BMW 540i Clutch

Here’s a fun one:  a clutch job on an E39 BMW 540i!  These are such great cars and so much fun to drive – especially with a manual transmission.  Of course sooner or later the clutch wears out and needs replacing.  I have heard from technicians more than once that this task looks daunting.  This is simply not so.  Most BMW clutches are easy to do.  Here’s some tips from this one we just did to help you conquer your fears of this job:

– First of all / yes / you have to remove the exhaust system.  Don’t argue with me and don’t worry about it.  It comes out very easily.  Soak those exhaust bolts with a good penetrating oil!

– Next you have to uncouple the driveline (or propeller shaft as we call it in my shop)  Also easy to do.  Don’t allow the center universal joint to be damaged by hyperextension.  Some people recommend marking the position of the propeller shaft relative to the transmission output – can’t hurt…

– also that big rubber ‘puck’ between the driveline and the transmission is a common wear item – if it looks crappy replace it now.  When tallking to your friendly neighborhood BMW parts supplier call it the “Guibo”.

– The transmission is pretty easy to get out but those funky bellhousing bolts require a good set of E-Torx sockets, a universal joint or two, and some long extensions.  Lower the transmission using a good (SAFE!) jack.


BMW 540i Transmission Removed

– next you remove the pressure plate from the flywheel and disguard it and the the clutch disc:


Here’s the old Pressure Plate.  See the hot-spots in the surface?  This is from the clutch slipping.

BMW 540i Used Pressure Plate


Here’s the old Clutch-Disc.  This one isn’t worn down to the rivets in the friction material yet but it is close.  Also, notice that this has a sold center to it / most clutch discs have springs in this center area to allow a certain amount of wind-up to happen as the clutch engages.


BMW 540i Old Clutch Disc


Next step is to remove the flywheel from the engine:

BMW 540i Flywheel

Here’s where things get interesting.  This flywheel is called a Dual-Mass flywheel and if you play with it you’ll notice that it has two parts to it and there is a small amount of play or slip between the two.  This dual-mass slip takes the place of the springs missing in the clutch disc.

Unfortunately resurfacing dual-mass flywheels is difficult to impossible (unlike single-mass flywheels) and thus if the flywheel has any scoring or hot-spots on its surface it will have to be replaced.

Another problem here is that the bolts that hold this flywheel to the engine are trapped in this assembly and cannot be replaced without replacing the whole flywheel.  So stripping a bolt-head is a very bad thing.

BMW Flywheel Bolts


Also these bolts use a ‘RIBE’ style fastener but they often are partially in-accessible due to the dual-mass nature of the flywheel.  So to remove them safely BMW have developed a special tool:

BMW Flywheel Socket

Notice how the tool is ground-down to get the head into a narrow spot?

You **can** get away with using just a normal RIBE socket tool / I’ve seen technicians do it / but it’s dangerious and remember – stripping out a bolt-head will likely mean you’ll have to replace the flywheel.

Here’s the head of the tool:



To align your new clutch you will also need a special tool that, unlike most clutch kits sold, WON’T come with your new parts – here’s what it looks like:

BMW Clutch Alignment Tools

(One of these will be the right size…)

It is very important to get the clutch aligned correctly the first time because the pressure plate come with a pre-loaded tensioner that can only be removed once.  (See below)

BMW Pressure Plate Pre-Tensioner

Once the clutch and pressure plate are installed this center lock gets twisted counter-clockwise and removed and thrown away.  Unless you have the special pre-load tool you cannot reverse this step so be sure your clutch is aligned correctly before committing and removing this plate.

One last twist:  on the the M62 V8 Engine from BMW there is a coolant plate on the back of the engine that is only accessible with the flywheel removed.  This plate likes to leak coolant:

BMW M62 Coolant Leak

Here’s a scematic of it:

BMW M62 Coolant Plate and Gasket


Obviously now is the time to replace the gasket and make sure the system is sealed.  Even if the gasket isn’t leaking right now we advocate replacing it anyway since it’s such a common problem on this engine design.


Installation, as they say, is just the reverse of removal….

WOWZA! BMW Model Guide

This is an AWESOME document covering all BMW models back to 1928!  It includes MINI and Rolls-Royce as well.  It’s a little out of date and doesn’t have the new F10 chassis 5-series but it is otherwise way-way-way cool!

This can be useful if you’re shopping for a used BMW – if you are call us before you buy!

Check it out:  bmw_models_since_1928.pdf

[I’m not sure why the modern Range-Rover is missing, I guess they don’t consider it *all* BMW]


Jaguar XJ

Recently I celebrated a birthday.  I didn’t think much of it, the kids had fun, but otherwise it was uneventful.  It is one of those birthdays whose number you don’t make common knowledge / so I’ll leave it out here.  Seriously though, I didn’t think much of it.  UNTIL this week when I was treated to (one of the benefits of this job) the fun of driving a Jaguar XJ6.  Really a nice car.  I’m sure, of course, that its British ness gave it more appeal to me (since I’m of British heritage) but what I told the car’s owner when I gave it back to him was “That is a really nice car to drive.  I must be getting older.”  (Hopefully that wasn’t somehow insulting – I didn’t think of that at the time..)  Anyway – I must be getting old.

I drive a lot of high-end cars (that job-benefit thing again) including the XJ’s main competitors:  BMW 7-series, Mercedes S-Classes, Audi A8s, Cadillacs, Lincolns, Lexus, even the odd Rolls-Royce.  They are all great cars and very nice to drive.  But there is something different with the Jaguar, I think it’s the British ness – it creates a natural advantage with things opulent.

Am I right? Well, Jaguar are taking another swing at it with an all-new XJ – here are some links to articles on the new car:


Beautiful car!

Is your mechanic an Authority?

I am impressed with people when they offer appologies – probably because I have a hard time doing it myself.  I had a client do just this today – it’s a long story but basically he misjudged our abilities and was kind enough to admit it.  That’s touching, for sure, but something else he said kept me thinking:  “I’ve seen a lot of guys with ASE patches on their shirts that shouldn’t be fixing cars.”  (Or something close to that).

Reading between the lines I would say he was skeptical of our claim to be Audi-experts and seeing our ASE credentials didn’t, by themselves, convince him otherwise.  What did convince him, thankfully, was a detailed description of our diagnostic process and, of course, the end result of us solving the problem.

Honestly, too, this guy’s technical understanding of engines and modern engine-management systems was pretty good – way above what the average consumer knows.  I think, in a way, he felt slightly in competition with us and has had bad experiences with others lording their credentials over him as a way to dismiss his questions or alternate theories.  We’re good with vehicle enthusiasts as clients and, because of our commitment to integrity, we don’t fall into these types of conflicts.

Doing some quick web research I offer the following statistics on ASE certifications:

The ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) board is the standard of certification for technicians in the US.  ASE credentials require certifiable work experience (2 year mininum) and passing a written test.  ASE certifications are good for 5 years before they expire. 

Total number of full-time automotive Technicians in the US:  750,000
Percent that hold current ASE certifications:  33%
Percent that hold current ASE Master-Level certifications:  13%
Percent of Integrity First Automotive technicians holding ASE-Master Level certifications:  100%

In software engineering we had a great expression:  “Be an authority, not an authority figure”.

This is brilliant advice for automotive technicians and it gets to the heart of this issue with my client today.  His experience, I speculate, is of automotive professionals that were more “authority figures” than real authorities.  Moreover, because he worked pretty hard at being a real authority he found this offensive.

I believe it is dangerous for anyone to rest on their laurels – certified or not – and anyone that does this deserves to be told so. 

My first ASE certification was in brakes.  I remember getting my test results in the mail, and attached to the report-card was a short paragraph that, roughly said:  “regardless of how you did you should be proud as only a small percentage of automotive techs even attempt to get certified and, of these, only a percentage pass…”.  (ASE tests have a 1/3 failure rate).

I think this gets to the heart of the matter:  a willingness to stand up and be tested demonstrates something – and the ASE is wise to capitalize on this and encourage automotive professionals to really be authorities in their profession.

We see vehicle problems every day of all types including easy and hard.  Although ‘hard’ aren’t always our favorite we promote a love of learning in our business and have tried to build an environment that supports this.  Anyone can fall into the trap of ego that halts learning, we’re not immune, but experiences like this one today serve as great reminders to stay open minded.

At my first job back when I was a teenager my boss used to say, “when you’re green you’re growing but when you’re ripe you rot”.

If you can admit that you’re ‘green’ and continue to learn, you can avoid rotting too.

VW / Audi 1.8T Overheating

Here’s a common, common problem with VW and Audi’s cooling systems.  Their water pumps use plastic impellers to pump the engine coolant and, unfortunately, the impellers like to crack and freewheel on the pump’s shaft.  This will obviously cause overheating problems.  Sometimes this can be hard to diagnose because, if the impeller still moves a little, the car will only overheat under certain conditions.

This waterpump, like many in the VW/Audi world is driven by the timing belt and these two services should be done together to save on the labor costs as well as to ensure a more reliable engine.

Note:  At Integrity First Automotive we have a great relationship with a parts suppler than can provide us with aftermarket water pumps that use METAL impellers – they are our preferred replacement for these engines.

Below is a picture of a VW water pump with a broken impeller.  This one is from a New Beetle with the 1.8T APH engine:


VW Audi waterpump broken impeller

Audi 2.7T Timing Belt

Audi timing belts are always impressive looking jobs.  They’re actually more bark than bite but, as these pictures will show, they do look like a pretty difficult job.  They’re not as bad as they look.

One thing to know about Audi timing belts, don’t tempt their service interval.  If your car is due for a belt – get it done.  Some engines are less sensitive to their service intervals than others but Audis, unfortunately, are very sensitive.  In fact, on the 4-cylinder engines, we recommend doing the belt early or you can have problems before you ever reach the service interval.  If the belt slips or breaks it will cause expensive engine damage.

So roughly here’s the procedure to do an Audi’s timing belt.  The pictures in this article are for a 2.7T (twin turbo engine found in the Allroad, the S4, and the A6).  Other Audi V engines are very similar in their service procedure and the 4-cylinders are somewhat similiar too.

1- Get engine to TDC cylinder #1 on the compression stroke.  There is a lock tool for the crankshaft that can be installed (it threads into the transmission’s bell-housing) but most technicians find this unneccessary.

2- drain the cooling system

3- remove vehicle’s front clip – the bumper, grill, and the radiator support assembly.  Note that the a/c system doesn’t have to be evaculated – the condensor can be just ‘folded’ off to the side without removing any lines.  **This is the step that scares a lot of people who haven’t done the job before.  The truth is Audi built these cars to have the front clip come off easily so don’t be afraid.  Be careful not to scratch the bodywork or damage a fender.  Also, technicians who have done this job more have found that they can save time by not always removing the front clip competely.  Consider this as a short-cut if you think you can get away with it.  My favorite trick is to bring a padded chair in front of the car and rest the bumper on it.

4- remove the drive belt and any tensioners, pullies, etc that are in front of the timing belt covers

5- remove the timing belt covers.  Note that they come off and go on in a certain order / they interlock.  You also have to pull the main crankshaft pulley to get the lower cover off – there are 6 or 8 or so hex-head bolts that hold it on.  Remove them and pull the pulley off.

6- mark the timing belt’s alignment to the camshaft and crankshaft pullies

7- remove the hydraulic tensioner and compress and lock it using a pin.  Remove the tensioner pullies and the belt

8- replace the waterpump and the thermostat.  Note – this isn’t absolutely necessary but it is a great cost-saving step since these parts will probably need replacing before the next time the timing belt is due anyway

9- Replace the pullies.  IMPORTANT:  the tensioner pulley has a known defect  – the bolt that holds it should NEVER be reused.  It can and will snap later and cause big problems.  If you buy a replacement pulley buy it from a professional supplier – if you do it will come with a new bolt and with installation and torque instructions – follow them carefully.

10- transfer timing marks to your new belt (I recommend counting the teeth twice to be certain that you have the marks transfered correctly)

11- install your new belt / make sure your alignment is right – actually removing the tensioner and other pullies can sometimes help in getting the belt on / use your discretion

12- if available, set the cam timing using the timing tool.  Not totally necessary but recommended.

13- put the hydraulic tensioner back on and release the tension (pull the pin)

14- roll the motor a couple of times with the cranshaft and double-check all the timing

15- reassemble everything else!

16- fill and bleed the cooling system

17- you’re done!


Here’s some pictures:

Front Clip Off Car (Audi A6):

A6 Front Clip Off

A6 2.7T Front Clip Off

Bad Idler Pulley – This engine was luck to survive with this pulley like this:

Audi 2.7T Bad Idler Pulley

New Waterpump Installed:

New Waterpump installed on 2.7T

Timing Belt Camshaft Alignment Tool Installed:

Auid V6 2.7T Timing Belt Camshaft alignment tool

Timing Belt Installed:

Audi 2.7T Timing Belt Installed

Timing Belt Pullies:

Audi 2.7T Timing Belt Tensioners


A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

As a shop owner and as a technician I have benefited so much from the goodwill of others in my profession.

I have had many mentors who have taught me both how to be a better manager and how to be a better technician.  This is an interesting industry because technology is constantly changing both what we need to do and how we go about doing it.

I think 10-20 years ago a good mechanic could still largely exist by him/herself.  Learning newer technologies and the latest vehicle models could be done from shop manuals and the occasional training class.

Today this is just not so.  No man/woman can be an island.  In our shop we rely on technical networks like iATN and BIMRS as well as Autonerdz and several others.  Additionally Alldata is a technicial information system containing repair procedures – it is constantly updated and we rely on it every day.  Running an automotive shop today, especially one known for handling the tough probems, would be near impossible without a good high-speed internet connection.

What’s interesting though, and more the source of inspiration for blogging, is the real synergy that results from shops and technicians sharing beyond more traditional bounds.  Near our shop, for example, are several ‘mom and pops’ shops that have been in business for a long time and have a different business model than our’s.  We have tried to extend a hand of friendship to them and they have recipricated.  Together now we know we have more resources at our disposal and our shop and theirs have really gained from the friendship.  Certainly there are those that tell us “that’s your competition” and we shouldn’t be sharing like this.  We have found we’re better off this way.  And, what’s even better is, our clients are better off because we share in solving their problems.

Jason, one of our very talented technicians, is constantly contacted by people from all over the country to get his help on custom-tuning engine management systems.  He is very sharing with his talent and, I believe, has become better at that speciality because of it.  He gets to play with more custom engine management systems than just about anybody.  This builds his talent and his willingness to share opens the door to give him this exposure.  Pretty neat and everybody wins.

I am personal friends with Cecil Bullard, an automotive training guru and owner of  I have heard several shop owners rave about how Cecil literally saved their businesses and their livelihoods.  One such case he never charged a cent for.  Cecil has been huge in helping our shop keep on the right path and I’m certain without his help, help he willingly gives, we would have had a much harder time building a successful business or any business at all.

I hear people fearful of the modern world we live in and the instant access we have to millions of people.  Certainly the internet has brought some bad things into our lives but I sincerely believe that the strengths brought to us by the power of networks far outweigh these bad things.

An interesting book to read on this topic is Wikinomics:  How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything.

Pick up a copy and read it – I think it’ll reshape your attitudes about sharing and collaboration.  I can certainly testify that collaboration in my industry, even with so-called competitors, has always resulted in win-win.  I think paradigms are shifting and this kind of attitude towards sharing is going to be required (if it isn’t already) to be the very best in any field – it’s happening in our’s.

How cool is that?

AAA Approved

We owe a big THANK-YOU to our wonderful clients who were willing to answer the phone and participate in AAA’s survey of our business a couple of months ago.  That was a critical part of their approval process to becoming a ‘AAA Approved’ repair facility.

AAA have requirements for tooling, certifications, facility, customer satisfaction, and even insurance and uniform requirements!  Our goal in becoming AAA approved was to have a third party hold us to a high service standard / thanks to our great clients we passed that test.  We would like to sincerely THANK YOU, we really appreciate your trust and faith in us.


AAA Approval

BMW V8 Leaking Coolant?

Here’s a huge advantage to working with the aftermarket – our friends at All German Auto have come up with an excellent way to save tonnes and tonnes of work on coolant leak repairs on the new BMW Valvetronic V8 engines.  Including:

- 2002-2005 BMW 745i & il
- 2004-2006 BMW X5 4.4i/4.8is
- 2004-2005 BMW 545i
- 2004-2005 BMW 645ci
- 2002-2005 Range Rover.

Here’s a link with more info on the fix:

This is actually very very similar to the problem with Porsche’s V8 (in the Cayenne and Panamera) and the same solution – a collapsible pipe for the repair.  This saves extensive labor in engine disassembly.  We’ve tried it; it works great!

If you’ve got one of these needing this repair let us know.  We can also do factory level software updates and diagnostics for your BMW too!

Quitting Smoking?

Well it’s that time of year again:  New Year!  Time for a change – right?  Why do people resolve to quit smoking?  Presumably because they know it’s bad for their heath.  But if they know that why do they smoke at all?  I think, besides the chemical addiction, that a big part of it is they can’t really see the damage one cigarette at a time.  You don’t feel different after a cigarette.  You don’t noticed any decreased lung capacity or increase in lung cancer or anything like that…  Right?

Well, as your family mechanic, I reflected on last year and want to help you have a better year this year.  One thing I remember about last year is the number of engines, ruined engines, that came through the shop.  I think it was 6 total last year.  ALL of them were in cars that shouldn’t have needed an engine yet.  ALL of them were due to poor maintenance – oil changes or lack thereof.  Which got me thinking about smoking.  Here’s the parallel:

Ignoring your oil change interval and skipping or doing an oil change too late usually won’t affect your car in a noticable way at the time that you do it.  Like that one cigarette, you can’t see the damage.  BUT, just like that cigarette, it does cause damage and do it enough and the engine will be ruined.

To make things worse we had some customers that not only went WAY too long between oil changes but they also had their changes done at discount department stores.  No oil change for $15 includes good oil – none.  Modern engines need good oil – a lot of modern engines require a full synthetic oil.  Many others SHOULD require full synthetic.

Of the ruined engines we saw last year ALL of them could have lasted A LOT LONGER.

So this year, instead of harping at you about maintenance as we always do this time of year – instead let me simply harp at you about oil changes:  Do your changes on time, use good quality oil.  Check your oil level regularly.

Like smoking a cigarette, breaking these rules won’t feel like you caused any damage, but if you do it enough you will end up needing a new engine.

For a lot of cars the cost of a new engine outweighs the value of the vehicle.  So ruining your engine can effectively mean ruining your car.  It’s not worth it.

Oh – and – at Integrity First Automotive – we can create a custom oil change interval for your vehicle based on your vehicle type or your engine.  OR, better, we can create an oil change interval just for you.  Our computer system will keep track of it for you.

Happy New Year!