BMW E61 Turbo Replacement - Engine Subframe Powdercoating, Steering Rack Rebuild

In order to pull the engine out of the front of the car with the transmission, the subframe needs to be dropped in order to allow the oil pan to pass over the steering rack. With the subframe on the floor, it was pretty easy to clean it up and check the condition of the subframe and steering rack.

Here's the subframe. Carbon steel construction, with one engine mount, 2 heat shields and steering rack attached.
The engine subframe on the BMW E61 is fabricated from carbon steel, painted or powdercoated black in the factory. My car is 9 years from the date of manufacture, and has been operated in Toronto and Montreal its entire life, subject to Canadian winters and road salt. What's interesting is that there is virtually no rust anywhere on the steel and aluminum body components. Most of the underbody structural and suspension components are made from aluminum - like the rear suspension frame, and the front suspension arms. There are a few components which sufferred from corrosion - the subframe, some of the aluminum heat shields, particularly at attachment points to the body, and one driveshaft tunnel brace also made of steel which I decided to replace.

The subframe was the one component of the car showing the most significant rust damage
Once I had a look of the extent of the paint bubbling and corrosion on the subframe, I decided that I didn't want to invest the time to try to clean it up and treat the corrosion myself - I had lots of other things requiring attention, like getting the new turbos, head gasket, oil pan gasket, etc on the engine and get the engine / transmission ready to replace in the car. So I decided to strip the subframe, remove the steering rack, and take the subframe to a local powdercoating shop to have it sandblasted and coated.
In preparation for sending out the steering rack - I measured the tie rod locations precisely for setup on reinstallation.
I found a local powdercoating shop that normally does industrial work, and the owner was a bit of a car guy and accepted to do my subframe for $150 - which was a great deal in terms of how much time it saved me from cleaning this up myself.
Subframe back from Powdercoat - beautiful.
He did a great job of sandblasting out all the rust, you can see in the powdercoat finish some of the pitting in the steel which was now overcoated, this should help keep the car on the road for another 10 years. He also protected all the studs and weldnuts from powdercoat - I didn't have any threading or tapping to do - which also saved time.
You can see some of the rust pitting in this photo - right hand motor mount area.

And some of the pitting here.
For the steering rack and axle half shafts / CV joints - I took them all to Axle Automotive (Capital Dominion Radiator) on Gladstone Avenue in Ottawa for rebuild. The rear axle half shafts were both spraying grease, and the fronts were fine but I had them repacked with new boots as a preventative measure anyway. They stripped down the steering gear, cleaned it, replaced the rod seals and boots, and the steering gear seals. I had the option of having the rack painted black - I opted to keep it natural aluminum. It turned out really nice - and now with the car on the road I can report that the steering feel is excellent - rack is performing like new. The price for the rebuild was very good - better than I could find at any shop in the Montreal area.
Front axle half shafts and steering rack - back from rebuild with all new boots. 

The aluminum body of the steering gear shows some oxidation - purely cosmetic and something I can live with. 
One thing to note is that all the bolts holding the subframe to the car front frame are torque to yield type fasteners that need to be replaced when loosened or removed. I did purchase new fasteners for the subframe.
Subframe prepped with heat shields, steering rack, left hand motor mount and power steering lines ready for the motor.

Sources and Links

I hope you found this post useful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below. I answer all questions. If you're interested, you can help support this site by using the following links to in the United States. Turbo parts were supplied by Turner Motorsports. Other parts were supplied by Pelican, BMW Park Avenue in Brossard, and eEuroparts. Capital Radiator in Ottawa did the steering rack rebuild.


BMW E61 Turbo Replacement - New Head Gasket, Oil Pan Gasket and Oil Level Sensor Gasket

So this is the point where your spouse really begins to think that you're crazy, and wonders when you're going to get out and get a real job....

Since we're this far into it, by this time I had made the decision to switch out any suspicious seals, gaskets, o-rings, and try to do a proper job of this. I separated the head from the engine. You need to remove the timing chain from the VANOS camshaft gears. In order to remove the camshaft gears, you need to lock the camshaft into position using the camshaft lock tool - part of the camshaft timing tool set for the N54. Procedure is as follows - move the engine to top dead center cylinder one - and you can make sure you're in top dead center by looking for the laser engraved part number on the camshafts - just behing where you insert the camshaft locking tool. If you can't see the part number - you're 180 degrees away from top dead center and won't be able to remove all the head bolts. 
With camshaft in TDC position - grooves in the camshaft allow access to the head bolts underneath
Unbolting and torquing the heads - you're going to need a set of long hex sockets to access the fasteners. I kept the camshaft lock on the head the whole time the head was off during cleaning. 

Head split from engine. Note the camshaft lock tool (black).
With the head off - it's time to get everything cleaned up. I used brake cleaner and very mild abrasive scouring pads to gently remove the oil and carbon deposits. It worked well.

N54 engine block with head removed. No major difference in carbon buildup on the pistons. Note the zip tie holding the timing chain to the timing chain guide - this prevents the timing chain from falling off the bottom sprocket.
 The head gasket has factory applied silicone sealing rings applied. With the old head removed, I could see some places where oil had started weeping past the head gasket.

Front of the block - oil weeping past head gasket - timing chain cavity
 When I got down to cleaning the engine block - I cut fingers from vinyl gloves to block the coolant passages and help prevent debris from getting down into the coolant and oil passages. Very important - make sure you remove all this before you reassemble the engine for obvious reasons.
Vinyl glove pieces used to seal oil and coolant passages from debris during cleaning.
With the block mating surface clean - now is the time to check that the block is flat using a machinist straightedge.

Engine block cleaned, ready for head gasket and head.
 On to cleaning the head. This took quite a bit of effort to get the mating surface clean. When you factor in the time required to clean the oil from the intake passages (walnut blast) - in retrospect - I would have had the block taken into a machine shop for disassembly, cleaning, and a cleanup cut off the head surface. For the money I would have spent - it would have saved 40 hours of work in my garage... live and learn. I'll do a post on the intake valve cleaning and the problems I ran into there.
Head cleaned, ready for inspection and verification of flatness. 
 I had three places in the head where there was very minor erosion of the aluminum surface. Best option would have been to take the head into a machine shop to have a cleanup milling cut done. I cleaned the erosion the best I could, then applied a very thin coat of copper gasket maker to the eroded surfaces in the hope it will improve sealing of the head gasket. Time will tell how well this works.
Copper gasket sealant on a few eroded surfaces of the head. There was no erosion anywhere on the block.
 The assembly of the head to the engine was straightforward. Make sure you use new fasteners - they are all torque to yield fasteners and can only be used once. Torquing those fasteners is a bit tricky - you apply an initial torque with a torque wrench, then a defined turn in degrees. Make sure you follow the manual for your car for your torquing instructions.
Plastic valve cover, aluminum oil pan. Cleaning up for reassembly.
 Initially I thought I could get away without replacing the seals on the oil level sensor, so I left it in the pan and set about to cleaning the mating surfaces. Same procedure as for the heads - brake cleaner and scouring pads.
Mating surfaces cleaned on the oil pan - ready for reassembly with new gasket. 
 The aluminum oil pan gasket fasteners are aluminum torque to yield type. They take a very small initial preload - I used my 1/4" torque wrench from my bicycle repair kit to do the initial preload.
1/4" torque wrench on aluminum oil pan bolts. 
 To apply the 60 degree turn following the intiial preload, I did a wrap of vinyl tape around the torx socket - and made two marks 60 degrees apart. Makes measurement of the final angle torque application very easy.
 I followed up with a new magnetic drain plug.
Magnetic drain plug and sealing washers. 

Oil level sensor port - very dirty. Ended up having to purchase a new O-ring and clean this up properly.
Oil level sensor port cleaned up - fair bit of minor pitting, but the o-ring sealing surface wasn't too bad. 
I cleaned up the sensor instead of replacing it. Much gunk inside, came out nicely with electrical contact cleaner (safe for plastics). Looking at this - this is another good reason not to try to push oil change intervals on a turbocharged aluminum VANOS engine - you can see the effect that running high mileage oil has on internal components.
I used electrical contact cleaner to flush out the inside of the oil level sensor - worked well to get all the old oil out. 
A little copper silicone gasket sealer on the o-ring surface to help ensure a good seal of the level sensor despite the pitting.
I'll try to get a few more posts done - lots of lessons learned with this project that I want to share.

Sources and Links

I hope you found this post useful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below. I answer all questions. If you're interested, you can help support this site by using the following links to in the United States. Turbo parts were supplied by Turner Motorsports. Other parts were supplied by Pelican, BMW Park Avenue in Brossard, and eEuroparts.


Saving Money and Time - Bypass your Refrigerator Water Filter with a Simple Kitchen Filter System

There were a few problems here that I wanted to solve. We've become addicted to carbonating our own water - and eliminating the trips to the store and the wasted empty bottles from purchasing carbonated water. We bought a name brand carbonator - and really enjoy it except for two things. The cost of the CO2 refills, and the time it took to refill the carbonating bottle from the carbon filtered fridge water outlet (about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes each time). Our only water filter was in the refrigerator, an expensive model that cost about $50 to replace and needed replacement about every 6 months. The refrigerator had a coil of 5/16 plastic tubing to cool the water - and a 1/4" copper feed line running across the kitchen, about 20' of line. By the time the water reached the fridge and crossed the water filter, we had significant pressure drop and slow flow out of the fridge.

Whole House 10" Filter Upgrade - For Kitchen Sink Cold Water, and line to Refrigerator
I looked at ways to upgrade the fridge system - increasing the size of the feed line, increasing the size of the lines in the fridge - and realized this would be just too big of a retrofit, and would take too long. So - I decided to install a 10" whole house water filter housing under our kitchen sink - and filter all the cold water going just to the kitchen sink and refrigerator. I would install the carbon block filter there under the sink, and remove and bypass the carbon block filter in the refrigerator.

Ready to drill the hole in the countertop to run the CO2 line to the carbonator. 
 I've solved the cost of the replacement CO2 cartridges by purchasing a 20lb CO2 bottle and an adapter hose compatible with my carbonator. Works great, now I'm refilling the 20lb tank about every 6 months, instead of small CO2 bottles every 2 or 3 weeks. I wanted to hide the CO2 tank under the sink - so I needed to drill a hole in the Quartz countertop. I purchased a diamond tipped hole saw for this purpose - drilling the hole was real easy and took only about 15 minutes.
The only tool I had to purchase - a small diamond tipped hole saw. Decided to get a good one.

Drilling the hole in the countertop - the red colour is from the paint coming off the hole saw.

After photo - paint removed from the hole saw

Nice clean hole in the quartz countertop
 Now - onto the water filter installation. I purchased a Dupont branded 10" whole house water filter housing online. I purchased threaded brass PEX tubing adapters to screw into the head of the water filter to be able to make the cold water connections. I installed 4 small ball valves to be able to completely bypass the water filter in case of a problem, or while changing filters. Redoing the PEX water piping was the longest part of the job, took me a Saturday morning to do, combined with re-routing my sink drains (that's another story).
Plumbing the new water filter under the kitchen sink. I've removed the double sink drain pipes to give myself some room
 Cold water runs through the single 10" filter - I have nice clean municipal water feeding the house so all I needed is a single carbon block filter. If you're water isn't clean - well water or otherwise - you may need a second particle filter upstream of the carbon filter. The only consumers downstream of my water filter are my kitchen sink, and the refrigerator. So now - to refill water bottles for carbonation, I can refill from the kitchen sink to have carbon filtered water without any Chlorine taste, and it only takes about 10 seconds to refill a bottle. The carbonator is right behind the sink - so very quick and efficient.
The completed water filter installation - complete with a full bypass line in case I need to take the filter out of the circuit

20lb CO2 tank underneath the sink located next to the water filter.
Bypassing the water filter in the refrigerator was very easy. For my refrigerator, all I needed to do was to remove the water filter - there is an automatic bypass valve inside the refrigerator that bypasses the water flow when the filter is removed. Now - filling a glass of water from the refrigerator is about twice as fast with the water filter removed - since the pressure drop across the filter is gone.

All in all - very happy with this upgrade. Great tasting water without waiting around for water to get out of the refrigerator outlet. Let me know if you have any questions.

Sources and Links

I hope you found this post useful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below. I answer all questions.


2017 Subaru Outback Oil Drain Plug Head Rounded - First Oil Change

This seems to be a common problem - first oil change on a late model Subaru 2.5L engine - and the oil pan drain plug head gets rounded by your socket and you can't remove the drain plug. So - what to do? Trip to the dealer? I've been changing my own oil for many years - first time this has happenned to me. I decided to purchase a set of bolt extractors and sort it out myself. Here's how it went.
14mm Hex Head on the Drain Plug - Just rounded enough to make it impossible to remove
 I purchased a slightly used 2017 Outback with 17,000 km - lease return. At 25,000km I went to do my first oil change. The dealer had informed me that they had changed the oil at the lease return. When I went to remove the drain plug - I didn't lift the car because I thought I'd be able to spin it off with the car sitting on the ground (as I had done many times with my 2006 Outback - it sits high enough off the ground that you can slide the pan underneath and not have to lift the car to change the oil). This time it went differently - with the drain plug at an angle, and recessed slightly below the aerodynamic underbody cover - it's quite awkward to get a socket on the drain plug and apply the torque at an angle. It would be much easier with the drain plug oriented vertically. One bad move and I rounded the head.
Another view - Drain Plug accessible through a small access port, sits on an angle
 So - I put everything away, got online and ordered a set of chinesium bolt extractors. I've never tried these before, so this was an experiment for me. Using a ball pien hammer, I tapped the 14mm extractor onto the drain plug so that it was well seated, then popped on a short extension and used my Dewalt 3/8" impact gun which can generate about 100 ft-lbs of torque - and nothing moved - at all. I was stunned - 100 ft-lb of torque on a drain plug? Clearly not normal.
Dewalt 1/2" Drive Impact, 21mm deep socket, 14mm bolt extractor, and the drain plug in question
So - I pulled out the Dewalt 1/2" impact which can generate 400 ft-lbs of torque - and a 21mm deep impact socket to be able to fit over the extractor (instead of using the 3/8 socket drive square) and leaned on it. After about 15 seconds, the drain plug broke free and loosened, with no damage to the oil pan. The bolt extractor was hot to the touch from the impact force. The drain plug was well grooved from the force of the bolt extractor.

Check out the grooves on this drain plug head. Exctractor worked like a charm.
I installed a new Dorman replacement drain plug - with a larger hex head - and completed the oil change.

Bit of a mess - An angled drain plug will shoot your oil about 2 feet sideways
So - what do I think about this? Drain plug with small head - should be larger - like 19mm for a 16mm bolt size so that you can get a tool on the drain plug. Soft metal and the paint interferes with good contact with your socket. This plug should definitely be re-specified. The plug installed on an angle - shooting oil sideways? Brutal - plug should be installed vertically on the pan. I don't know if the dealer ever actually changed the oil - have sent the oil out for analysis to get an opinion on that. If you're in the same situation - up to you to decide what to do - take it to a dealer or extract the plug yourself. In my case - it worked out okay. Let me know if you have any questions.

In case you're wondering, the new drain plug is a Dorman 65325 - M16-1.50 threads. Nice piece with 17mm hex head - 3mm larger than the stock drain plug.

Dorman 65325 Oil Drain Plug

Update - December 2019:

6 months have gone by, did my second oil change. Drain plug spun off normally, no problem at all, oil change completed in 30 minutes. Definitely a manufacturing defect with the way the drain plug was delivered from the factory. Blackstone Labs oil analysis came back on the first oil change - they did not think that the oil had not been changed as described by the dealer - which was good news. It also meant that they must have sucked the oil oil out of the dipstick tube. FWIW.

Sources and Links

I hope you found this post useful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below. I answer all questions. If you're interested, you can help support this site by using the following links to in the United States.


Installing the Skybell Trim Plus Video Doorbell - Nutone Intercom Retrofit

When I moved into my current house, it had a vintage central intercom system, with yellowed plastic intdoor speakers, yellowed plastic outdoor speakers, and an archaic esthetic. We immediately pulled out the system components, drywalled over the cutouts in the interior walls, and I was left with two very ugly metal boxes in the brick at my front and back door.

Skybell Trim Line Video Doorbell on a custom made Aluminum Adapter Plate

A bit of research lead me to the Wifi enabled video doorbells - very simple, they connect to your Wifi router, and ring your smartphone and interior door chime whenever someone rings at the door, and provides live video of the person at the door. In addition, you can use the internal speaker and microphone to speak with the person at your door - even from a distance away from your home.

Vintage Nutone Door Speaker and Connection Box - Don't forget to cut the power to your doorbell circuit before working with these wires.Unscrew, Remove the Wires
A Nutone Intercom Connection Box is 4 3/8" Wide and made of Steel
A Nutone Intercom Connection Box is 5 7/8" Tall
A Nutone Intercom Connection Box has "Model IR-6" Stamped on the right side of the Box
The first step was removing the old Nutone intercom speaker. 2 screws, and I took note that the orange pair of wires in my installation was used for the 17VAC doorbell switch circuit. By connecting the SkyBell Trim Plus Video Doorbell to your existing doorbell switch wires powered by an internal transformer, the SkyBell will keep itself charged, and pressing the button on the SkyBell will sound the doorbell in your house. Something to note here however - the SkyBell will not ring the door chime if you have kept your indoor intercom speaker system - you also have to retrofit a normal door chime in your house.

I started by making a blank cover plate to fit over the old intercom connection box, countersinking the holes for the screws for a neat installation using a metal punch.
The SkyBell is smaller and more compact than the Nutone Speaker unit. This caused an issue in my installation because the Nutone was installed in a custom installation box - set into my masonry. I decided to create an aluminum cover plate to hide the old box, and create a flat surface for installing the SkyBell.

Checking the mounting hole spacing for the Skybell baseplate.
The SkyBell adapter plate is smaller than the Nutone Speaker installation Box, so an adapter plate is required. I cut a rectangle 4 3/8" wide by 5 7/8" tall to cover the old Nutone connection box in the wall. (UPDATE - I now have some of these aluminum plates for sale on eBay in various colors due to popular request from this blog posting - at this link to eBay item number 183701542848.)

Completed plate - countersunk holes for mounting to the intercom wall box, holes to mount the Skybell to the plate, and grommet placed to fit directly under the grommet hole for the video doorbell mounting plate
From this point it was relatively simple to install the SkyBell. Just clip the Skybell onto the SkyBell installation plate, snap down and tighten the hold down screw at the bottom of the doorbell.

Baseplate, adapter plate, doorbell
Now that all was installed, it was time to reconnect the power to the SkyBell by turning the breaker back on for the doorbell transformer. Once you reconnect power, the SkyBell will flash various color codes to communicate what it's doing. Now is the time to install the SkyBell app on your smartphone, and run through the Wifi configuration sequence. That's pretty simple, just follow the sequence on your app until all is installed.

Screenshot of the Skybell HD Wifi Video Doorbell Setup Procedure on an iPhone

Screenshot of a video call to the Skybell HD video doorbell installed at the side door of the house. Impressive angle of view and picture quality.
Once configured, you can test the doorbell button. You normal doorbell should sound inside the house, plus you'll hear the distinctive chime of the SkyBell Trim Plus Video Doorbell. Some have complained that the SkyBell may have a hard time reaching a good wifi signal when installed at your front door - this hasn't been the case in my installation - I've got a great signal.

With the SkyBell app installed on your smartphone and/or tablet- ringing the SkyBell doorbell switch initiates a video call with your smartphone or tablet. On the smartphone you get a notification on the home screen, and the video application launches so that you can see who is at your front door. You can decide whether to accept or reject a call to talk to whoever is at the front door - and this feature is available anywhere you have internet connection with your smartphone or tablet. Very cool.

I also have a Ring Video Doorbell installed at the front of the house, and have tried out a few different Ring Video Doorbell models. If I get a bit of spare time, I'll do a quick post comparing the various. Wifi doorbells that I've tested. Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions.

Filtering Pollen from Air Exchanger Intake Duct

My son has Asthma, and it's aggravated by seasonal allergies. We've taken steps to limit allergens from entering the house - we keep the windows closed most of the time, we've sealed air leaks and we've added a mechanical air exchanger with heat recovery. I wanted to improve the filtration of incoming air to try to ensure we're removing pollen and other potential irritants. I decided to to add supplemental filtration of the air exchanger intake duct.
Fantech FB6 Inline Filter Box - Designed for 6" Round Duct
This is a fairly simple project. Find a location on your incoming air duct where you can remove approximately 26" of the round duct, and mount the steel filter box. Ideally, locate the filter box close to your other air handling equipment, so that it is easily accessible for filter changes during routine servicing. The specifications of the FB6 are as follows, check to see if these are appropriate for your installation or if you require a different size.
• Airflows up to 176 cfm
• 6" diameter plastic duct connections
• Beige powder coated
• Neoprene door seal
• Access door removed with thumb screws
• Weight - 10.6 lbs
• Filter compartment dimensions - 19 1/2 x 10 x 8
• Filter size - 20 x 10 x 1"

Filter Box located close to HRV to simplify servicing and filter changes
One thing to note about this filter box is that it's not insulated, so if you're operating this in cold climates, you'll get condensation on the box. In my case, I wasn't too concerned about this because the box is located above a concrete floor in the utility room, about 24" from the floor drain. I've considered insulating the box, but haven't gotten to that because the condensation doesn't cause too much of a problem.
Data Plate on the Filter Box
Once I installed the external filter box, I removed the smaller incoming air filter from the air exchanger, because there is no need to filter the air twice. You can select your level of filtration depending on your needs, in my case I'm using MERV 11 filters which I find is a good balance between filtration and pressure drop. I also want to maximize the airflow, because my air exchanger is a bit undersized for the size of my home.


Works fine, condensation on the box doesn't cause any problems in my installation, and I can tell the filtration is working well by the amount of crud the filter pulls out of the air. I change filters four times a year. 

Sources and Links

I hope you found this post useful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below. I answer all questions. If you're interested, you can help support this site by using the following links to in the United States.