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E21 New Owner FAQ

Page 1: Safety Checklist
Page 2: Bosch K-jetronic
Page 3: Engine
The purchase of a vehicle makes most people a little nervous. They always end up with a few questions to ask and usually come up empty handed with straight answers. The plan for this page is not to answer all of your questions, but to field the common ones in a consise and impartial manner. As a new user feel free to ask any questions you might have that are not answered here in on the General Forum or the Technical Forum.

I Got The Car Home... Now What?
The question of what to check first on an E21 comes up all the time. Most new owners are weary of a car they hardly know. Even with immaculate records and documentation a cars history can not be "truely" known unless you were there. So finding and repairing things that were done by a previous owner can sometimes feel like an easter egg hunt. On top of all that many new owners have a tendency to "shotgun" a problem (myself included). Where you simply keep dumping money and parts into the car in the hopes that sooner or later you'll replace the part that was not up to par to begin with. With this section I hope to guide you (the new owner) towards some trouble spots that these cars have. In no way are these areas considered weaknesses, rather an E21 with 20 years of use and who knows how many miles suffers much wear and tear. The areas to which I point are the areas where this wear is most seen and most felt. My first bit of advice is to buy a manual (factory or otherwise is up to you). As your knowledge of the E21 progresses you will us the book less and less, but as a starter it will help you complete some of the tasks outlined below.

First Things First
Safety is paramount in owning any vehicle. Many people when I was first getting my liscense told me that driving everyday will probably be the most dangerous thing you do. So lets go to the safety issues first:

Safety Checklist

  • Brake warning light -- Probably the most prominant indication of brake problems. It looks like a circle with a few "vibration" indications around it in the instrument cluster. If this light is on, then the pads are worn to the 'replacement' point. You know what to do now.
  • Calipers and Rotors -- Look for obvious leaks or things out of place. Do the rotors look old? Rusty? Worn with concentric rings? Getting the rotors turned at a local parts shop is a must if you are replacing brake pads. Also look at the 'bushing and bearing' section below.
  • Rear Drums -- With the wheels off one should inspect the drum assembly. Remove the drum (might require some 'persuading' with a soft rubber mallet). Inspect the cylinders for leaking. Is there a good slice of material left on the shoes? Feel the inside of the drum. Is there a large 'valley' as you move your finger from inside edge to outside? This is an indication of old drums that are in need of repair. Have them checked by a parts shop for tollerances. Adjust the shoes upon reinstallation of the drums.
Bushings and Bearings
  • Tie Rods -- Make sure to check the tierod ends for wear and proper install. Losing your steering at any point during a trip would be very bad.
  • Control Arms -- Check the control arm bushings for wear and or cracking. Worn control arms can make a loud "cluncking" sound when backing out of a drive way or during the transition from reverse to a forward gear.
  • Spindle Bearings -- If the front dust cap for the spindle is missing off your car, or if you are replacing or machining a set of rotors taking a peak at the spindle bearings is an excellent idea. Pulling the hub off the car is relatively simple and inspecting the bearings and or replacing them is straight forward. Pack them with a high temp grease and reinstall. Bearing failure is not pretty and not easy to remedy (ask me how I know). Make sure to replace missing dust caps, or you'll have one greasy, dirty wheel.
  • Motor Mounts -- 20 years in a hot engine bay can destroy rubber (both hoses and mounts). Crawl under the car and inspect the motor mounts. If tired or cracked badly replace (use a shop if you're unsure of your wrench skills, or lack access to a cherry picker).
  • General Awareness -- Become familiar with all the bushings in the car. Most squeeks or groans that come from the car can be attributed to bushings. Replacing most is simple and relatively inexpensive.

  • Trunk Fumes -- Most new owners comment on a "gasolines smell from the trunk". This is common. There are many causes for this and differing degrees of precautions are needed. If the smell is 'overpowering' and from what you can tell seems to be a fuel leak (liquid) rather than fumes. I would consult a local shop or drop the tank out yourself (empty) and replace the rubber hoses and breather lines. A mild smell is usually the breather lines. These lines run up along the passengers rear wheel well and T's into a canister (plastic) above the fill nozzle and the top of gas tank itself. These lines are not easy to replace and care is needed around gasoline.
  • Hard Lines -- There are hard metal fuel lines running the length of the car on the drivers side. Be mindful of these when doing any work to your car or drilling through the floor pan. Not cheap to replace. Inspect these lines for bends or damage.
  • The last section of the fuel system is that inside the engine bay. Again, be mindful of these fuel lines. Most are easy to spot from the steel brading or clear plastic. They can become brittle over time (mostly the warm-up-regulator lines). Do not bend these lines out of your way or press against them while turning a wrench.
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