2011 Clean Car Contest

BMW enthusiasts showed off their amazing cars today at a great venue – Spanish Landing across from Lindburg Field airport. Think of it as a mini-Bimmerfest with the cleanest cars ever. Many e-celebrities were present at the event, as you will see in the pictarz. No less than eight 8 Series were in attendance. Hope you enjoy the pics as much as I enjoyed the cars!

Even the exhaust pipes get a good flossing.

Judges inspecting each section.

Lots of conferring over the car.

The interior judge almost whipped out a magnifying glass!

Engine judge using white gloves for inspection.

I even cleaned in places you don’t see.

Under the radiator cover.

First Place Super Clean!

Bump Steer Plates Make All The Difference In Feel For Lowered Cars

Often times, the our pursuit for better suspension performance (i.e. lowering, tire changes, etc.) we overlook how our adaptations can negatively affect the performance the BMW engineers already built into our cars. Namely we make our changes using the best possible information and experience out there only to find that the smooth, driving performance characteristics that we’ve come to know and love about BMW, have vanished from our car.

After lowering the CSi with Eibach springs and installing Bilstein HD valved shocks and strut inserts, the ride improved from a controllability perspective but some of its ‘surefootedness’ vanished; and it bugged me to no end – especially on unstable ground that we all encounter every day.

Lowering your car will have a negative impact on the geometry already built into the E31 suspension. And luckily, thanks to the support from our more senior members of the E31 community, there is a solution that brings back that BMW ride quality. These bump steer plates are one of those solutions.

So I installed these nifty custom made plates in the CSi today and MAN what a different it makes with the Eibach springs! Went over many bumps and a little washboard in the road and the car felt more like itself, more sure of itself in general and especially at turn in.

I’m not understanding all the geometry but it sure made the car feel more solid! Other enthusiasts believe that the greatest felt effect comes from toe change/bump steer, and that’s the best benefit the plates have to offer.

Credit to 8Tech at Bimmerforums for his write up that makes adding these spacers easy: http://forums.bimmerforums.com/forum/showpost.php?p=21656294&postcount=11


Extending the Brake Life of Floating Rotors

A while back at Bimmerfest last year I came across a fine gentleman claiming to have a rare set of Euro spec brake rotors just sitting in his garage, new in the box! After inspection and negotiating a price, I picked up the set as well as a full set of pads and quietly put them away in the garage for that fateful day when I would need to perform a complete brake job.

You see, the rotors, pads and calipers on this CSi are all rare 13.6-inch Euro spec vented discs incorporating cross-drilled/cryo-treated floating rotors that were on the car when I bought it. Replacing them, I knew, would eventually be an expensive if not time consuming proposition. So when I was approached to take this set off his hands and store them for future use, I jumped at the chance!So lately, I’ve noticed a wheel shimmy under braking. It bugs the heck out of me and after checking all the regular stuff, I noticed the front rotors were a bit out of true. I’ve not over heated them so the only explanation could be that I have not let them cool down enough before washing the car after a spirited driving session. The feedback from braking has gotten worse since owning the car.

The pads that are still on the car have probably about another 20K miles left on them so what to do? I don’t want to put on a new set of rotors and old pads. Don’t want to do a full brake job and just waste the pads I have. If I’m going to go to the trouble of doing a brake job, I am a fan of going ahead and doing it all; rotors, pads, sensors on all four wheels. No sense having to come back in six months after doing half a job anyway…

So I’m not usually a fan of spinning warped rotors to try to true them in an effort to extend their life. Usually they’re too close to the width limit and tend to go out of true soon after taking the time to do it.

But these rotors are special, rare and hard to find. So it’s worth the effort. And I will tell you my biggest fear was just finding someone willing to spin them given that they’re cross drilled. I called four places, all of who refused to touch them… until I found Joe at VW Paradise in San Marcos.

Joe spun those suckers flat, both of them in about twenty minutes! I slapped those suckers on and was eager for the test drive. The car brakes like brand new again! True and straight. And I have Joe to thank for that.

So if you’re looking for a top notch shop to quickly and professionally spin a set of rotors for you, I definitely recommend Joe at VW Paradise: 1510 Grand Avenue in San Marcos (760-744-9038).

Glove Box Flashlight Update to Modern Version

OK, so when I bought this car, it was missing the standard issue white glove box flashlight. So something was missing in my life.

I always hated those white older flashlights and wanted to replace it with the newer more modern black versions that comes with the newer cars. The old white one doesn’t have nearly the battery longevity or brightness as the black one does. Only problem just replacing the flashlight is that the white flashlight has female slots that plug into the car’s male pins in the glove box and the newer black flashlights are just the opposite.

I had some spare time while waiting for the new custom leather interior to be sewn together so I got to work converting the CSi’s flashlight to a newer jobbie.

If you want to do this, first of all get yourself one of these, the socket for the black OEM flashlights. They are readily available on eBay for about twenty bucks and you can of course also find plenty of the black flashlights on the Bay as well.

Comparing the two modules, I noted the newer one is a bit larger than the one that comes in the Eight. Not a problem. Have file, will customize…

After removing your glove box from the car, just file the opening a little bit at a time until it’s the right size for the new module. Be careful not to open up the hole too large because the tabs on the module will be needed to keep from pushing the module through the hole. This is a different latching mechanizm than the OEM older flashlight receptical uses to mount itself to the car.

Pretty soon you’ll get it just the right size, a nice and snug fit. Then just slide it in,
















hook up the electrical connections (be sure you get your polarization correct!),




















and finally admire your work! And don’t worry; even though the black flashlights are longer, so long as you use the OEM plug-in module and push it flush with the back of the glove box, the flashlight will not hit against the glove box door when closed. I believe it’s time for a beer.






















There you go! A nice, simple modern update to the older OEM white flashlight. And it’s all BMW too! I’m also working on updating the 850 climate controller with a digital variant that’s just a little bit newer so stay tuned!

Double-Flash Hazard Lights

While at a recent Autocross event, I noticed something. The normal custom while instructors are driving your car, is to drive the course with the hazard lights on. Something caught my eye when I noticed a new 1 series with double-flashing hazards instead of the ON, OFF, ON, OFF of normal hazard lights.

I thought it looked kinda cool. And so began my investigation on the Google. Some reports are that newer Euro-spec cars are programmed to double-flash the hazards (can any of my european friends confirm this?). There was also some information indicating that a double-flashing hazard is a signal to emergency response teams that an airbag has been deployed.

Soon I found out these guys with late model BMWs in the US are able to reprogram their late model BMW’s Light Modules using NCS Expert and a serial cable with a laptop. If you’re not familiar with this software, it’s basically the software used to program all sorts of things in cars that have reprogrammable modules. If you want your LKM to turn on ALL lights when you hit the high beams the way they operate in Europe, you would need to reprogram the LKM.

Would it be possible (I thought in my naiveté) that the US-spec E31 LKM could be reprogrammed to produce this double-flash hazard effect? If so, it would be real cool. In our E31 there are a few programmable modules, but being built in the late nineties, there’s not nearly the options the newer cars have.

Eventually, with the help of our most experienced electronics board member Revtor, I found out, no, the E31’s hazard lights are controlled by a standard relay and the pulse of that relay is not adaptable or controllable without adding something.

Not to be deterred, in short order I was searching the webernet for a pre-built programmable light module that could produce the effect and be installed inline somewhere in the car. First was to find a black box that could do it and second was figuring out where exactly to interrupt the hazard signal.

Finding a place to splice in the module was the easy part. Originally we thought it was the hazard relay that controlled the pulse rate and nothing else. However with visual alarm capability installed (like with most alarm systems) arming the alarm produces a quick double-flash on its own along with the audio indicator. So we knew there had to be a way to double-pulse the hazard lights. We just had to find the correct interception point.

Examination of the ETM revealed that in the E31 you need to intercept the wired leading FROM the hazard switch TO the N17 Crash Control Module (pin 7 brown/blue wire) where the module can drive input to the Crash Control Module.

Now we just had to find an off the shelf module that could do it. However, there were a few requirements:

  • The module must have a fairly short programmable period, like in the hundreds of milliseconds range. Preferable even better to be able to adjust the timing as close as possible to the real BMW double-impulse timing.
  • Power supply demands: Since the hazard lights can be used at any time (even when the ignition is off), the module has to be powered permanently. But as you know the E31 tends to be a bit power hungry, so any extra drain on the batteries is to be avoided. The power consumption should be as low as possible when the module is idle. The typical current draw of the E31 electronics in sleep is 50 mA. The new module should add no more than a few milliamperes to that. Modules built for home applications usually are not very power efficient (equals cheaper for the manufacturer). Such a module could easily double the car’s power consumption while sleeping, so off-the-shelf household modules are to be avoided.
  • The second issue is that modules for home applications are usually not designed to operate on the hostile on-board power net of a car. In a car the voltages can go up to 14.5 V and even higher spikes are possible. This requires special precautions for the power circuit of the module.

On finding an off the shelf module, long story short, there’s nothing on the market that can do the job – it was going to have to be built custom.

With the generous help of guru Revtor to point me in the right direction, he designed a prototype custom module. As you can see there aren’t many components on the board. The board is only 29 x 24 mm (1.1″ x 0.9″). He designed it so all logic is inside the Atmel ATtiny25 microcontroller. The other components are the power supply and an open collector output. The power supply is built around the LM2931Z-5 – a popular voltage regulator for microcontrollers in automotive applications. It’s designed to handle the abuse of the on-board power net.

While idle, the module draws only 0.2 mA. The effect on the batteries is negligable, so it’s perfectly safe to have it powered permanently. If you wake up one day and the car has dead batteries, rest assured this module is not the culprit.

He included a jumper in the design that enables/disables the double-impulse blinking. That way you can revert to the original behavior without changing the wiring. The jumper can be removed/installed while powered-on.

Finally, Revtor programmed the module so it will now always complete a double-impulse cycle, regardless of when you release the hazard switch. Cosmetic, but he thought it would be nice. Kudos Revtor the electronics God!

In typical Revtor thoroughness, he created a picture showing what each terminal of the module should connect to. There are only four wires:

  1. The brown/blue wire between the S18 hazard switch X516 pin 2 and N17 crash control module X65 pin 7 should be interrupted and rerouted through the new module. If you don’t like the idea of cutting the original wiring harness, you’re free to open/disassemble connector X516 on the hazard switch, remove the wire from pin 2 and run a new one from it. That way, you could always restore the situation without a visibly cut wire. Not sure that’s possible though.
  2. With the connector open you could also simply solder an extra wire on pin 3 (brown wire) for the module ground.
  3. The permanent +12 V is a bit more difficult. It’s not connected to the hazard switch. Revtor had a quick look at the electrical troubleshooting manual (ETM) for a permanent 12 V near the hazard switch and found one that is easily accessible: The DWA alarm LED next to the gear lever. Its 4-pin connector (X514) has a permanent 12 V at pin 1 (red/black wire) that can be spliced into.
  4. Ground can be spliced either to the hazard switch’s ground (#2 above) or any readily available ground location. One note though: avoid grounding to anything on the radio harness. To avoid interference it’s best to leave that wire for audio devices only.

There’s no need to disconnect the batteries while installing the module but if you don’t, just temporarily remove fuse F8 (front power distribution box) and F31 (rear power distribution box). That will remove power from the crash control module (& hazard switch) and the DWA alarm LED.

After hooking this little baby up – it worked on the first try! I am stoked to have this unique, classy and modern addition to my CSi and I want to earnestly thank Revtor for his patience and guidance helping me determine what would and would not work as well as designing a perfect little module. Click on the videos and let me know what you think!

Double Flash Hazards 1

Double Flash Hazards 2

This goes very well with my Single Stroke Comfort Blinker already installed to modernize the car. The double-flash hazard feature makes the E31 seem… ‘otherworldly’ and even more unique – at least until double-flashing hazards become all the rage!

So the next time I’m at the Autocross, those lucky late model BMW code monkeys may be impressed this ol’ gal is now in the Euro double-flash hazard club.

Happy trails…


If you’re looking to make yourself one of these, Revtor tells me he might post the parts list and instructions at www.e31wiki.org as soon as he gets some time and I will cross link to it then.

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