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Less than perfect timing – more BMW engine woes!

Less than perfect timing – more BMW engine woes!

Modern Diesel engined cars are wonderful, aren’t they? So much power, efficiency and low emissions (well, during testing at least) whilst not rattling anywhere nearly as much as they used to. One of the best selling ‘luxury’ car brands, BMW, have been at the forefront of Diesel technology for many years, but it wasn’t always this way.  As far back as 1935, Mercedes were churning out oil burning versions of their range, yet BMW, although starting building cars in 1936,  didn’t even offer a Diesel engine in any of their range of until 1983, and then not for sale in the UK.

Fast-forward to the mid-90’s and BMW were selling Diesels by the million – the ever popular 3 series and 5 series offered excellent performance with fuel economy figures that would be unthinkable in an equivalent petrol car.

By 2006, BMW were offering their new 4 cylinder N47 Diesel engine throughout the 1 series, 3 series and 5 series ranges, with eager buyers, tempted by the 150 BHP+ power, bags of torque, 50 MPG economy and low CO2 emissions, snapping them up for premium prices. Even secondhand, a well used BMW 320D SE was one of the most highly prized used cars and residual values were rock solid. The Diesel engine was ‘the one to have’

Now, whilst not all car owners could realistically be expected to know the inner workings of their car’s engine, I’m fairly sure that most will have heard of a particular component called a cambelt (often known as a timing belt) and of the likely destruction of the engine in the event of this belt breaking. This synthetic rubber belt’s purpose is to drive the camshaft (which opens the valves) in synchronicity with the crankshaft, and to prevent any of the valves smashing into the pistons. The timing belt was first introduced in the early 1970’s (Vauxhall Victor FD as I recall!) and was designed to replace the metal chains that engines has previously used.  The belts ran quieter, rarely needed adjusting and if changed at the recommended intervals (typically every 4 years or 48000 miles), would prove pretty much trouble free. BMW used to use belts in several of their engines until the early early 1990’s. I remember my parent’s 1987 BMW 520i as the belt broke on that one morning and bent all 12 valves! I think it may have been the memory of repairing this outside that ruined my enjoyment of fixing cars forever!

Anyway, it wasn’t long before BMW went back to using chains again and they were all pretty much free of faults for many years. Unless you ran the engine really low on oil or never serviced it at all, BMW timing chains were great and certainly never worthy of a feature on Watchdog!

Now, whilst on most engines the timing chain and sprockets etc. are located at the front of the engine making replacement in situ, whilst not exactly easy, at least not impossible. We can for instance, replace the entire timing chain kit on a Vauxhall Corsa  in under 4 hours and it’s not particularly expensive.

BMW, in their wisdom, were clearly so confident in the longevity of their timing chains fitted to the new N47 engines and therefore decided that as it would ‘never need touching’, they’d move it to the back of the engine, tucked up against the bulkhead behind the dashboard! The back of the engine also has the gearbox, clutch and flywheel attached so the only way to access the chain is by removing the entire engine from the car!

Had these chains been as reliable as expected, it wouldn’t have been a problem for anyone but as sod’s law would dictate, things didn’t quite run as smoothly as they could!

It wasn’t long before these chains started to break, with catastrophic results for the insides of the engine, often resulting in BMW having to fit a new engine (at over £8000) under warranty! What’s worse, there didn’t even appear to be a particular reason for the breakages – it would affect cars with low mileages, high mileages, full service history, at motorway speeds or just ticking over. Breakage of the chain would cause the car to grind to a sudden halt, whilst inside the engine, valves would smash into pistons, camshafts would fracture, plastic chain guides shatter and all the manner of expensive things to happen. What’s more, with BMW main dealer labour rates well in excess of £130 an hour, this job (which ALWAYS involves complete engine removal and stripping), would cost at best £4000 and at worst, in excess of £8000 for a new engine! Either way, your car could be off the road for weeks while the either the dealer argues about who’s fault it was, or whilst the poor owner tries to scrape together enough money to pay for the repair to his ‘ultimate driving machine’ sat in the corner of a garage with its innards hanging out!

What’s more, with the oldest affected cars now being at least 10 years old and maybe only worth around £3000, in many cases it was simply not economically viable to spend this amount of money, so the cars were being scrapped! Imagine if you’d just bought a 2008 BMW 520D with 80k miles and full service history from a private seller for £5000, only for the chain to let go a few months later and to face the prospect of either throwing it away or spending the same again on fixing it! This happens with surprising regularity – we’ve had 6 such cases through our workshop in the last year alone!

The pictures below show just some of the damage expected.

It's not supposed to look like this!

It’s not supposed to look like this!

Out comes the engine.

Out comes the engine.

Shattered plastic guides

Shattered plastic guides

Fortunately, we can usually get the job done for just under £2500 including all parts, labour and VAT. Whilst not the cheapest of jobs, at least it won’t necessarily write off the car and keeps us in work.

If you own a BMW with the 2.0 Diesel engine,  made between 2006 and mid-2009 with the engine code N47 D20A or N47 D20D (you can look in the V5C document, service booklet  or call your friendly local BMW dealer to check), it might be worth getting an expert to have a look over it. If it hasn’t already broken or been replaced, it’ll cost around £1500 to change the lot as ‘preventative maintenance’ or between £2300 and £4000 if (and when) it breaks!

If you own one newer than mid 2009, you’re one of the lucky ones as after some modification by BMW, the later ones don’t seem to suffer from the same faults.

Either way, if you aspire to owning such a fine BMW automobile with this problematic engine, please be extra cautious (or buy a Mercedes instead). And don’t think for a moment that buying one from a used car dealer with a pricy warranty will help – every time we’ve tried to claim on behalf of a customer’s policy for similar breakage, the claim has been refused on the grounds of the part being ‘at end of life’. If the ‘life’ of a BMW timing chain is reckoned to be less than 100,000 miles, I’d steer well clear!

 

It’s almost Christmas so here’s a little poem I’ve written about a day in the garage………

‘Twas the day before Christmas and dumped outside our door 

Was a 10 year old Astra whose engine was poor. 

The mechanics were all getting ready to leave 

But it was pushed in the workshop with a reluctant heave 

 

Their tools were all nestled all snug in their chests 

But the boss said it wasn’t quite time to go yet 

So they opened the bonnet with no hint of a smile 

And said ‘It looks like me might still be here for a while’ 

 

They cranked over the engine to see what’s the matter 

And it coughed into life with an almighty clatter 

The workshop soon filled with a haze of blue smoke 

And they looked at the boss like it must be a joke. 

 

The customer phoned and was eager to hear 

If their Astra might live to at least the New Year 

They wanted to visit relations afar 

But this wouldn’t be possible without their dear car. 

 

In the workshop the mood was beginning to sour 

They wanted to be on their way in an hour! 

James pulled out the dipstick and soon began to grin 

“The engine’s filled with oil right up to the brim!” 

 

A  call to the owner and our fears were proved right 

He’d  poured in a whole gallon the previous night. 

The poor engine was full to the top of its head 

Another few miles and it would likely be dead 

 

At the prospect of leaving they leapt into action 

The oil was drained and with great satisfaction 

A new filter fitted and engine refilled 

With the right amount added and not a drop spilled 

 

A few puffs of smoke and in 5 minutes time 

The engine was purring and sounding just fine 

The mechanics did share a look of relief 

And they hoped that their time left at work would be brief 

 

A quick spin round the block and all was still well 

No clatter, no smoke and no nasty smell 

With customer called and on way to collect 

And a bill so much smaller than the national debt 

 

Our work here now done and the workshop floor scrubbed 

The technicians are all heading off to the pub. 

The Astra is heading straight back to its house 

And the workshop is almost as quiet as a mouse. 

 

As the boss sits alone and reflects on the day. 

His thoughts turn to Christmas and of going away. 

He remembers a lesson as he sits by the heater 

WHEN YOUR OIL IS LOW, ALWAYS ADD JUST A LITRE! 

We’re back! What to expect from thegarageblog over the coming months

A typical job in our workshop - replacing a camshaft timing belt.

A typical job in our workshop – replacing a camshaft timing belt.

It’s been almost a year now since I last posted but I’m pleased to say that normal service has been resumed. Much has been happening over the last year in the exciting* world of running a busy garage and I’ve many tales to tell of scams, rip-offs and shoddy workmanship (not from us I might add!)

In the meantime, here’s a few things I’ve learned that I’ll soon be sharing…….

1) Timing chains are often the cause of catastrophe.
2) You’d be amazed just how many car owners never check their engine oil level.
3) Main dealers are still finding new ways to extract extra money from customers.
4) There are certain cars with specific engines that should be avoided at all costs (unless the car is new).

Anyway, it’s great to be back and don’t forget to check thegarageblog regularly.

Halfords in the news again (for the wrong reasons!) – A ‘less than thorough’ MOT Test.

A great story from www.garagewire.co.uk

Halfords MOT tester guilty of issuing a pass without doing test

Whistle blower contacted the DVSA with concerns that a tester was issuing certificates without inspecting cars

A Halfords MOT fraudster has been charged. Image credit: Google Street View.

A Halfords MOT fraudster has been charged.

Image credit: Google Street View.

Steven McDermott, an ex-employee at St Austell’s Halfords Autocentre, admitted that he had issued an MOT certificate without undertaking the physical test.It followed an investigation by the DVSA which carried out a number of interviews including management staff.

McDermott, of St Columb, Cornwall, was sentenced last month at Bodmin Magistrates’ Court to a 12-month community order, ordered to carry out 200 hours’ unpaid work, pay £2,627 costs and an £85 victim surcharge.

DVSA enforcement manager, Stuart Carter said: “The annual MOT is an important aspect of road safety and DVSA will pursue and prosecute those who defraud the system by issuing pass certificates without carrying out the test.

“This sentence sends out a clear message that those who put public safety at risk will be dealt with accordingly.

“I would like to thank the area team for this particularly good job as it was conducted in a very timely manner so as to protect the integrity of the MOT scheme.”

A Halfords spokesperson said: “We have taken this matter very seriously and always adhere to the highest standards in our 300 centres.

“In this case, through our own internal processes, we identified that a vehicle had been incorrectly recorded as having been MOT tested at the site.

“We carried out a full investigation into this matter, immediately suspended the colleague involved and we notified the DVSA who concluded that Halfords Autocentres had acted entirely in an appropriate manner.

“The person concerned no longer works for Halfords Autocentres.”

Now, I’ve heard of stories like this before but only from shady ‘backstreet’ garages and NEVER a ‘reputable’ company with such a huge high street presence as Halfords. Just goes to show that it can happen anywhere! All I can promise is that the only way you’ll get an MOT certificate issued here at Swiftest is if we actually test the car on our ramp!