I nearly wrote my car off today

Because I spent the first 24 years of my life near Toronto, Canada, I have seen my fair share of winter driving, occasionally in some pretty extreme conditions. So it was to my surprise today to find myself in the middle of the most terrifying winter driving experience I’ve ever had, in the North of England, with only a couple of inches of snow on the ground.

Wandering into the North Yorkshire Moors for a lazy morning of recreational motoring, I found myself on a rather narrow, snow-covered road. The road had a few hills, but was relatively flat, and I was having no trouble with traction in the E39. Following the map, I could see that I was about to rejoin a proper two-lane B-road, so decided to press on. What I wasn’t expecting was for the last half mile of the road to feature a 15-20% downhill grade. Or that it would be covered in a sheet of ice.

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Why learning to maintain your car makes sense

Here I am pouring oil into the engine of my BMW.

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I do this a lot. Well, not oil changes specifically, but maintenance on my cars. If you’re like me and prefer to buy inexpensive cars, learning to do your own maintenance and repairs is key. If you rely on your local garage to do everything, you soon find yourself spending quantities of money that come perilously close to what you paid for the car in the first place. As I’ve written over on Not2Grand: Continue reading “Why learning to maintain your car makes sense”

Repairing the VANOS seals on BMW’s M52TU/M54/M56 engines

Since 1992, BMW has used a variable valve timing unit, called VANOS (an abbreviation for the German, variable Nockenwellensteuerung), which advances or retards the timing based on readings from the ECU in order to optimise performance. Initially, a single VANOS setup adjusted only the intake timing, but BMW introduced a double VANOS setup in 1996 to adjust both intake and exhaust timing. The unit sits at the front of the cylinder head, and the readings from the ECU send a signal to the VANOS solenoid, which then adjusts oil pressure to operate two pistons inside the unit. The pistons in turn adjust the timing by advancing or retarding the camshafts. Continue reading “Repairing the VANOS seals on BMW’s M52TU/M54/M56 engines”

Life with an old banger, two years on

Two years ago today, I got up before dawn, took a train to the south side of Glasgow, and returned home later that afternoon with this.

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Yes, I’ve now shared two years of my life with a 1999 BMW 528i. I’m starting to think about selling it soon – I’d never planned on keeping it anywhere near this long to begin with, and it’s time for a new adventure – and so I thought the two-year anniversary would be a good chance to reflect on the experience of owning this car. Continue reading “Life with an old banger, two years on”

SEAT Leon (Mk1) front suspension overhaul

Next to your engine and gearbox, maintaining your suspension is one of the best things you can do for your car. The suspension is both what keeps you connected to the road, and what absorbs all the road’s imperfections, and in a bad state of repair, it will hurt your fuel economy, decrease the lifespan of your tyres, and adversely affect your car’s ride and handling, not to mention make your car less safe to operate.

Thankfully, rebuilding a suspension on many cars is not a terribly expensive or exceedingly difficult undertaking, and doing so can make a tired old car feel much newer again. It is also a job that can quite often be done an average DIY-er.

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A perfect evening drive

Someone, somewhere, has probably concocted a recipe for the perfect drive, using some sort of advanced scientific analysis. But as science was never my strong point, I am more inclined to think that there are probably several different recipes that would do the trick, depending on the circumstances.

As a case in point, I went out for a drive on Friday evening. Taking a familiar route, I circled through Northumberland and the southern end of the Scottish Borders, mostly using A-roads. Normally, if I want an enjoyable driving experience, I look for less-travelled B-roads that require more attention and engagement. However, after a long week of work that left me feeling tired and worn out, I wanted something more relaxing.

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How to cripple your engine in one simple step

Vacuum leaks can be notoriously difficult to diagnose, as they can range from small cracks in a hose or intake pipe, to a clogged crankcase vent system, to an improperly sealed oil filler cap. This is largely the reason I have ignored my E39’s minor leak, because diagnosing it would mean removing the whole air intake system to check everything over. Plus, barring an occasional stumble at idle, the car seemed to run fine. However, last week, when it started tripping the check engine light and logging fuel trim codes, I decided it was time to sort it out. Continue reading “How to cripple your engine in one simple step”

Why a Volvo V70 is a good thing

This is a Volvo V70. One you can currently purchase, in fact.

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And one you should, as I have suggested over on Chris Pollitt’s site, Not2Grand.co.uk. Why? Because wagons are always cool, and the V70 is also just a good car. Here’s my opening paragraph:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that wagons are cool. Well, perhaps it is not universally acknowledged, but it should be. As a case in point, take the second-generation Volvo V70. It more or less started out life as an S60, not a bad car in its own right, but rather forgettable. Turn it into an estate, however, and it suddenly becomes desirable (which is pretty much true of any Volvo, actually). Whilst retaining Volvo’s characteristic civility and restraint, the estate becomes eminently practical, more comfortable, and better to look at, not to mention that it will trick your neighbours into thinking you are refined and sensible.

Read the rest here.

Restoring hazed and oxidised headlights

Last month I replaced the aftermarket headlights on my E39 with OEM units. Since I had purchased these used, they had some of the usual hazing and oxidation on the lenses.

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So, arming myself with this excellent tutorial, some sandpaper, and a spray can of clear coat, I removed the headlights from the car – a very easy thing to do on the E39’s – and set to work. Continue reading “Restoring hazed and oxidised headlights”