Category: How To

A 30 year BMW rises again

By , September 15, 2015 8:11 pm

There has been so much done to this car since the last post that I don’t even know where to begin. I have begun to put things into buckets depending on the priority required to get it usable as a daily driver. I’ll document some of those things here.

Getting it Licensed

The first order of business was getting the title transferred to me. Not an easy task when the registered owner is no longer with us and the car is an inheritance, but the title is not yet transferred. But before we can do anything is California, we must get it smogged. This required multiple trips to DMV as we have to get a moving permit (remember it hasn’t been driven in over 5 years).

Getting smogged after 5 years of being idle.

Getting smogged after 5 years of being idle.

The good news is that it passed smog with flying colors! All I did was put in fresh gas and drive it around the block a few times. It wasn’t without incident as a coolant leak happened during smog and then the radiator failed! I was able to make it home though.

New Radiator

Well, this was an obvious one after the smog incident. Not only did I put in a new radiator, I decided to replace key hoses, the water pump and also do another coolant flush while all the stuff was out.

All new cooling system in place. Now if the temp gauge worked...

All new cooling system in place. Now if the temp gauge worked…

New Wheels!

One of the more exciting developments is the new wheels that I got from a 5-series. I learned that I would need something called hubcentric rings as there was a 1.2mm difference in the central diameter of the hubs. At least the offset was correct and I loved the style. The new tires 225/55 x 16″ are much larger than the stock 195/70 x 14″. Not only was I able to get new wheels, but the spare was also part of the package!

Really like the look of the new 5-series wheels on the car.

Really like the look of the new 5-series wheels on the car.

The Interior

The next order of business was various parts of the interior. The faded leather was hard and losing its’ color. It was also beginning to crack and the speaker pods on the rear deck was unsightly. I got some leather dye and Groit’s Leather rejuvenator and after 3-5 treatments, the interior is taking shape quite well.

eBay score!

eBay score!

One of the issues with the interior was the peeling leather on the steering wheel. It was a pain to have to see and feel that every time I was in the car. I bid on an eBay auction and won the wheel above for only $35! What a score!

The Instrument Cluster

This is by far the most annoying thing. I have been struggling with it for weeks. Basically my gauges do not work. After much research, I knew that a printed circuit board was at issue and that the nicad batteries used had leaked acid and damaged the board. I tried many things including a bypass, but have met with limited success. In the process I replaced a broken odometer gear, got brighter lamps for night lighting and learned way more than I needed about the wiring diagrams of these cars. Right now I have a working speedometer, odometer, fuel gauge and tachometer! Broken still are the temperature gauge, economy indicator and the service interval computer. Also my onboard computer is dead.

Rewiring the SI computer board to just bypass the SI computer!

Rewiring the SI computer board to just bypass the SI computer!

Wallah! A working (mostly) instrument cluster.

This made me happy. After two weekend's wor, I mostly have a working cluster.

This made me happy. After two weekend’s work, I mostly have a working cluster.

Final cool picture – the original license registration

During all this madness, I was able to get finally get the new registration tags. I took the picture below as I thought it a milestone that I was able to get the original tags in view before putting on the new tags! It was a nice nostalgic moment.

The car will live again!

The car will live again!

So true to my word to the previous owner, I will get this car back on the road. There is still a huge list of things to tend to, but I should have it pretty much fully driveable in the next month. I plan to keep slowing fixing critical items and then one day I’ll be able to commute with confidence in this car.

Thanks for staying with me this far. The shark will rise again.

The Madness Begins – a 30 year old “New” Car

By , September 1, 2015 12:42 am

1984 BMW 6-Series

All my friends know that I love to tinker on cars. Very much by chance, I came across an old car that had been sitting for over 5 years, inoperative. The car was originally owned by a dentist in Santa Cruz and was a one owner vehicle. The dentist had passed away and left his home and a few cars to his kids and his grandson. The car did not run and the grandson (who inherited it) didn’t know what to do with it. So he put it up for sale as a “Mechanics special”. I like a challenge like that.

I went over to check out the car and thought it looked pretty good considering that it’s 30 years old and hasn’t run in 5 years. There was potential. I made a deal that if I could come work on the car over a few weekend and get it running, I would buy the car. If I couldn’t, then they get a lot of new parts and free service.

This was the car when I first saw it after the cover was removed. It looks pretty good. I like it!

This was the car when I first saw it after the cover was removed. It looks pretty good. I like it!

Here’s the rear 3/4 shot of the car. Classic lines and a pretty rust free and straight body was hard to resist. Open the door (when the keys and locks actually work) and decades of old gas, oil, drying leather and a few rodent droppings permeate the air. Yuck! This will need a thorough cleaning.

The lines are nice and all the bits are there. Hmm.

The lines are nice and all the bits are there. Hmm.

So I kept my word and spent a day on each of the next 2 weekends fixing up the car. After lots of research on the web and some falling back on my general car knowledge, I updated the following.

  • New battery
  • Change several hoses in the cooling system.
  • Changed the thermostat.
  • Flushed and filled cooling system.
  • Changed the oil and oil filter.

To my delight, on the second day, I turned the key and it fired right up with the 5 year old gas in the tank. True to my word, I purchased the car.

Now getting it home was another matter. It was not licensed so a special permit was needed. It belonged to a deceased guy, so lots of paperwork to be filed. No one knew if the tires, brakes or electrical was any good. The driveway was blocked by a dumpster that wasn’t moving for a few weeks. It was going to be an adventure.

Fast forward 2 weeks. I get all the paperwork done and I need to move the car as the owners are having a moving sale. The only time I can move it is going to be at night. Hmm, do the lights even work? What about the rest of the electrical not to mention the very old brakes. Oh, and the tires are an odd metric size that is very difficult to get. New wheels and tires will be part of the equation. I’m still excited to get it done. Will I get stranded at night in a 30 year old car?

I arrived in the evening and quickly discover that many lights are not working. Luckily I brought extra bulbs. I changed them by the light of a flashlight and then check the coolant and oil levels. What? The coolant tank is empty. I thought I fixed the leaks! Darn, I fill the tank with plain water and cross my fingers that I’ll make it home.

I fire up the car and start to back it out into the streets, hoping that the brakes actually work, the old tires don’t explode on me and the suspension is still ok. Slowly I drive it along the residential streets before venturing onto a freeway. It’s at this time that I realize that the speedometer and lots of the instrument lights are dead. Oh great, top that off with a flashing warning light on the dash and this is a recipe for fun.

Well, that was a long 15 minute drive to my house. The good news is that I made it. The car is safely in my driveway and I go out there on occasion and make a long list of things that need to be fixed. This car will fill my spare moments for the foreseeable future.

Interior is rough but serviceable. I always wanted to learn upholstery work. ;)

Interior is rough but serviceable. I always wanted to learn upholstery work. ūüėČ

So the madness begins. There’s so much that needs to be done to this car, but the important thing is that it is relatively rust free, accident free and it runs.

Major things to fix:
1. Instrument Cluster.
2. Fix the door locks – keys don’t work in them!
3. Upgrade wheels and tires.
4. Fix the A/C, fix the fan control.
5. Fix the radio, speakers, pods, etc.
6. Sunroof and headliner (falling)
7. Get power seats working fully again.

Yeah, it’s going to be a project. Let the madness begin!

There’s something really great about bringing an old car back to life. Come back and visit for spurious updates on the progress with this car.

Safely parked in it's new home. I will have to give this car a name. Hmm.

Safely parked in it’s new home. I will have to give this car a name. Hmm.

To Build a GreenHouse

By , November 9, 2014 11:54 pm

Winter is coming and our succulents need a protective home. Also, we want to continue to grow vegetables despite the cold. The solution was a greenhouse. A quick check of the prices of commercial greenhouses was a little shocking. We saw small 6’x8′ greenhouses for $2500! The one we wanted needed to cover around 25′ and commercial units were close to $10K! What’s a guy to do? Internet to the rescue.

I saw lots of people putting up low cost greenhouses using PVC pipe as the main “skeleton”. Most of the ones I saw were simple and people made due with whatever parts they had. They boasted of building their houses for $50. Well, I needed something a bit nicer and also something that I could disassemble if needed. This is the story of how I built our 25′ long by 9′ wide by 8′ tall greenhouse.

I started with a base using 2″x 6″ pressure treated lumber. Putting 3 x 8′ foot pieces end to end gave me 24′. That was going to be the size of our green house. I simply used a 2′ piece with screws to tie the 8′ boards¬†all together.

Pressure treated lumber is used for ground contact areas.

Pressure treated lumber is used for ground contact areas.

Next up was building the ends of the greenhouse. I wanted to have large 3.5′ x 6′ doors on both ends so that we could walk through the green house. It’s also great for ventilation. The width was going to be 9′ to fit in the side yard. I used a 9′ board and cut out the opening for the door. At the ends I fastened a 20′ length of PVC pipe in order to get an idea of the shape of the arch. Then around this I build a frame for the door out of 2″x4″ lumber.

The end pieces (2x) with the door cutout.

The end pieces (2x) with the door cutout.

The ends of the PVC are secured in two ways. First I used a 1″ pipe strap to locate it. Then I used a drywall screw through the PVC to make it immobile. The same idea was used for each of the hoops that form the skeleton of the greenhouse.

Pipe straps keep the frame in place.

Pipe straps keep the frame in place. This is before final assembly and the addition of a drywall screw to keep everything in place.

The ends of the greenhouse was fastened to the sides and the main body was built up all using screws. I used screws because there was a possibility that we would move this green house in the summer. We wanted to make sure that it was possible to disassemble it all if needed. This was one major departure from what I saw online in other plans. Most assume that this thing is never going to move.

A word about the pipes. I used schedule 40 PVC pipe for the ribs. This is just standard stuff you can buy at the sprinkler store. The one I used was 3/4″ internal and 1″ external diameter. This stuff is fairly cheap. For me a 20′ length cost about $7.50. The nice thing is that one end has a “bell” so that it easily slides into the next piece of pipe. Using this feature to my advantage, I had them cut all the pipe in half to 10′ lengths so that it fit in the car. Before assembly, I just friction fit the pipes together to get the 20′ length back and then bent the pipe and secured the ends to form the arch. It was simple and it worked perfectly.

For the top roof rib, I used a bit larger 1 1/4″ pipe and used a drywall screw to fasten it to the joint of the rib. Using this screw served a double purpose. It made the joint immovable because of the screw and it also gave me more pipe material for the screw to bite into. Recall the bell housing with friction fit on top.

To make my greenhouse, I spent $94 on pipe. This was for 9 x 20′ pipes of 1″ and one 25′ pipe of 25′. This was one of the cheapest parts of the project!

Up to this point, it took about 1/2 a day to get to the main frame of the greenhouse. The next trick was to figure out where to get all of the special plastic that would be the skin of the house. As it turned out, that was easy!



Frame built, doors coming next before the skinning.

Frame built, doors coming next before the skinning.

One thing I should mention is that to make the door frame stiff, I used a 6′ steel fence post. They came pre-painted and I just had to drive them into the ground with a baby sledge hammer and then screw them to the frame.

After some research, I came across the Greenhouse Megastore.¬†Now¬†this place caters to professional growers. I learned that using regular plastic film was a bad idea. It would only last for a year or so with all the exposure. The greenhouse megastore offered a special 6 mil plastic that was treated to be UV resistant, reduce condensation, retain heat and have a light dispersion property. Not only that, their 20′ x 25′ roll was perfect for my application. I would get a smaller roll for the ends of the greenhouse. As for fastening, they had PVC clips that were designed for the pipe size I had used. So I build the doors, painted all the wood and wrapped the plastic on the end frames. I just used heavy duty staples to fasten and then sandwiched the film between wood where ever I could. I was also told that I needed to put something between the PVC and the plastic film since they apparently can damage each other. There was a self adhesive felt that they sold for this. OK, gimme some felt – kinda expensive at $16 a roll and I needed 4 rolls.

Doors in place with a small sampling of the succulents that will live in the greenhouse.

Doors in place with a small sampling of the succulents that will live in the greenhouse.

Now came the super tricky part. How was I going to guide and fasten a 20′ x 25′ piece of plastic across the top of the frame? Also, how was it going to fasten to the ground? I thought of a pretty clever solution. ūüėČ

I got some 1″ x 8′ strips of wood at the lumber store. They were precut and came in a bundle of 12. The plan was to sandwich the length of plastic film in these strips at both ends. Then i would roll it up to form a bundle of wood rolled in plastic. Getting some help, I would thread the roll through one side of the green house and then unroll the length of it over the frame.

Laying the plastic film on the driveway and fastening the wood strips to the ends.

Laying the plastic film on the driveway and fastening the wood strips to the ends.

No only would this make it easier to handle, but it would also allow me to securely screw the wood strips to the treated base lumber. All this is accomplished without puncturing the plastic where unnecessary and also in keeping with the goal to make is possible to disassemble if needed. So after unrolling and then fastening the sides to the base, here is what I have.

View inside the greenhouse after the sides are secured.

View inside the greenhouse after the sides are secured.

Now the last step was to secure the ends to the plastic side pieces. This was done with the PVC clips. This was remarkable easy to do and allowed me to stretch everything tight before fastening. I was worried that the plastic may rip, but that was unfounded. That 6 mil stuff is strong!

Greenhouse near completion. Building the shelves inside is for next weekend.

Greenhouse near completion. Building the shelves inside is for next weekend.

So here’s a shot of the near complete greenhouse. I painted the doors and put in some nice gate latches in order to make the doors secure.

So what did all this set me back? Here’s a rough estimate.

1. PVC pipe = $94

2. Wood for frame, base and doors = $220

3. Plastic film and accessories = $224

4. Hardware = $60

So for roughly $600 I have a fairly large greenhouse that is a lot nicer than many of the other quick projects that I have seen out there on the web. It is also a fraction of the cost of “kits” that you can buy; not to mention the fact that most kits are much, much smaller than this one.

So we are looking forward to our first winter with this green house. We have big plans for the various things that are inside already. Besides the succulents, there are peppers, citrus and vegetables that will be grown inside.

We are planning to construct 4 levels of shelves on each side of the green house so it’ll have quite a massive capacity of plants housed inside. We also discovered that we can hang plants from the top center rib, so there are already a few hanging plants in there.

As we complete the interior of this greenhouse, I’ll post some pictures.

This took a few weekends to complete and I think that anyone with the desire can pull it off!

=====< Update on April 10, 2015 >=====

Well the plants made it through the winter with flying colors. The greenhouse residents (plants) continue to grow and I have added places to hang plans as well as overhead lights so that my wife can work in the greenhouse at night. ¬†Everything has worked out well. Here’s an interior picture where you can see how the shelves greatly increase it’s capacity. This was before the lights and the table and chairs that are in there now.

The greenhouse is packed for the winter.

The greenhouse is packed for the winter.


Door Dings Be Gone!

By , August 18, 2014 10:45 pm

Are you as annoyed by little door dings as I am? Every time I get in my car, I get to see these 3 annoying dings from some inconsiderate person in a parking lot (or our other car which sits next to mine in the garage). I recently came across PDR or Paintless Dent Repair.  For smaller dents and dings, you can use a glue puller. It was fascinating and I decided to give it a go. I got some of the tools of the trade from Amazon and eBay and decided to try it out.

So what are these things? The shiny aluminum thing is the actual puller. You use the glue gun to hot glue (black sticks) the yellow tabs to the dent and then the puller to yank the dent up. The glue will break free from the body or the tab, but not before it pulls the metal up a bit. Clean with alcohol (blue bottle) and then repeat until you are happy. Sounds simple enough. The soft faced hammer and white plastic thingy is for knocking down high spots.

Here are some of the tools you will need.

Here are some of the tools you will need.

So, another indispensable tool is called a dent board.

Back of the dent board. See the suction cup and bendy arm?

Back of the dent board. See the suction cup and bendy arm?


Using the board, you can cast a reflection of symmetrical lines onto the body and see exactly where the dents are. The board uses a suction cup to secure to the body and then you can bend it anyway you want with the special stem.

This particular one is translucent so that light from behind can shine through and help to increase the reflection on the other side. Now the other side is where all of the action takes place.

I got this one off of eBay from a company called PDR Tools. They are in Wisconsin and make all varieties of these boards.


Here’s the view from the other side, positioned so you can see 2 of the 3 dings I’m messing with today. You see where the straight lines get all messed up in the center? That’s where the dents are. When you see circular or fat lines, that’s where the metal is pushed in (dented). If you see peaked or thinner lines that appear pinched, that’s where it’s high. In this picture there are no highs really, just dings. ¬†The top one is a more complex dent. The impact has spread out to the edges where the adjacent lines contort. The tiny one below it is a teeny ding.

The dents are clear as day using a line board.

The dents are clear as day using a line board.

OK, now what? Well, you heat up the glue and stick them to the center of the ding along with a yellow pull tab. In the picture below I’ve put two tabs on the dings. The smaller ding in the picture above doesn’t have a tab yet. It gets in the way of the larger ding. They’ll have to be done separately.

Two tabs on the dings. Ready to pull.

Two tabs on the dings. Ready to pull.

You have to wait a few moments for the glue to cool and set. I found that it generally happens pretty fast. Surprisingly, the glue doesn’t pull off the paint. I hear that this should only be attempted for factory paint. It is possible it’ll pull off paint if the paint doesn’t have strong adhesion to the surface. A repaint tends to be weaker than factory paint.

If there’s glue residue left after the pull, you just use the spray bottle of alcohol to remove it. Easy.



Time to pull it out!

Time to pull it out!


You get great leverage with the puller. Pulling gently will flex the metal. Pulling hard may stretch it and pull it out too far. You can always knock it down, but that’s tricker than it sounds.

So the best bet is to experiment. Softly pull at first and if it doesn’t work, pull harder! If the tab comes off, you just glue it up again and do another pull.

Now I should mention that between pulls (or even before) you can soften up the dent and take out some of the stress around the edges using the soft faced hammer and white plastic thingy. I forget what it’s called. (Knock down tool?).

I think it’ll be a lot of trial and error before I get it completely right.

I’m not looking for perfection (yet), but trying to make the dings less noticeable.

So in the end, I think it works pretty darn well! Here is a shot of the panel after the 3 dings are pulled out. Come to think of it, I should of left the board on so that you can see better. The dents are not completely invisible, but you have to look hard and move about to see where they used to be. Overall, I am very pleased.

The finished repair. There were 3 dings in this panel.

The finished repair. There were 3 dings in this panel.

So this took me all of 35 minutes to pull out 3 dings. I’ve got lots of dings on our family’s other cars. I’m going to get lots of practice over the next few weeks. I should be a pro by then! LOL!

Post a comment below if you have any questions. I think this is a pretty great way to keep our car looking good.

Aeron Chair Arm rests keep falling – Fix it!

By , March 17, 2014 6:39 pm

The past year my Aeron chair has been bothering me because the armrest will not stay in position. I search all over the web for a solution but it seems that Aeron has switched to a new system and mine is not really supported anymore. I have a knob that you turn to lock and unlock the armrest height. The newer models have a lever that you flip, similar to the quick release on the wheel of bikes.

I finally figured I had nothing to lose so I decide to take apart my Aeron to see if I could fix it myself. As it turn out, it was a super easy fix. The securing mechanism for the arms just needed to be tightened! Why didn’t anyone mention this on all the websites I explored? Here’s a quick and easy step by step.

First, remove the back of the Aeron chair. There are 4 screws securing the backrest and they are easy enough to remove using an allen wrench. Here’s what my chair looked like after the screws were gone and the backrest lifted off.

After 4 screws are removed, the back comes off easily.

After 4 screws are removed, the back comes off easily.


If you look at the arm rest risers, the part that was covered by the backrest reveals a screw used to tighten the assembly. The reason the arm rests won’t stay up is because the assembly has gotten loose. All you have to do is tighten the assembly with the thumbwheel. You’ll notice that even with the thumbwheel tight, there is still some play by the metal plates secured by the hex screw. Use a wrench to tighten this bolt until it is snug. Don’t go crazy or you’ll not be able to operate the thumbwheel afterwards! Here’s a photo of the screw to tighten.

Tighten this screw after you have tightened the thumbwheel.

Tighten this screw after you have tightened the thumbwheel (to the right in the picture)

Well, that’s all there is to it! After you’ve tightened the screw, just put the backrest back on (4 screws) and enjoy your chair with arm rests that actually stay at the height you put it.

I can’t believe how easy it was and how hard it was to find any useful information on the web! I hope this little post will help someone who has similar issues with their older Aeron chair.


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