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Unread 12-19-2013, 10:22 AM
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Fair! Fair! is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2004
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Default Re: Vorshlag E38 740iL - Amy's G-ride

Project Update for Dec 19, 2013: Long time without an update, but as usual I have been too busy to document any of the repairs and updates done to the E38 here at Vorshlag over the past 6-7 months. There have been a number of small repairs (like the LCD ribbon display, some vacuum hose repairs, new trim, paint conditioning, floormats) and even a couple of big ones (rear suspension refresh, coolant hoses & new rear tires), so let's get caught up.

As you know, BMWs (like all car models) have their own particular list of "commonly failed parts", and so far on this E38 chassis we've run across many of the failings that we figured we would. I purchased a relatively low mileage car (90K miles) for its age, but it is still over a dozen years old and various rubber items are starting to get old, brittle and start to scream "replace me!". We've already gone through the (common) valve cover seals, the (common) front bushings and front ball joint boots, and a few other wear items along the way. In this installment we tackle a few more parts that have "aged out", plus make plans to update a few other dated electronic items.

Paint and Trim Work + New Floormats

This car was a dozen years old when we bought it and somebody took pretty decent care of the car, but the paint wasn't perfect. There was a bit of orange peel in one area of a door that had obviously been repainted, a few light scratches in the clear coat I could see, and just a bit of dullness in the clear coat. A friend of Vorshlag (Tom) does some paint detailing and buffing work on the side, and we asked him to come take a look at the finish on our 740iL to see what panels could be revived and which small areas might need additional paint rework.

The the 740 inside our well lit and air conditioned shop, Tom went to town on the paint and did an outstanding job. The finish was revived to like new standards and 90% of the exterior panels won't need any additional paint rework. Our friends at Heritage Collision Center in Sherman will eventually get the car to paint and blend in around some scratches that were beyond saving. These is limited to a few small sections of panels that have nice body lines or trim separating them from other parts of the exterior, so it shouldn't cost a fortune to get these remaining areas touched up.

Tom uses some crazy 7 stage cutting and polishing and buffing and waxing process that was more complicated than my gear head brain could comprehend. All I know is he spent several hours and made the car look amazing! It shines like a show car. Tom recommends 6-12 month intervals between detail jobs like this for those people that really want their car to stand out. We liked his work so much we're going to try to get Tom to come by our shop more often to hopefully do some detail work for our customers.

This paint detail work ended up being very worthwhile, so if you have a car with the OEM paint that has some questionable areas, it is usually worth having a detail specialist come look at the car before taking it to the paint shop. If a detailer can save the original paint it is usually more cost effective and safer in the long run than delving into blending or spot paint rework.

Left: The 740iL's finish was a bit dull BEFORE the detail work. Right: Glossy finish was obvious in the same lighting AFTER Tom's magic

In the ultra-harsh florescent lighting in our shop you could see every flaw before Tom started his work, and there were a few small blemishes left after he was done. But once you pulled the car outside almost all of the small marks went away. Sunlight is a more natural light and this is how you normally judge paint, which is more realistic than the bright fluorescent lighting's color temperature.

Unfortunately after the paint was shiny and glossy again we noticed how poor some parts of the black trim molding looked. This was another area I knew about when purchasing the car and I was meaning to "get around to it." It looks as if a previous owner had a rear door's quarter window broken out on the driver's side, then they taped a piece of plastic sheeting over the opening for a while. Whatever tape they used had really strong adhesive and after they yanked it off the the black painted trim was ruined. It wasn't adhesive reside left over, no this was a "hole" in the black painted trim surface that had to be smoothed and repainted.

Some sections of the body-side upper trim could be purchased and easily replaced (bolt on/clip on) but most of these areas that were part of the rear door frame were a lot more complicated to remove. So I improvised... I was up at the shop one Saturday and decided to fix it. I taped around the trim to protect the paint and glass, then started scuffing and sanding the metal trim molding. Once I got down past the "low spots" from the damage the tape caused I blended in these areas with 1000 grit sand paper. After everything was super smooth I started trying to degrease and paper mask the whole left rear quarter of the car. I first tried some semi-flat black spray paint we had on hand and after a coupe of light coats I knew this was doomed - the finish looked terrible, right from the start. Bad fish-eyes and orange peel, and the gloss/flat tint was way off the rest of the black trim.

Turns out I was using the wrong paint. After sanding off my first two coats of "Semi-Flat" black spray paint I ordered up some DupliColor "Trim Paint", which was delivered within 15 minutes (having a shop menas we have 5+ wholesale parts accounts, many of which deliver within the hour. Yes, this does make your life easier). This rattle can of DupliColor paint it went on perfectly with no other changes - it laid down smooth and had no issues. I used three or four light dusting coats until the stainless steel trim underneath was evenly covered. The "flatness" of the gloss on this matched well once dried, then within a few weeks of exposure to sunlight it matched the rest of the trim perfectly.

This was the "after" shot the day I did the trim work, then later the painted trim paint "aged" within a few weeks to match even better. There was a busted body side trim piece that went above the upper rear corner of the back door that was a bit loose, which whistled when you drove the car. Turns out the mounting tabs were broken, so we ordered that piece from BMW and replaced it (took a while to come in from Germany). At the same time we also ordered a new set of floormats from BMW.

This car didn't have any floormats (or the rear seat "foot rests" that come in the "L"ong wheelbase version) in it when we purchased the car used, so adding new ones was a nice upgrade. As much as I tried I couldn't find anything that looked halfway decent from the aftermarket - I've always had better luck getting OEM looking floormats from the dealership. They weren't cheap but they will keep the carpets from getting damaged (the dreaded "heel hole"), they fit perfectly and match the carpet color exactly. We had another piece of black exterior bumper trim that was badly scratched up (LR bumper trim corner) that we got at this time as well. Shortly after Amy got a "no front plate ticket" (yes, this law is still on the books in Texas) we finally installed the front license plate, too. I hate how this looks on any car but it isn't worth the $75-125 fine and removes that one "obvious reason" to get pulled over in this, her daily driver.

New Coolant and Heater Hoses

All rubber hoses have a finite lifespan and apparently we exceeded that on a heater hose at the back of the motor, heh. We've had a "Low Coolant" light on since day 1, and never found a real coolant leak. So when Amy was driving the car on a freakishly COLD day for Texas in late October and saw this light come on and a warning chime BONG, she ignored it. The boy who cried "Wolf!" too many times was finally right, though!

She made it less than 300 yards before all of the coolant pumped out of the motor when she noticed steam pouring out of the hood, before the temp gauge even began to rise. Amy is a racer, and as such she knows the golden rules of automotive fluids: no coolant or no oil = Engine Death! She immediately pulled over, shut down the motor, and called me. Which was a good thing, because that motor would have been toast if she drove it a single mile further without any coolant.

I got there with a few gallons of water, thinking it might have a pinhole leak and she was overreacting. Nope, it was bone dry. I poked around and squeezed every radiator and coolant line until I got to one of the heater hoses at the back of the motor, where I poked my finger right through the dry rotted hose. Doh! We'd been keeping an eye on the cooling system parts, most of which looked fresh (replaced) on the front of the car, but this particular hose was buried way behind the motor and under the intake manifold. Whichever previous mechanics that worked on this car had skipped it, because it was the hard one to replace.

No worries, I took her home to grab another car then grabbed the open trailer behind our F-350 and grabbed one of our techs from the shop. Olof and I easily drove the 740iL onto the back of the trailer and then we towed it to Vorshlag's shop, 4 miles away. We ordered all of the hoses this time - new radiator hoses and heater hoses. Even through the radiator hoses looked fine they are too cheap not to replace, since we had to drain the coolant and fill/bleed the entire system after this heater hose repair. And the plastic coolant reservoir tank was replaced, too, because those are known to fail.

Once all of the parts arrived Kyle replaced all of the hoses and put in a fresh batch of BMW coolant and distilled water mix. One thing we didn't think we needed to replace was the coolant temperature sensor that is located in one of the plastic portions of a radiator hose. This sensor snaps into a plastic section of one of the hoses and has an O-ring to seal it. Well the O-ring leaked by the next day so we ordered that and replaced it, too, then re-burped the coolant system. Lesson learned (again): always replace the coolant temp sensor when replacing the radiator hoses on an E38 (or E39 or E46, which both have a similar set-up). We replaced the Coolant Level Sensor in the reservoir when we were in there, too. All told Kyle logged 2:45 hours on this hose replacement job, which is fairly common set of repairs. The radiator hoses are a bit fiddly and the heater hoses are hard to access, plus the coolant bleeding takes a while.

During this same time period the car developed a stumble at cold start, and threw a CEL (Check Engine Light), which Kyle has been tracking down when we have time. He found one vacuum hose that had popped off, which kept coming off each time it was reinstalled, so it was replaced during the coolant hose replacement. And another rubber vacuum hose was found to have a pin hole and replaced. The stumble and CEL are back again in December so the next step is to replace all of the rubber vacuum lines, which are all starting to get dry rotted. Hopefully this will get us another dozen years of use. And that damned "Check Coolant Level" warning light keeps coming back, so we will investigate that next.

LCD Ribbon Display Repair

There are several LCD displays located underneath the main analog gauges in the dash binnacle on this car. This series of LCDs displays all sorts of data: There is a spot to show the odometer mileage, another display that shows what gear you are currently in, and a larger LCD area that has text messages (warnings) and On Board Computer displays you can see. There's a button on a stalk that lets you cycle through fuel consumption, miles to empty, the time, temperature, etc. Well that display was borked on this car when we bought it, just like all of them do eventually.

This LCD issue of "losing pixels" is a super common failing among all E38 7 series and E39 5 series cars. Luckily there are many shops around the world that specialize in fixing these panels, where you send them your gauge panel and they replace the ribbon display unit and recalibrate everything for around $300 or so. This can take a week or more of downtime, to ship off the gauge cluster and get it back repaired, and ain't nobody got time for dat!

So I did some searching and found a good ribbon display replacement kit from based somewhere in the UK, shown above. Their main ribbon display repair kit was 19 Euros shipped worldwide (about $28 US). What I liked about their offering was they had really good instructions and videos on their website, plus they also offered the replacement backlight bulbs on the same page (3 bulbs for 13 euro), which I also ordered. They also state that their repair parts are all made in Europe, not in some far east sweat shop (the kit said "Made in Bulgaria", so... yay?). Looking again now I've found more sources, from places like Newegg for $11 + shipping, and as little as $9 on fleaBay, shipped direct from China (yikes).

I looked at a couple of DIY pages/videos and they made it seem easy. How hard could it be, right? Of course, the reality was that this display replacement was anything but easy to replace. Kyle spent nearly 4 hours removing the binnacle, disassembling the gauge cluster, installing the new LCD display, aligning the display (very tedious), replacing the foam liners, replacing the bulbs, and reinstalling the cluster. This job includes a lot of "fiddly work", as the Brits like to say. It takes lots of small tools, a work bench with very good lighting, a magnifying glass, tons of patience (well that rules me out!) and time to pour through the many pages of instructions. And it is easy to do it all wrong, to bend the ribbon in the wrong place or misalign the pins, and have to take it apart and start all over (it took him 3 tries to get it right). The kit we got from Pixelfix included 10 pages of color printed instructions that were EXCELLENT, too.

continued below

Last edited by Fair!; 12-26-2013 at 06:04 PM.