One of the worst things that can happen to your car

The worst would be wrecking it, of course. But having dealt with a particularly trying malady over the past fourteen months, I would like to suggest that a wet interior ranks pretty high on the ‘stuff you never want to happen to your car’ list.

The autumn after buying my SEAT Leon, I noticed the passenger footwell was very wet. The problem was traced to perished seals, both on the pollen filter housing, and the doors. I made quick work of repairing the seals, but drying out the car is something I’ve been working at now off and on for nearly fourteen months, and has required disassembling significant portions of the interior.


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Flex disc woes

On most rear-wheel drive vehicles, a flex disc, sometimes called a giubo (which, you may be interested to know, is properly pronounced JOO-boh), is fitted where the gearbox and propshaft flanges meet. Flex discs are designed to help smooth out the transfer of torque between the gearbox and the rear wheels. You can see it in place on my E39 below, with the gearbox crossmember removed, which you need out of the way in order to access the flex disc.


The photo below shows the old flex disc from my car on the left, and the new one on the right. Now, if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you will know that I replaced this last March. So why am I doing it again now, and more importantly, why is the old one so distressed already? Continue reading “Flex disc woes”

One clear example of why low mileage cars are not a good idea

‘Low mileage!’ A phrase that often adorns used car advertisements with inflated prices. Cars with low mileage are regularly lauded as if this was the single feature that guarantees you a higher quality, more reliable vehicle. The truth may very well be the opposite, however.

The simple fact is that cars are meant to be driven. When they are not, things wear out prematurely. All those moving parts on your car are meant to be moving, and when they don’t, they are more prone to fail. Grease dries up, oil stops flowing properly, and rubber cracks. Continue reading “One clear example of why low mileage cars are not a good idea”


Improving performance by cleaning and re-crimping electrical connections

A few weeks ago, I replaced the seals on the VANOS unit on my E39. Replacing the seals is supposed to restore low-end power and response, increase fuel economy, and help the car idle better. I can’t say I have noticed any dramatic improvement in how the car runs since doing the job. Granted, my seals were only partially worn, but in the 500 miles I’ve driven in the past few weeks, the only noticeable change has been a slightly smoother idle when cold. Continue reading “Improving performance by cleaning and re-crimping electrical connections”


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”


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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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”


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”


Overhauling the rear suspension on an E39 saloon

There is no definitive answer for how long a suspension component should last, but when your car regularly deals with rough roads, road salt, and other stressors, it is no surprise to find parts beginning to wear out around 50,000 miles. I bought my E39 in the autumn of 2015 with 54,000 miles on the clock, and it needed new tie rods up front. Since I had it apart, I also did the traction arms, control arms, and anti-roll bar links at the same time. A couple of months ago, at 68,000 miles, I replaced one of the rear strut and coil assemblies, and noticed at that point a split boot on the rear control arm. A creaking sound from the nearside rear also indicated a bad ball joint, which you can see below.

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Lighting the road like it’s 1999

I bought my E39 for a variety of different reasons, but its headlamps were not one of them. The previous owner had fitted some imitation ‘angel eyes’ that he found on eBay, which, while providing good light, did not look very nice. It was particularly when looking at them from the side that you noticed how cheap they looked (despite costing about the same as a proper facelift set).


For quite a while, I left them alone. After all, they worked, they passed MOT, and I couldn’t find an OEM set for under £200. If I was going to replace the lights, it would have to be done cheaply. Patience was rewarded, however – a few months ago, I found a pre-facelift set off a breaking E39 for £50. They needed to be rebuilt, as they were missing a couple seals and the adjusters were broken (a typical problem on the E39), but they were complete and clean. A few quid for new adjusters, a helpful tutorial from YouTube, and a quiet Friday night in front of the TV, and I was in business. Continue reading “Lighting the road like it’s 1999”