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How trying to save $80 became a $600 lesson in not being a cheapskate

Discussion in 'The Hack Mechanic Goes Online (closed)' started by 142485, May 5, 2015.

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    Sometimes I like to think that in my own little way I'm channeling the Hack Mechanic. Like Rob, I buy (rescue?) project BMWs, nurse them back to health, then send them scampering off to loving new homes. I set specific budgets for each project and track every penny in a spreadsheet. This means that sometimes I have to make a judgement call on how much I'm willing to spend to fix something "right" or "good-enough-for-a-12-year-old-BMW-with-180,0000-miles-on-it".

    So the latest Hack Mechanic online articles have inspired me to share a recent experience I had when trying to be a cheapskate.

    One of my bucket list cars is a late production E38 740i M Sport. In my opinion, that's one of the last truly good looking large BMWs. And now that depreciation has lowered the buy-in for these executive limos to my price range, I was able to find one for myself. My example, (June 2000 production) with 148K miles in Anthracite over black is in very good condition overall and only set me back $2100 because it badly needed new timing chain guides, tensioners, and the chains themselves. I mean, this thing sounded like a diesel engine with a screwdriver loose in the crankcase!

    I limped it home, and ordered parts. A kit is available for the timing chain refresh that costs about $1000. It includes EVERYTHING in a single box. I debated pricing the parts individually and trying to see if I could come out ahead by pricing and ordering the parts separately from multiple vendors. This kit contains several dozen parts, and it seemed like false economy to spend an entire day price shopping to ultimately save, maybe, $50. I also considered not buying the chains and only order them if the old ones were in really bad condition. Then I rationalized that they probably will be in bad shape, and I'll have to order them anyway. Then, I'll have to wait for them to arrive - and pay additional shipping charges. So I decided to not be a cheapskate, and just cough up the grand for the complete kit. I was proud of myself for making the right call.

    Then it all went downhill.

    To replace the timing chains, the lower timing cover must be removed. First, the harmonic balancer is taken off, then there is a hub on the end of the crankshaft that the harmonic balancer is bolted to. There is a large nut in the center of that hub, and it is TIGHT. Something like 300lb ft of torque. The proper way to remove it is to use a special tool which bolts to the hub, then is braced against the frame of the car. Once the holding tool is in place, a long breaker bar and a 3/4" socket is used to break the bolt loose.

    I had just spent about $300 on the tools and fixtures I'd need to set the timing once the engine was reassembled, so I was looking to save a buck and not buy the crankshaft holding tool. I had a welder friend make a facsimile of the tool, but when it was done, the holes for the bolts holding it to the hub didn't quite line up and I could only get 3 of the 4 bolts tightened. This would be a good time to mention that the proper tool costs about $80. I was getting impatient because it took him several days to make the tool, and I was afraid that the longer the car sat around, the less likely it would be that I'd remember how it all went back together.

    So I went for it with only 3 bolts. Almost immediately there was a BANG and the breaker bar went limp. For a brief moment I thought it actually worked and the bolt was loosened. Wrong. What happened instead was that the hub itself shattered. There were some remnants, but nearly the entire flange with the bolt holes was gone! Now what?

    Plan B: Impact wrench. My little Lowe's impact wrench did nothing. So I borrowed a more powerful one from a friend. Also nothing. So I borrowed an even bigger 3/4" impact wrench from another friend. Now I didn't have enough air from my 8 gallon compressor. So still nothing. I was all in at this point. I bought a new 21 gallon air compressor, 1400lb ft 3/4" impact wrench, and 1/2" air lines and fittings to the tune of over $500. Unbelievably, the bolt still wouldn't budge. Then I had a chilling thought.

    How am I going to put the bolt back in when I do finally get it out? There is a specific procedure for tightening it in stages - kind of like for head bolts. So I finally saw the light and ordered the frickin' $80 tool that I should have ordered in the first place. While I waited for it, I had a couple of neighbors come over to help get the bolt out - since the tool wasn't going to work with the broken hub, I still had to get it out somehow. Two of us put a huge 48" pipe wrench on the remains of the hub, and the third got on the other side of the car with 3/4" breaker bar with a 4 foot extension. I won't say that it came out easily, but within a few minutes the bolt was out.

    Of course, with the proper tools, reassembly was a non issue. But if I hadn't tried to cut corners and just ordered the tool in the first place, I wouldn't have spent $500+ on a new air compressor and impact wrench, $50 for a new crank hub, and another $50 or so on other miscellaneous bits and pieces.

    But even after all of that, the 740 is truly an amazing car. I've driven it about 1,000 miles since the overhaul and now know what it must have been like to be a CEO back in 2001.
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    I like that you were humble enough to share this !

    I can relate but not quite to the same price level.
    Thanks for sharing and I hope your future adventures are, well, less adventuresome ...or at least less costly :)

    ramitchell likes this.

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