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E28 M5 Failing Smog Test -- No Check Engine Light

Discussion in 'E28 M5 (1988)' started by BrianSF, Apr 5, 2009.

    BrianSF guest

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    I have a 1988 E28 M5 and live in California where biannual smog checks are required. This car has never failed a smog test in the past, but last weekend it failed because the technician could not cause the Check Engine Light to illuminate. I told him that the 1988 M5 did not have a check engine light and showed him the owner's manual that makes no mention of it. I also checked with personnel at two local dealers (SF and Concord, CA) and was told that these cars do not have Check Engine Lights.

    The reality is that the M5's dashboard does have a Check Engine Light (on the left-hand side of the steering wheel), but the words "CHECK ENGINE" are black, rather than the white used for the other lights (high beams, fog lights, brake lining, oil level, battery, etc.). But the light is not functional on the M5 because, as I was told by one of the dealers, it has a different Bosch Motronic unit than other E28s.

    The smog technician showed me the book he used that told him the car had a Check Engine Light. It contained a table that listed each BMW engine (rather than model) for 1988, and each indicated the presence of a Check Engine Light. I was told that the car would fail the test no matter where I took it because the book said the car had a Check Engine Light.

    Before I delve any deeper into this matter with calls and letters to the State of California, has anyone else run across this issue when smog certifying their cars? I understand this will impact 1988 M6s as well.

    Sorry for the long post, and thanks in advance for any help.

    Brian
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    Brian A

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    I live in the Bay Area too. I have never heard of any 'Check Light' check requirement (although I am not a professional technician or anything). Rule changes are never retroactive where old machinery needs new stuff. Since your car has been passing in the past, I would seek a second opinion. It seems awfully odd.

    Although our (California's) thresholds are stringent, I don't think our testing requirements are any differerent than anywhere else; just an exhaust pipe sniff test under load.

    BrianSF guest

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    Hi Brian A.,

    Thanks for the reply. I actually did take it to another smog test facility yesterday but, in an effort to shorten my OP, didn't mention it.

    I understand that the rule changes are not applied retroactively, but the problem is with these books that the smog techs rely on. They are published by the state's Bureau of Automotive Repair and it appears that certain cars, including the 1988 M5, fell through the cracks. When I pointed out to yesterday's smog tech that the Check Engine Light test was shown as "NA" in prior years, he said that the other techs either made a mistake or the book showed something different in past years.

    Be glad that your cars don't have this issue!!

    Brian (A. too!)
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    mooseheadm5

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    No US M5 or, indeed any E28, had a functional check engine light. The reason is that they were all made BEFORE 1988 and sold as 88 MY. The E30s all got a CEL in 88, and the brand new E32 got a CEL, as well as the very soon to be released E34, but the leftover 535is sold in 88 and the "brand new" 88 M5 (all of those made in 86 and 87) had NO functioning CEL.
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    az3579

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    The question here is, how do you prove that to the test center? A random post from someone online isn't going to convince them...

    Is there some kind of factory documentation proving this? Some test facilities are just too stubborn to accept facts that vanilla repair books and "standardized" documentation aren't specific enough to mention...
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    CSBM5

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    A bureaucracy in action -- it will likely take some major action to correct their precious documentation. Someone will have to research the process for correcting errors and follow the maze most likely while accepting that virtually nobody within will care about fixing the issue.

    BrianSF guest

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    Thanks for the replies guys. Yes, convincing the bureaucracy is going to be a challenge--I'm just surprised that this hasn't come up and been addressed before. I posted a similar thread on MyE28.com and was referred to the Mitchell Emission Control Application Guide that, apparently, shows these cars to not have Check Engine Lights. So now its time to educate Sacramento..... Brian

    BrianSF guest

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    UPDATE: I spoke with the State of California's Bureau of Automotive Repair this morning. They were surprisingly accommodating. One of the Technical Advisors emailed me the front cover and pertinent page from the 2009 Mitchell Emission Control Application Guide that clearly shows that 1987-1989 BMWs do not have Check Engine Lights (the book and BAR refer to the lights are MILs--probably for Malfunction Indicator Light). I was told to bring the pages to a smog test center and to have them call the BAR with any issues.

    Hopefully this will work and I will update this thread when I know more.

    I anyone wants copies of the Mitchell pages, PM me with your email address.

    Thanks,
    Brian
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    az3579

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    Do those pages reference other models as well, or only M5/M6's?
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    mooseheadm5

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    The M5/M6 and the leftover 535is were the only 88 BMWs without a MIL/CEL.

    BrianSF guest

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    They do not reference models from 1984 through 2003, only model years. Particular models are mentioned before 1984 and after 2003.

    BrianSF guest

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    Well my E28 M5 passed its smog test this morning.

    I had to go to a Referee Center at a community college about 30 minutes away. I brought with me the pages that the state Bureau of Automotive Repair faxed me from the Mitchell Emissions Guide that showed the 1988 M5 did not have a Check Engine Light. The "referee" (basically some dude in the automotive department of the college), wasn't impressed because Mitchell is a third-party source and he had other third-party sources that claimed otherwise. (The fact that the car actually has a lens for a CEL doesn't help the case.) He asked me if I had a letter from the manufacturer stating that the car did not have a CEL. When I said, "no," and said dealing with the manufacturer on a 20-plus year-old car would be challenging, he said he would accept a letter from a dealer on their letterhead.

    So I called one of the SF Bay Area dealers and asked the Service Director if he would look into the matter (he immediately said the car had no CEL), prepare a letter and fax it to the Referee Center.

    Once that letter arrived, the car sailed through the smog test and I was on my way.

    The problem here seems to be that the test-only smog centers use different third-party sources for information on these cars and some of them erroneously indicate the presence of a CEL for the 1988 M5. Some people have success because the centers they take their cars to use a source that is correct concerning the 1988 M5. In two years I will either try to find one of these centers (thanks for the recommendations I received) or go back to the Referee Center.

    Thanks to all who provided feedback and suggestions.

    Brian
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    CSBM5

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    This reminds me of the early 1990's here in NC with my Bavaria. I had Ray Korman build a motor for it in 1981, and in the early 90's they changed the state inspection rules here. For the required "safety inspection", the law stated that any original emission equipment was required to be there although it did not have to work. The law further stated that there were to be NO EXCEPTIONS to any safety inspection requirement. Trying to work with the State bureaucracy to get an exception to having to have an EGR valve and heated intake, etc, on a 20+ year old car where the parts were NLA anyway, was a nightmare. Impossible.

    Well, the Bavaria originally had an EGR valve and a low rpm ignition retard feature plus the exhaust heated air inlet during cold temps attached to the original air cleaner. The hot Korman motor had triple sidedraft Webers with velocity stacks and sock filters -- popping the hood immediately caused issues with the "inspector" looking at OEM pictures of what it should have.

    It was a major PIA to have that car "safety" inspected. No smog test was required as it was already too old, but no sticker was forthcoming w/o all the OE emissions hardware in place (doesn't have to work -- which seems incredibly stupid, if it's there and not working, what difference does it make if it's not there?).

    Anyway, up until I sadly sold the car in 1994, for a couple of years I had a very understanding local place provide the safety inspection for me at their peril (I suppose).

    It sounds like you got through the process without too much trouble (relatively speaking). Good job!

    Regards,

    BrianSF guest

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    Thanks Chuck. Yes, at times the actions of our state and federal governments can be mind boggling!

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