Spark Plug Service on an E30 1989 BMW 325i

My daily-driver E30 with the six-cylinder engine was getting bad gas mileage, and the exhaust was smoking more … not blue or bad-smelling smoke, but still smoke, or something that looked like it.

My tech waited until the car was cold, and then removed the six spark plugs and kept track of which ones went where.

By inspecting each one, she could diagnose which cylinders had which issues. One of the spark plugs’ gaps was just about closed, and one other spark plug was of a type inconsistent with the rest. All but one were Bosch Platinum plugs which are great when used in the BMW M30 engine … and not this one, i.e., not the M20 engine.  As I recall the story, Bosch Platinum was developed for the BMW M30 engine and really work well only on that, but popular demand from less-informed buyers who think the name sounds fancy wanted it for other engine too, and Bosch obliged.

My tech forced the gaps wide enough to get sandpaper in there, and she cleaned the electrodes and then changed the gaps size of the plugs to once again be to spec — good approach, to not rush out and buy new plugs all the time.  And she replaced the odd-one-out with a type consistent with the rest.

She inserted them finger-tight and then one more gentle quarter-turn to tighten. She’s wisely wary of stripping the threads in the aluminum heads such as could happen with over-tightened spark plugs.  And by making sure the engine was cold, she prevented the plug from going in cold and then expanding and being stuck.

I started the car and it ran better than it has in a long time, yay!


Engine Oil & Filter Change on an E30 1989 BMW 325i

My E30 daily driver needs an oil change again, and I now have a nice warm place and a pit to make it downright pleasant to change the engine oil, so one of our brilliant techs did that today. She did some reading up on what the correct weight is and reminded me of the importance of choosing the right oil.

For example, if the factory specifies 15W50 weight for this engine, this means it’s a multi-grade oil with the “15W” being the cold-start temperature.

The lower the number before the “W”, the more runny the oil is at a cold temperature. At a cold temperature, “runny” is good for that number.

The higher the number before the “W”, the less runny the oil is when it’s cold. So, a too-high number means that when you first start your engine, the engine oil pressure might be high enough to damage things and yet the engine internals aren’t being lubricated with oil until later when the engine warms up, and until then you have something that’s more like honey or molasses as to viscocity and so your internal engine parts are wearing very rapidly.

I often park my E30 outside and sometimes it gets single-digits cold here, as in colder than 10 degrees Fahrenheit, so I’d be unwise to go buy engine oil with a higher number before the “W” such as 20W50. If anything, I should go lower on the first numbers, such as “10W”.

As to the number after the “W”, that’s how runny the oil is once the engine warms up. So, at a given temperature, oil with a “50” after the “W” will be less runny than oil with a “40” after the “W”. In that context, too-runny is not good, so a higher number is good.

I would prefer to read the official BMW opinion as to what grade oil I should use, and I haven’t seen that yet, so hearsay and common sense are my fall-backs. On those premises, 15W50 does sound about right. If anything, because I live in the cold North and it IS the middle of winter, I could even go lower and still be OK.

I went to Autozone and tried to find 15W50. They didn’t have any, but they did have 10W40. Those are slightly lower numbers and that’s OK since it is colder weather now. So, that’s what I chose, along with a Bosch engine oil filter.

The oil drain plug is a bolt with a 14mm head, and there is also a washer as a gasket between that and the pan.

Falling in Love with my E30 all Over Again


My favorite car to drive as to reliability, which means all in all, is my 1989 BMW 325i. I love this car, even though:

  • The door has had issues and by now it doesn’t lock any more
  • I tried to fix that and the interior driver side paneling is now non-existent
  • The air conditioning compressor stopped working long ago
  • The passenger seat had a pokey spring in it until I replaced it with a pretty other E30 unit but totally in a non-matching style and color
  • The center console is gone; I forget why
  • The temperature gauge shows that the car is ice cold until I’ve driven it for 10 miles, and then suddenly it springs to life
  • The car is probably running insanely rich
  • The coolant warning light gets upset when I go around a corner quickly
  • Coolant seems to keep vanishing
  • The rear suspension squeaks like crazy
  • It looks like a front seat passenger had swallowed a lot of dark paint and then threw up on the beige carpet
  • The top plastic of the instrument cluster is broken, due to me trying to hotwire the car when its ignition switch died
  • The big trim piece underneath the steering wheel is missing for the same reason
  • It leaks oil
  • The clear-coat is flaking off everywhere
  • The dash is cracked

My little E30 just keeps going and going and going. I change the timing belt regularly, service the transmission regularly, change the oil, and it just keeps on being 100% reliable.

My friend has been driving BMWs since the early 1980s, and he currently owns two V-12 BMW 750iL cars. He describes his frustrations as “death by a thousand paper cuts.” Not that my E30 is dying as long as I cheerfully tolerate its indiscretions. It just keeps going. I love this car.

Sometimes, compliments are earned by contrast. And yes, that’s the case here. Don’t hate me, but I recently bought two 2000 Audi A6 Quattro rocket-ship cars with the 40-valve V8 4.2 engine and 5-speed Tiptronic Porsche-designed transmission. Compared to my E30 they’re so advanced it’s like they’re from outer space. And they both have dead transmissions. As in, very expensively dead. Which mean, within my budget, they are unfixably dead.  That’s fine because I knew that when I bought them, and the prices reflected their condition. Maybe one day I’ll figure out how to fix them affordably. Until then, I smile when I think about the dead Audis and I drive my 11-years older-yet E30 and feel its little transmission shift perfectly.

There’s an added bonus; I tend to often get lost in thought, and it’s happened more than once that I forgot where I’d parked or what I was driving that day (I do have three other cars licensed and insured), and then I came across this lovely bronzit-colored E30 in the parking lot, and I thought “ooh, what a pretty E30” and then I realized: “hey, blondie, that’s your own car.”


Using my E30 325i as a Truck

To cart my used parts around, I have:

  • A Ford E150 van
  • A Volvo station wagon

And yes, they both drive, but they both need some work done.  And so for my latest parts run, I drove my trusty 2-door E30 1989 325i.

Problem is, if that’s a problem, I found an AMAZING deal at one junkyard about 120 miles away from my shop: a dead 1987 325is with really pretty seats in great condition.

I also wanted to buy many other cool things from that E30, not just the seats. That included bulky stuff that, together with my tools and the overnight luggage for two people (myself and my assistant) pretty much filled up the trunk.

Could I make my little E30 swallow two entire passenger seats, with seat slides, plus the rear seat seat-back plus the rear seat bottom? No. But, my assistant could.  Bonus: after I wrapped the seat slide ends in old clothes and loafers to surround the sharp edges, the trip back was made successfully without the pretty surface of the seats being marred or torn.


Struggling to Remove the Front Seat from a BMW E30

The passenger seat on my personal E30 has long since been a pain in the butt, literally, for its occupants. One of the springs is poking through the upholstery and so whoever sits on the seat will get scraped or gouged unless they cover the area with some thick fabric such as a towel.  Since I used to have passengers approximately 0.001% of the time, replacing the seat hasn’t been a priority but the seat is, or I am, becoming more popular so perhaps it’s time to do something about it.

And so off I went to the local junkyards, and I found a nice seat with matching colors in a 2-door BMW E30 like mine. Yay!

The previous owner had allocated a significant amount of money and effort to his sound system, judging by the modifications to the car. I sometimes wonder if, had that money been diverted to preventative maintenance instead, the car might not still be on the road instead of languishing in a junk yard.  Choosing to neglect the timing belt is a classic mistake that E30 owners make, as one example.

Anyway, this car had some expensive-looking aftermarket sound system cable running from the passenger front seat down the center and under the back seat into the trunk. Under the passenger front seat was also a massive speaker box.  I tried to remove it from under the seat, either from the front or the back, and … no go.  I gather the installer had removed some or all of the seat anchor points, shoved the speaker under the seat and then bolted the seat down again.  Not that the speaker was attached to anything; it was loosely lying around under the seat.  Odd.

Anyway, when the time came to remove the seat, the seat slide was already all the way back, and this allowed open access to the two forward plastic covers over the 17 mm fasteners, and to the fasteners themselves. I removed them, quickly and easily. The next step was to slide the seat forward so as to enable access to the rearmost two 17 mm fasteners, but … the seat refused to slide forward.

My assistant pointed out that there was a problem with the rod that connects the master side slide clutch, the side where the  lever is, to the passive side.

I presume that the sound system installer had disabled the rod so as to make room for the hug speaker bouncing around the seat … not the sort of trade-off in functionality that I’d have chosen. Anyway, to each his own.

As a consequence of the disabled rod, only one side’s slide disengaged when I pulled the lever up.  This meant that I needed to reach under the seat to the passive side and manually work the little side clutch while with my other hand pulling the lever up on the other slide, and then with my third hand I’d push the seat forward. Not a perfect plan but it seemed worth a try. My assistant had already removed the driver seat, so I looked at its slide mechanism to see how the mechanism worked, and where I needed to push.

The problem is that I couldn’t easily reach under the seat; it was down very low.  I remembered that E30 seats have a height control, so I activated that with one hand, and with the other hand I pushed the seat bottom upwards. The problem is that my finger was at the time in an opening where two pieces of metal form a gap that closes as the seat rises, and my finger got squashed. Oweee.  The two pieces of metal had sharp enough edges that, had I done this more vigorously I might have crushed the bone or cut the finger clear off. Fortunately I had reacted quickly and had stopped the upwards pulling motion just in time.

Not feeling very happy any more, I reach underneath to the slide clutch and found that the area has some sharp metal pieces that rubbed and scratched the skin off my upper arm. I kept going and finally got the job done well enough to where the seat could slide forward, but I wasn’t all too happy with the extra fee I’d ended up paying in personal pain.

Even so, I am now the proud owner of an entire set of front and rear E30 seats.  And, for the record, these all could fit onto the existing back seat of m E30, after removal of a headrest or two, and protecting the seat face from damage from the slides of the other seat.  Success!

E30 Trunk Lid Tool Tray

2015-09-29 17.58.03 2015-09-29 17.59.24We come across many E30s in the course of our business, and many no longer have a tool tray in the trunk lid. Perhaps you have just bought your E30 and the tool tray is missing.

This design of tool tray is also used on some of the E28 5-series cars — not the high-end models, just the 528e with the M20 engine. The larger-engine cars have a bigger tool tray, too.

The tool tray hinge area attaches to a metal brace in the trunk lid, with two Philips-head [TBD: confirm] sheet metal screws. We can include these screws with your order, if you need them.

It’s rare that the foam rubber in the trunk lid is missing but maybe yours is filthy. On principle we do offer these too though the glue makes it hard to remove the foam from the trunk lid.

The latch of the tool tray is a plastic knob with an integrated washer cast-in. The hole in the tray is oval, not round. The washer is angled and has a gap so the factory must have assembled this by holding the knob at an angle and then screwing it in. We have sold at least one knob by itself, without the tray, so yes, we do offer them.

A plastic strap keeps the tool tray from yawning open too wide. We offer the strap too.

We offer the tray without the knob or strap if you might enjoy saving a few dollars by wrestling the strap and knob out of your presumably broken or rust-stained tool tray, so you can re-use these. The BMW part number I see on the tool tray is 1128 911.0.

For those who don’t want the hassle, we also offer the tool tray with the strap and the knob.

We often see marks left by rusted tools, on these tool trays. I used to wonder why until I bought an E23 735i. Its trunk lid, on the inside, with all the tools, was always wet with condensation — even though I live in the middle of the Nevada desert. That would explain the problem.

We clean the rusty marks away as best we reasonably can but the tool trays we offer might still have some black stuff on them — but typically not easily-visible rust or rust stains. There is a small vent hole, presumably to equalize air pressure within the tool tray and the outside world. Sadly, we find it difficult to clean this part without getting water into the vent hole.  Fortunately, in the dry Nevada climate, it’s likely to dry out fairly quickly.

On the tools, we like to use Naval Jelly.

As for the original BMW tools, they are becoming quite rare and they’re priced accordingly. We do sell the individual pieces, though:

  • Open-ended wrenches, sizes 8-and-10, 12-and-13, and 17-and-19.
  • Pliers
  • Spark plug wrench
  • Rod or pin that presumably helps turn the spark plug wrench
  • Screwdriver
  • Allen head tool
  • White plastic manual window crank

Selling Half a Cauliflower

I recall a joke where a huge, mean-looking guy, probably a former boxer, approaches the produce guy in a grocery store. The store sells half-watermelons, nicely wrapped in plastic, but … this customer wants to buy half a cauliflower. Wait, what? The store doesn’t sell half-cauliflowers, says the produce guy. The customer insists and gets more and more angry. Eventually the produce guy sighs, and tells the customer he’ll go ask the manager. Shaking his head, he walks into the back and finds the manager, and says “you’re not gonna believe this, but some damn fool out there wants to buy half a cauliflower.” He sees the manager’s face looking aghast and looking past the produce guy, and … yes, the customer had followed the produce guy and was standing right behind him.  So, the produce guy smiled, turned, gestured to the customer and said: “… and this gentleman wants to buy the other half. May I proceed?”

That’s sort of how things work at our little business.  We might think we have things broken down to an atomic level where nobody would want to buy a sub-component of a particular part, and then someone does. Unlike the produce guy, however, we’re delighted when something like that happens.

Let’s use the glove box as an example. It has a latch on it.  Some customers will want just the latch, some want the glove box without the latch, some want both.  So, we happily sell every combination and it’s all optimal because this way our customers only spend the money on what they really want, not anything extra. Someone else can buy that.

I really thought the tool tray that goes into the trunk lid of an E30 would not be a part that would be broken down more, but a new customer wants to buy a glove box latch, and he also needs the tool tray knob — just the knob. The knob would fit nicely in the same small box as the latch, but if I have to mail the entire tool tray also, not just the knob, it’s a bigger box, so the postage costs more, plus it’s more of a hassle for the customer to remove his old tray and transfer his tools to the new tray.  Besides, he’d also be spending extra money on buying the tray with knob as opposed to just the knob. Him wanting to buy just the knob makes perfect sense. Lower price, lower postage, less hassle.

2015-09-026Problem is, until 2 a.m. this morning I didn’t know how to remove the knob from the tool tray, but my new assistant figured it out for me, yay! So, yes, as of today, I do sell the tool tray knob separately for those who want it. The customer was happy, and placed the order … a nice “win” for everybody.

2015-09-25 14.44.18