DIY Auto Repair - Sounds like a great idea. Maybe

Submitted by Ken Norton on Mon, 12/12/2016 - 16:45

Point of No Return

My daily driver is a 2004 BMW X5 with the 4.4L V8 and sport suspension. It is a fantastic vehicle in pretty much every way. We purchased it three years ago with 91,000 miles on it. Excellent condition, well cared for, mechanically sound, and so forth. It was also optioned up really nicely. Four months earlier, we had purchased another X5, but a large deer and 70mph don't mix well. Insurance company got me another one. The only repairs and service this vehicle has needed is sway bar link replacement, an alignment and a new battery. The original battery lasted two weeks short of 12 years. Just change the tire and oil and that's all it has required. It now has 165,000 miles on it and a several weeks ago, it started making a noise. A screeching and grinding noise under the hood. Ugh. That can mean only one of two things in this case. Either a belt tensioner has
gone bad or the water pump is failing. The positive news is that it wasn't a tensioner. The negative news is that it was the water pump.

I get an estimate for repair and wasn't too excited about spending four digits to get the water pump replaced. The wannabe mechanic inside of my head said "Hey, why not do it yourself?" I talk with a relative who does their own work on both BMWs and Mercedes and was highly encouraged. They would even come and help do it. I've done a
replacement on a Jeep Cherokee, so it's not like the concept is foreign to me. (insert hysterical laughter here).


Genuine BMW Parts ordered and delivered. The day comes for the project to begin. Before Charlie and Ashley (my cohorts in crime) arrive, I get the underside cover off, intakes off and the fan removed. All the hard work is done. (snark).  The biggest problem in disassembly is that neither one of us had a T45 Torx. Off to Walmart where I buy all of us Torx socket sets. Back to the house and we get all the rest off, except for ONE bolt holding the water pump on. It's tucked in behind the main pulley. We manage to get that one loose and the engine finally releases its death-grip on the water pump.

Unlike NORMAL vehicles, like Jeeps, the water pump on this thing has not two or even three connections to it. I think it has like seven or eight or nine connections to it. Hoses and pipes everywhere.  Evidently, it was designed in Scotland by a bagpipe manufacturer. We eventually get everything disconnected, removed, cleaned up and the new one attached. First half of the project was 2.5 hours for whatever reason.

The second half was going swimmingly, everything was going together just peachy. Well, except for one thing. The replacement thermostat that I ordered? I got the heater manifold thermostat, not the main thermostat. Oh well, 10 minutes later, we do replace the perfectly good thermostat just because we can. OK, there was one other thing. We made a mistake of not paying very very close attention to the serpentine belt path. It turns out that this specific year/model/engine of the X5 is "slightly" different than the other years. The route of the belt does not go the way of any, and I mean ANY published diagrams we could find. After a half-hour, we finally get it figured out, but that was a rookie mistake if there ever was one.

Total reassembly time was about two hours, with an hour of that taken up with the frivolities of thermostat and belt issues. Filling it back up with coolant is a time-consuming affair as you have to fill, bleed, bleed, bleed, fill, bleed, bleed, bleed... you get the idea. Had we had all the necessary tools (T45 Torx) and not screwed up on the belt, we could have done the entire project end-to-end in about 2.5 hours.

So, what have I learned from this experience?

1. For your first time attacking a repair in a BMW, you really do want assistance to guide you through the idiosyncrasies of BMW products. Hose clamps, for example are completely different affairs, and a cause of great distress for someone who comes from a Jeep background. All the clips, clamps and what not are brilliant designs, but different in approach to anything I've ever worked with before. It's actually extremely simple. You do need some different tools, like a T45 Torx to do things, though. Expect to spend some money on tools.

2. BMW parts are NOT expensive. They are about the same price as anything else. It's the labor charges at a repair shop that will eat you alive. Part of this cost is in tools. The other part of the cost is in doing battle with a demented bagpipe for a waterpump.

3. BMWs are beautifully engineered. They are repairable, and except for the electronics and computers, which are an issue with all vehicles, there really isn't much on my X5 that isn't shade-tree mechanic repairable.

4. I'm now not afraid of looking under the hood. My next project, which I'll have wrapped up in the next couple of days, is replacing the power steering reservoir.  While I hope to not have to replace the water pump again, I have no reservations about doing it myself. It's a perfectly sane project--even with the bagpipes.

5. Buying used BMWs is the only way I can afford vehicles with window stickers of $70,000+ window stickers. With used vehicles, you do run into issues with stuff wearing out. That's OK, as long as you don't reach that point of no return where the cost and effort to keep a vehicle alive goes past the point where the vehicle is worth far more as a distant memory than an active nightmare. The E53 series of the BMW X5 is built like a tank and is user-repairable. And they are bargain priced on the used market.

6. Make sure the plastic tarp that is underneath the vehicle during the refill process is NOT touching the exhaust pipe. Just sayin.

My X5 is now quiet again. Very quiet. Well, unless I jump on the throttle and that rumble of the V8 wakes up and says "you wanna play?"