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Block Heater / Tire Chains - 2001 540i 6-sp

Discussion in 'E39 (1997-2003)' started by clbomo2001, Dec 16, 2010.

    • Member

    clbomo2001

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    Would welcome any recommendations on quality after-market block heaters and tire chains for my stock 2001 540i 6-speed. Type, brand, recommended vendors, and any info that you believe would help me make a good choice. Rear tire size is 255/40ZR -17. Many thanks.
    • Member

    CRKrieger

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    There aren't many manufacturers of block heaters. I could only find one that essentially supplies them to everybody. You only have to decide which logo on the box you want to pay for.
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    bcweir

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    Potential legal liability might be one reason.

    There are probably some manufacturers that are wary of potential liability if one of these malfunctions and burns up someone's car (or worse, the garage and the house too). In addition to property losses, liability from loss of life is a factor also.

    Numerous house fires (and resultant fire casualties) also played a big part in "culling the field" of a number of former space heater manufacturers.

    In both cases, either manufacturing a faulty device, or selling to a irresponsible consumer who doesn't use these carefully, can result in tragic consequences.

    A properly heated and insulated garage may be a much safer alternative.
    • Member

    MGarrison

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    How much snow do you typically have to negotiate in whatever part of the country you're in? Does your car have a limited-slip differential?
    Your tire size is 20mm wider than stock and the Tire Rack shows no snow tires in that size, which begs the question, are you running snow tires?

    If you're not running snow tires, I would suggest snows as a far preferable first option, vs. using chains on all-seasons. If your street tires are a low-profile performance tire, those likely are not engineered to work well below 40º, which would make them most untenable and severely limiting your traction in winter conditions.

    Although tire-chains are appropriate in certain cases and conditions, they're not practical or meant to remain installed 100% of the time. Besides everything you have to do to use them, you run the risk of damage to your wheel or car if incorrectly installed (or if they break), and will be limited to a max speed of something like 30 mph.

    With snow tires and a limited-slip differential, I haven't had any problem negotiating my S.W. Ohio winter conditions for 30 years. If you need to traverse through 8"+ of snow regularly, I could see possibly the need for chains; I believe several states with roads through high mountain ranges require owners to keep chains available for certain sections of road. Tire Rack also offers studded tires, if that may be appropriate.

    Here's the reasons why you'd want snow tires:
    http://www.tirerack.com/winter/tech/techpage.jsp?techid=120

    Typically, you want a narrower tire for winter - here's why:
    http://www.tirerack.com/winter/tech/techpage.jsp?techid=126

    You'd want four - http://www.tirerack.com/winter/tech/techpage.jsp?techid=123

    Some info on tire chains:
    http://www.tirerack.com/winter/tech/techpage.jsp?techid=128

    The rest of the winter tech info -
    http://www.tirerack.com/winter/tech/index.jsp

    If you read all that, you will be well educated about snow tires. The Rack shows a suggested 16" wheel/tire package for a 6-spd 540i for about $1k (assuming that will fit your brakes). Obviously that's more expensive than a set of tire chains, but the wheels (should) be a one-time expense. Barring encountering solid ice, you're going to be more secure in handling the snow/winter than you would on all-seasons and certainly high or summer-performance tires, with less chance of an inadvertent accident. Any accident could well cost more than $1k to repair, never mind the risk of personal injury.

    The wheel purchase is not essential, but takes out the time/expense hassle of having tires swapped on your current rims, allows for a wheel-width more optimal for winter, and over several winters, will cost less than swapping them on and off again. If you're up for it and follow proper precautions for jacking & chocking, swapping wheels isn't too big of a deal (a floor jack of some kind with jack stands is far preferable to the oem-spare jack).

    Any rear-wheel drive vehicle without a limited-slip differential will be compromised to some degree or another in rear-wheel traction in low-traction conditions. Traction-control systems can do a lot, but are not necessarily the equal in every situation to being able to get power to both rear wheels. If you don't have a lsd, getting one might be something to consider eventually, particularly if your winters involve a fair amount of snow. A good set of snows with the traction controls can go a long way towards getting you where you want go, though.

    Tire chains I could google up (for your mentioned tire size):

    http://www.etrailer.com/parts-by-ti...spect=40&tiresize=17&productgroup=tire chains

    http://www.jcwhitney.com/tire-chains-and-accessories/thule/bmw/b1035c3832m12j1s27.jcwx (it looks like the etrailer link shows some Thule chains)

    http://www.sportsimportsltd.com/snicetichcl.html

    The Tire Rack didn't show availability in 17" snow tires for whatever 17" size they'd recommend, (if you have to have 17") but if snows tires are in your future, then call, as they may have options not presented online.
    • Member

    CRKrieger

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    Huh? Do you even know how these things work? Worst case, you get a short and you blow a circuit breaker or burn a fuse. Wanna know how I know?
    KEROSENE space heater manufacturers; and that was more a result of CO poisoning than fires. Those things were combustion heaters. A block heater is a simple electrical resistance coil. No combustion anywhere. Although mine came with a ground wire plug, I have no idea why. There's nothing to ground on the things. I have NEVER heard of a block heater-caused fatality, although there are some reports of degraded wires causing some vehicle fires.
    It can still get a shorted wire and burn to the ground. I would bet that there are more anomalous garage fires than block heater fires. Then there's the simple cost. Let's see: a properly heated and insulated garage will run you a minimum of $10,000 to start and who knows how much to heat on a seasonal basis. A block heater will cost you maybe $100 to buy and install and around the same as burning a couple of outside spotlights overnight. You might need to buy an extension cord, too. Throw in another $15. Throw in a second extension cord like the one I use to plug my car in while parked at my office during the day. Let's see your garage do THAT. :D

    Block heaters make eminent sense and they're perfectly safe as long as some slight attention is paid to the wire routing.
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    bcweir

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    90 percent of what you say, puts the onus on the OWNER to use responsibly.

    And therein lies the catch.

    Makes sense, except there are lawyers out there who are still not going hungry for lack of individuals looking to ban Happy Meals, just because said parents have abdicated their responsibility to manage their children's nutrition.

    That, and despite seatbelts, stability controls, and as many as EIGHT airbags being found in today's vehicles, EMS units still pull an occasional body that was sitting ON a buckled seatbelt to defeat the chime.

    Never underestimate a consumer's refusal to be responsible. :D

    That, and we have a FLOTUS (First Lady Of The United States) who, though good intentioned and overall nice person, has decided that, despite her own considerably-sized posterior, considers herself to be an appropriate authority on children's nutrition.
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    floydarogers

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    Don't know about the V8's

    BMW makes a block heater for the M54 E46 engines: P/N 12 81 0 304 879. A cursory look around didn't find one for a V8. YMMV, but you'll probably strike out.

    FYI, one of the reasons that 0W-40 and 5W-30 oils are specced is for cold-wx starting and protection.
    • Member

    clbomo2001

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    540i Block Heater / Tire Chains

    Wow! Didn't mean to start such a debate! Need for the block heater / chains is a long trip in very cold /snow areas, motel stays overnight where plug-ins readily available, and interstates where, depending on weather, chains are REQUIRED ( already have snow tires). No need for these items where I live. Web search shows many types of block heaters; best alternative seems to be "freeze cap" coil (e.g. Kat's 11610 600 Watt 38mm Frost Plug Heater, on Amazon) ... if only I knew that there was a freeze cap on this engine and what size it was. I'm betting someone must know right size and where freeze cap (or equivalent plug) is located on this engine (or not!).
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    bcweir

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    Don't confuse freeze caps with freeze plugs.

    Freeze plugs are a commonly used device installed on the engine by the manufacturer to prevent a block from being damaged by freezing coolant under extremely cold temperatures. These are not normally supposed to be removed unless they're defective.

    Water has the curious effect of EXPANDING when it freezes. What a freeze plug is designed to do is pop off the block to cause the coolant to drain before it expands inside the coolant chambers of your block. Otherwise, the coolant would freeze and damage your engine block (and maybe your cylinder head(s) too).

    The coolant that spills out, and the freeze plugs too, can all be replaced fairly cheaply. Your engine block and head, not so cheaply or easily.

    Most engine block heaters I have heard of work either by inserting a coil or tube into the engine block, usually through the oil fill hole (don't worry - the oil isn't supposed to be heated enough to ignite, and motor oil has a much higher ignition temperature than gasoline -- it's also why diesels need a much hotter spark than gasoline engines).

    Before CR tried to bite my head off over my product liability angle, I was trying to make the point that the two biggest safety issues with these things are faulty devices and customers who don't operate these properly. Just be careful and make sure you use them according to the manufacturer instructions.
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    • Technical Service Advisor

    mooseheadm5

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    The OE BMW block heaters are placed in place of one of these core plugs. If you use the correct mix of anti freeze, they won't ever pop out.

    A "freeze plug" will likely not protect your engine from damage if it freezes solid. There are none on the heads.

    You can't heat any of the engine oil through the oil filler hole on a BMW. Many people use a magnetic mat oil pan heater on cars equipped with steel oil pans, but they are prone to being removed by snow and road debris. A coolant heater can be placed inline with the lower heater hose or with a core plug replacement like the OE BMW unit.

    :rolleyes:
    Hotter spark. Really?


    At any rate, you likely don't need a coolant heater or oil heater. Battery heaters can help increase the cranking amps of your battery. If you chose to add any or all of these, use caution as you would with any aftermarket add on not engineered to work with your car. Nothing like burning your car to the ground due to a chafed wire.

    Oh, and buy SNOW TIRES and not chains. Chains are for ice and are useless in many types of snow. Good snow tires are the beast way to go. Get 16" steel wheels to go with them in case you have a mishap and tag a curb. Go for a slightly narrower tire (get a "square set" of 225s or 235s.)
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    • Technical Service Advisor

    mooseheadm5

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    More on the "freeze plugs are not freeze plugs, but actually core plugs" front:

    • Member

    CRKrieger

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    I only did that because it's obvious you don't know what the hell you're talking about. My E28 pal, Paul is just too diplomatic to say it in so many words.

    A block heater is intended to be installed in the block in place of one of the 'freeze plugs' and it is intended to heat the coolant in the block. It is a completely different thing from "most engine block heaters [you] have heard of" because what you are talking about is commonly known as a dipstick heater. It is intended to be stuck into the dipstick tube and it heats the oil in the pan. I have owned and used both types for many years, so I know what they are and how they work. As I said, because both are simple resistance heaters, the only safety hazard from either is from a chafed wire. The same kind of thing that sets garages on fire late at night ... or maybe that's just from carelessly discarded diesel spark plugs. :confused:
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    Satch SoSoCalifortified

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    Let's take the tone down a little, gents. . .

    CR, it sounds like you want to employ a "dipstick heater" on poor Brian! Hey, we don't all have the advantage of a few decades of experience in frigid climates!

    Thanks, Paul, for reminding us of the myth of "freeze plugs." That's what people call them, so we grow up believing that's their intended function, alas! (And at least I HAVE punched a few of them out by having water in the block instead of an antifreeze solution!)

    I do like block heaters that take the place of these plugs, but only when they're dealer-installed. For my own cars, back before I had enough sense to move to Sandy Eggo, I used tank heaters, mostly; they're fairly easy to plumb, and you need only find a block drain plug.

    I have also had success with a heater designed to fit in the lower radiator hose.

    For cars with steel pans, a magnetic oil-pan heater can be pretty handy, because it requires no plumbing at all (like a dipstick heater). But alas, we have aluminum (or even magnesium) sumps.

    I prefer cable chains if you HAVE to chain up. But I have found that many times, if I have decent (studded) snow tires in places where I was required to CARRY chains, I could point to the bag o' chains in the trunk and be allowed to go on my way. . . .
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    bcweir

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    I'm not as afraid of the dipstick heater..

    ..as I am of where CR would STICK it.
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    mooseheadm5

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    Well if the dipstick fits...
    • Member

    bcweir

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    I thought Satch was asking for an increase in civility, not hostility.

    Apparently, some people didn't get the memo. And a merry christmas to you too!
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    mooseheadm5

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    Forget to wear your helmet?
    :D

    And a happy and prosperous new year to you!
    • Member

    bcweir

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    Why would i be afraid of my own posts?

    You people get LOONY when you start losing your grasp on reality.

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