530i models

This is a common question that gets asked a lot on almost every online BMW forum. When you're out of warranty, going to the dealer (read: stealer), is almost never a good idea -- especially when it comes to routine service that you can easily do yourself. If you change your oil yourself, or go to an independent shop to get it done, then you'll need to know how to reset your indicator so it doesn't blink "Inspection" in the instrument cluster every time you turn the key. It's also a good way to keep track of when to change your oil.

While the oil service indicator will only prompt you to change your oil every 10-15k miles (depending on how you drive), I wouldn't wait that long to change your oil -- especially if your car is not a lease, and you plan to keep it. The consensus on the boards is to change your oil anywhere between 3k to 5k miles. I do mine every 5k with the 5W-30 synthetic.

Steps to reset your oil service indicator:
  1. Turn the key all the way to the off position
  2. Press and HOLD the left knob on the instrument cluster (keep holding)
  3. Turn the key ONE CLICK to the accessory position
  4. Continue to hold the left knob until the test changes to reset
  5. Now release the left knob and press and hold it again
  6. When the word reset starts to blink, release and press the left knob once more time
Your service indicator should now read around 15,525 miles.

If you're confused, check out the video.

Friday, August 7, 2009

More photo for your buck

Costco is running a special in September on their ├╝ber large 20"x30" photo enlargements for under $10 ($9.95/each). I know what you're thinking - print quality. If you're like me and take the quality of your photos seriously, I share your skepticism. However, some professional have said the prints come out remarkably good; on par with with pro labs such as Dale or Mpix.

One word of caution: finding frames in some awkward sizes such as 20x30 might not prove to be easy. Make sure you check the availability of a matching frame before you submit your order for your gargantuan, life size print.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Deal Savvy: Online coupon shopping

It's amazing how you can find practically anything online these days. Not sure how regular brick and mortar retailers can even compete, and I guess many can't, as evidenced by the closure of Circuit City. It's getting to the point where I actually feel guilty shopping online because I know that I'm contributing to the closure of some wonderful local store. But, what can I do? Pay more?

Compound the problem with online coupons. Fatwallet was one of the first sites I heard about that would detail exactly how to squeeze every bit of value out of your dollar. Recently, I used logicbuy to get 30% off $1099 on one of my new favorite HP Pavilion dv3t series laptops. Killer price for an amazing machine.

Be weary though, not all coupons are as good as they seem. Some claim to be 50% off, but the resulting price is only a few dollars off from what other e-tailors are hawking the same item for.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The super thin, highly attractive, Lenovo u350

After using a 1.3Ghz Pentium Mobile on the ultra portable Lenovo u350 for about a week, I got mostly what I expected, but some surprises as well. Although the mobile Pentium will give you lots of battery life, and adequate processing power for most tasks -- if you're a techie, you'll undoubtedly run into some of it's limitations and get a little frustrated. Specifics? Try playing back HD video on your TV over HDMI: smooth 1080p playback is just not possible. I even tried the "fastest in the world" CoreAVC software codec, and the hardware accelerated Media Player 12 running on Windows 7. Try un-raring some large downloads, or even opening up large PDF's. Every now again, you'll get a little annoying pause. Price is awesome though - I got the super sexy u350 for $610 shipped to my door after the Lenovo employee discount (it pays to know people). Personally, I think 13.3" is the sweet spot for laptops. 14.1" is just a bit on clunky side, and 12" feels a little too cramped.

The build quality of the machine is above average. The light weight comes at the obvious cost of durability. You definitely notice the abundant use of lightweight materials (read plastics) on this machine. With normal use, I don't foresee any problems - but I doubt it would withstanding the daily stresses that road warriors would put it through for too long. It isn't quite the bullet-proof tank that the Thinkpad T series is legendary for, but then again, it doesn't come with the hefty price tag of the T series either.

Never thought the day of the sub $1000 ultra portable would come so soon! Gotta love economies of scale.

Why blog?

Blogging has been around for quite some time now. It was all the rave a few years ago, and was the new, trendy, hip thing to do. Then we had the emergence of social networking sites like myspace (which I despise) and facebook which allowed even the most introductory web surfers to establish a web presence. Now weather the content was actually useful is highly debatable.

I sidestepped the blogosphere when it first debuted, but I’ve made an about-face and decided to embrace it now. Why the change of heart? Because I feel I can contribute meaningful stuff. Many of my google searches, and I’m sure you’ve experienced the same, have landed on some blog that has empowered me with valuable information. So — I’d like to give back. I can’t recall the amount of times people have asked me on how to do something, or information on some topic that I did some research on, and I’ve had to strain my memory, or dig through my mail/browser history to find the information in question. Solution? Blog it!

So, completely selfless intentions? Not quite. Countless times, I have myself forgotten how I tackled a problem have lost valuable information that I spent hours gathering. Blogging it would be one way to make it easier for me to find — I hope.

So there it is. Let’s see where this goes.