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E36 (1991 - 1999)
The E36 chassis 3-Series BMW was a huge hit among driving enthusiasts from the first moment the car hit the pavement. The E36 won numerous awards over the years it was produced and is still a favorite of many BMW enthusiasts to this day! -- View the E36 Wiki

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  #1  
Old 12-19-2012, 05:15 AM
deepbass909 deepbass909 is offline
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97 323i conv. Misfiring on full load

Hello,

I own a US-import BMW 323i Convertible from 1997 which had done over 150k miles (I live in the Netherlands), which is giving me headaches... With normal usage, the car is running just beautiful, it starts almost instant, runs smooth, has quite a good mileage and has good power.

But... When I try to push the car to it's limits in speed, the engine starts to lose power and eventually, the MIL turns on and the cars enters the Limp-home mode...

The readout from the ECU gives me a misfire on cylinder 5, nothing more, nothing less.

After a reset the ECU (or when I restart the engine), the fault is gone, and the car performs just as before.

I've already changed the spark-plugs for brand new Bosch-units, I've swapped the ignition coils between different cylinders, replaced the fuel-filter and fuel pressure regulator, but the problem isn't solved...

The most striking thing is that the fault appears at different RPM's, depending on the gear I'm in (it's a stick-shift car), but in a certain gear, it's always at the same RPM...

In first the fault will appear when running at the rev limiter for a second or 2,
in second, it appears around 6000 rpm
in third, is appears around 5000 rpm
and so on.

At this time, the car won't go over 160km/u (about 100 MPH), which is far from the theoretical 210km/u (130 MPH) it should be able to do...

So some thing is wrong, but how can give me some pointers about what could be the cause?
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Old 12-19-2012, 05:34 AM
SCJon SCJon is offline
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When you switch the coils around does it still give the misfire code for cylinder #5? or does it switch? If it doesn't maybe the plug wires or boots on coil #5?
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Old 12-19-2012, 05:55 AM
deepbass909 deepbass909 is offline
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Originally Posted by SCJon View Post
When you switch the coils around does it still give the misfire code for cylinder #5? or does it switch? If it doesn't maybe the plug wires or boots on coil #5?
The code stays on cylinder 5... If it changed with the coils, it would have been an easy fix
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Old 12-19-2012, 05:56 AM
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i agree that swapping the coil and boot to another cylinder to see if the misfire code follows is a good idea. if the code stays at the #5 cylinder, then suspect a faulty plug, or, perhaps an injector or some other malfunction.

are tehre any rips or tears in the intake boot?? this could couse erratic performance.

i'm not thinking icv or throttle plate, but it is a good idea with the mileage to make sure they are clean and moving freely.




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Old 12-19-2012, 06:28 AM
deepbass909 deepbass909 is offline
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Originally Posted by drivinfaster View Post
i agree that swapping the coil and boot to another cylinder to see if the misfire code follows is a good idea. if the code stays at the #5 cylinder, then suspect a faulty plug, or, perhaps an injector or some other malfunction.

are tehre any rips or tears in the intake boot?? this could couse erratic performance.

i'm not thinking icv or throttle plate, but it is a good idea with the mileage to make sure they are clean and moving freely.




df
I've changed the plugs for brand new ones (the by BMW recommended Bosch plugs), that didn't change a thing.

The intake boot is in perfect, near new condition, the throttle plate is one of the most clean I've ever seen on a car with this kind of high mileage, the ICV seems to be in good condition, since the engine doesn't change it's idle RPM when running idle (both cold and warm), but stays around 600rpm.

I can't check the injector at the moment (to cold in the Netherlands and I don't have a garage...), but I'm also suspecting it...

Next spring I want to take out the injector for a professional cleaning, just in case.
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Old 12-19-2012, 06:36 AM
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you could try to run some seafoam through the intake to see if that helps. seafoam is wonderful stuff. and i am not one for endorsing cans of product, but this is good stuff.

or, you could check to see if there is a repair shop that has the snap on 'motor vac' fuel system. i have used this on many cars with great results. it's simply too pricey and not very practical for a diy'er to own unless one happens to have a fleet of vehicles and *lots* of friends willing to chip in to get their cars done as well.


probably looking around $100 usd or so, although there are many times that shops will run specials, or package deals, so i'd shop around for that.





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Old 12-19-2012, 07:29 AM
deepbass909 deepbass909 is offline
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Originally Posted by drivinfaster View Post
you could try to run some seafoam through the intake to see if that helps. seafoam is wonderful stuff. and i am not one for endorsing cans of product, but this is good stuff.

or, you could check to see if there is a repair shop that has the snap on 'motor vac' fuel system. i have used this on many cars with great results. it's simply too pricey and not very practical for a diy'er to own unless one happens to have a fleet of vehicles and *lots* of friends willing to chip in to get their cars done as well.


probably looking around $100 usd or so, although there are many times that shops will run specials, or package deals, so i'd shop around for that.

df
Both options aren't really available in the Netherlands... Seafoam isn't sold here and I've also read some horror stories about people who used it and where it went wrong...

Depending on the weather, I might use my Christmas vacation to disassemble the intake and replace all the gaskets (I already got them) and visual inspect the injectors. But the temperature needs to be above freezing (no garage) which can be a problem at moment (everybody but me is hoping for a white Christmas )

And maybe use a bottle of injector cleaner on a 1/4 tank of fuel... I recently replaced the fuel filter, which seemed to be at least 10 years old (prob. even as old as the car ), so its possible that all the previous flushed with injector cleaner did, was cleaning the filter... (and I just ended up with even more pollution in the injectors...)
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Old 12-19-2012, 11:24 AM
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This is fascinating, and all the advice I could have given is already here laid out.

Basically you're seeing a misfire in Cyl 5 at high RPMs. Standard diagnosis procedures are being followed here, but think for a bit:

What happens at high RPMs that doesn't happen at low? Something to do with VANOS, perhaps?

I look forward to the conclusion of this problem, even if I can't help solve it...
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Old 12-19-2012, 11:44 AM
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Could it be a wonky crank position sensor causing the misfire at higher RPMs? I'd think a faulty CPS would also show up in the stored error codes, however.
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Old 12-19-2012, 11:49 AM
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i would expect noises with a vanos issue, though, right?? no claim of noises, only misfiring.

and it apparently happens under load, at lower rpm depending what gear he is in.

rather confusing without having much more info to go on.


what makes it tough sometimes to diagnose without actually seeing the car in person.


i mean, it is registering a misfire for cyl #5, at variable rpm depending upon gear, so it could even be something shiftign under load. not sure exactly *what*, but it could be some sort of wire chafing in the harness?? a worn mount?? all sorts of things to check out.


it's like putting in golf. there are so many things that a trained technician does almost without thinking when faced with a driveability issue like this that it is sometimes difficult to put them all down in words, in any dort of order that would make sense to the layperson.





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Old 12-20-2012, 12:42 AM
deepbass909 deepbass909 is offline
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In a sense I'm glad that It's not only me that's puzzled about this problem.

@petriej
The Vanos kicks in at about 4000rpm, a way lower rpm than the troubles start. Also, a malfunctioning vanos would show up in diagnosis with a specific code...
So I can rule that out.

@ZeGerman
The CPS was replaced last year after I found an old recall and I did have CPS-related issues (rev-counter dropping to 0 while driving, stuttering of the engine, fault-code in the ECU related to the CPS). Non of these things happens now. The rev-counter is accurate and doesn't show any strange hick-ups. And since the rev-counter uses the CPS for its info, I can rule that out...

@drivinfaster
That's correct. The higher the gear, the lower the RPM where the trouble starts. It's always around the same RPM, depending on the gear I'm in, so I guess I can rule out any faulty wiring, since that would cause the problems at random RPM's...

I haven't had the chance to test if the problem also occurs at half throttle, at this time it happened all the time at full throttle.
Since it's at full throttle and under a certain engine load (which would explain the lower RPM's at higher gears), I'm suspecting fuel delivery or maybe a partial blockage in the exhaust...

My catalytic converter is almost shot, it makes noises (rattling) and the second O2-sensor gives a fault-code from time to time (catalytic efficiency below threshold), while the sensor data seems to be correct. I've hit a couple of speed bumps last summer, and after that these faults started to appear. So it seems that there is some internal damage done to the matrix...
Only the problem is that being an US-import car, the catalytic converter is different from the EU-versions. The EU-versions don't have the second O2 sensor... So the chance of finding a good one outside of the BMW dealership is zero to none... And an original is really (and I mean REALLY) expensive (more than 1.000 / $1.300)

Fuel delivery is for now the next thing to check. I've already changed the fuel-filter and pressure regulator. That did improve the driveability, the engine runs much smoother and idles at a stable RPM, but didn't fix the problem.

I'm now concentrating on the fuel injectors, since it's always the same cylinder that produces a misfire. So I'm guessing/hoping that the injector of cylinder 5 doesn't produce the right spray/amount under full load...

The one thing I really hope it isn't, is a faulty head gasket... I don't really have the symptoms for that (no loss of cooling fluids, no white smoke from the tailpipe, normal oil-usage, no sludge under the oil-fill cap), but a leaky head gasket could cause a loss of engine performance under full load...

Also, I've also already checked the problem with my local BMW dealer (who does the regular maintenance of my car, like the Inspections and oil changes and is a really fair and good garage), and they also don't have a clue about what it could be...
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Old 12-20-2012, 07:00 AM
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You just pointed directly at the problem. That bad cat is strangling the engine. That's why you get the fault code and rattling. The fact that the problem started after jarring the cat on the speed bumps should be a clue where the problem lies.

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My catalytic converter is almost shot, it makes noises (rattling) and the second O2-sensor gives a fault-code from time to time (catalytic efficiency below threshold), while the sensor data seems to be correct. I've hit a couple of speed bumps last summer, and after that these faults started to appear. So it seems that there is some internal damage done to the matrix...
Only the problem is that being an US-import car, the catalytic converter is different from the EU-versions. The EU-versions don't have the second O2 sensor... So the chance of finding a good one outside of the BMW dealership is zero to none... And an original is really (and I mean REALLY) expensive (more than 1.000 / $1.300)
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Old 12-20-2012, 07:28 AM
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^this.....there are aftermarket cats available for much cheaper than oe, and by companies that are pretty good.

there are also some more less expensive versions that are a weld in replacement, but the oe cats are a little offset.

you could also try to drop in an exhaust from *any* of the other m50/52 engines and have it work, just drill a hole and weld in an o2 port (bung).

there are options.





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Old 12-20-2012, 07:35 AM
deepbass909 deepbass909 is offline
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You just pointed directly at the problem. That bad cat is strangling the engine. That's why you get the fault code and rattling. The fact that the problem started after jarring the cat on the speed bumps should be a clue where the problem lies.
Although you might be right, it is one of the possibilities I'm trying to avoid... As I mentioned, an original cat is really expensive, perhaps even the most expensive possibility... So I'm trying to work my way from the cheapest fixes to the more expensive...

Everything I've done so far, can also be defended as preventive maintenance or sensible to replace anyhow, because of its mileage and age. The cat is one component that's hard to defend if it doesn't turns out to be the culprit...

But, being already one step ahead I found out a company who makes custom stainless racing cat (guaranteed to work and pass the MOT's in the Netherlands) for about 350 (about $500), which is a bit more doable... But still a lot of money if you consider that over the last year I already spent a couple of thousand euro's for fixing stuff caused by poor maintenance by the previous owner...
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Old 12-20-2012, 07:41 AM
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well if the cat is rattling, and has flagged a fault code, chances are that you just *might* have a bad cat...




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Old 12-20-2012, 08:08 AM
deepbass909 deepbass909 is offline
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I know my cat is bad or at least turning bad, but before spending a lot of money, I want to be sure it isn't something different, something much cheaper to fix at the moment. One reason being that the cat fault code only appears when I drive a long time at about 50 or 60 MPH in 5th gear, when the car is running really lean. Last month it appeared about 1 or 2 times, while I use the car everyday.

But the cat will be replaced next year, no doubt about it. If it isn't for the efficiency, it's at least for the sound... A rattling cat with a conv. is really a no-go... My conv. should be quiet
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Old 12-20-2012, 08:21 AM
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The E36 convertible is definitely not quiet. That ragtop lets all kinds of sound into the cabin. Might as well add some sweet exhaust notes to it.
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Old 12-20-2012, 10:19 AM
deepbass909 deepbass909 is offline
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The E36 convertible is definitely not quiet. That ragtop lets all kinds of sound into the cabin. Might as well add some sweet exhaust notes to it.
I think you misread me, when I said it was quiet I didn't mean that you don't hear any sounds from the outside, only that the car itself (the engine, interior, etc) didn't produce much sound

When I just got it, about 1,5 year ago, is was almost whispering quiet when I drove below 40MPH with the top down. But now it sometimes rattles (most often when the engine is still cold).

@drivinfaster
One other thing that don't match a partially blocked cat, is why it only seems to affect cylinder #5? There's only one cat, so if the cat would cause my problem, wouldn't it show faults on all the cylinders at random?
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Old 12-20-2012, 03:25 PM
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quite possible, but to try to diagnose a driveability issue with an obvious factor is like trying to run a marathon in ballet slippers....can be done, but you'll beat yourself up and wind up expending much more effort than necessary.

i have seen quite odd things happen, and yeah, i would expect to see a random misfire code in there as well, but, when chasing an 'unknown' it is rather foolish to ignore a 'known' when it comes to engine performance diagnostics.

trust me, i have 15 years under my belt with diags.



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Old 12-21-2012, 12:04 AM
deepbass909 deepbass909 is offline
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quite possible, but to try to diagnose a driveability issue with an obvious factor is like trying to run a marathon in ballet slippers....can be done, but you'll beat yourself up and wind up expending much more effort than necessary.

i have seen quite odd things happen, and yeah, i would expect to see a random misfire code in there as well, but, when chasing an 'unknown' it is rather foolish to ignore a 'known' when it comes to engine performance diagnostics.

trust me, i have 15 years under my belt with diags.



df

Oh, no doubt about it that I don't trust you And I do believe that the cat has some part in it. But the direction I'm thinking in, is that some is almost shot of worn-out and that the extra back-pressure of the cat pushes it just beyond the point where it starts to fail. Replacing the cat would mean a lower back-pressure, so no more faults, but the true cause would still be laying dormant, waiting to fail completely...

At the moment I'm trying to identify all the possible causes of this problem. I know quite a lot of engine electronics (I used to work for Hella, the well-known manufacturer of headlights, but also quite a lot of engine electronics) and how they all interact together. But this problem doesn't identify with any of the known symptoms for failing electronics or mechanics...

But I know the impact of a failed and partial blocked cat... My previous car (a E36 316i, with M43B16 engine) turned out to have a bad cat. After I replaced it with a good and original second hand cat, the car drove better and smoother than ever before.
So it's something I'm surely going to fix, no worries about that, but spending an extra 300 - 400 is a bit much at the moment (I've just replaced all the shocks after some other quite expensive earlier this year). For now I'm concentrating on the more economical and easy repairs that may or may not fix it, but won't do any harm. All the repairs can be seen as some extensive and hard needed maintenance
And since the maintenance history of this car is pretty much unknown (I only know about the last service, which should haven been an inspection II, but the only thing preformed was an oil-and filter-change), I'm fixing a lot of things that should have been replaced much earlier...

To give an idea, the interior filter, which I replaced just last year, was still the original factory-installed filter (production date on the filter was 1997, the same year the car was build) and it looked like this:

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Old 04-04-2013, 04:13 AM
deepbass909 deepbass909 is offline
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It's been a while, but I've got an update on my problem and it's solved!

It turned out to be the cat that was faulty. I've replaced it with a modified second-hand unit (modification was needed because the US-spec cat's are a bit different from the EU-type) and this solved every single problem I had. No more fault codes, no more misfires of performance issues, the engine runs as smooth as possible with all the power it used to have when it was new. And as an added bonus, the fuel-consumption dropped quite a bit (in The Netherlands the current fuel-price for 95 RON is about 1.70/liter or $8.24/Gal(US), so every bit of fuel-saving means quite a lot at the end of the month... And yes, fuel is really expensive over here...)
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Old 04-04-2013, 10:04 AM
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Originally Posted by hornhospital View Post
You just pointed directly at the problem. That bad cat is strangling the engine. That's why you get the fault code and rattling. The fact that the problem started after jarring the cat on the speed bumps should be a clue where the problem lies.
I hate to quote myself, but I told you so.......


Thanks for posting back the solution.
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Old 04-04-2013, 10:55 AM
deepbass909 deepbass909 is offline
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I hate to quote myself, but I told you so.......


Thanks for posting back the solution.
I know, and I've always kept it as a possibility.

But being a really expensive part if bought new at the dealer (about $1000) or even after market (around $500), it wasn't my first choice for replacing. I've managed to find an used cat for 140 (about $180) and have it modified for a couple of bucks (it needed 2 lambda mounts, which no EU-spec E36 had).
The good news is, that my old and broken cat still is worth somewhere between 150 and 200 for its precious metals (that's also the reason they are so hard find second hand). So in the end, this fix might cost me almost nothing

Only, now the engine is running great again, it turns out it has a small oil-leak at the Vanos oil pipe and oil filter housing. This went unnoticed, because I couldn't rev the engine up high and the oil-pressure never reached the highest level. But this is a quite cheap fix (but not easy...) and I will do it next Sunday. And hopefully this will be the last big fix for the upcoming years (but with old cars you'll never know what comes next )

But for now, I'm enjoying the power of the engine and soon I've got a trip into Germany (no speed limits!) and hoping to push the car to 135 Mph (more than 210 km/h)
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