Monday, April 6, 2009

Racin': One Lap of America? Not this year.

Two weeks ago on a Thursday, March 19, as I was driving home from work, the Roadster starting running very roughly. Normally a BMW inline 6 cylinder motor is one of the smoothest machines on the planet. That day, it felt more like a 4 cylinder with no balance shafts. As I had two cars sitting in the driveway at home (because neither Diane nor Gwynedd are at home these days), I figured it'd be best to get it into Car Tender as soon as possible so they could diagnose the problem. I delivered it there that evening, figuring that it would be a day or two before they got around to it.

The next Tuesday, March 24, I got the bad news. I had low compression on cylinders 4 and 5. At that news, my heart sank. I couldn't imagine what had caused the problem, but I knew the fix was not going to be cheap. I authorized them to figure out what had gone wrong. A day or two later Russell, one of the owners, called and let me know that they had found the problem. I had a break in the head gasket between cylinders 4 and 5. Here's was things look like:

M Roadster Cylinder Head Gasket #1
This is the break between cylinders 4 and 5 as it lay on the mechanics bench at Car Tender. Sorry about the resolution, this was taken with my iPhone.

M Roadster Cylinder Head Gasket #2
This photo is centered on cylinder 4 with #3 to the right and #5 to the left. Notice that there are scorch marks between all of the cylinders at the thinnest spot.

M Roadster Cylinder Head Gasket #3
This is centered on cylinder 5 with 6 to the left and 4 to the right. Again, there is evidence of scorching between all cylinders.

In a sense I was relieved. This was the least expensive possibility in my mind. Still not cheap, but significantly cheaper than pulling the motor, disassembling it and rebuilding it. He reviewed for me all the checks he had made as he pulled things apart; the head was straight and flat, the block was straight and flat, the head bolts showed no signs of being stretched unnaturally, everything appeared to be in order.

The thing that bothered me most about this is that Car Tender put that head gasket in about 15 months and 21,000 miles ago. Wouldn't you know it, they have a 12 month, 12,000 mile warranty on repairs! They are going to give me a 20% discount, which is nice, but what I really want is two things; one, to understand why this happened so quickly (the first head gasket lasted 155,000 miles), and, two, to fix it so that it doesn't happen again for another 155,000 miles (or more). Right now, all we have are theories; one suspect is the fuel injectors. Perhaps they are running in an almost-lean condition. If that were the case then the cylinders would be running hotter than they should be and that might account for the burn-through and scorching. They're sending the injectors out to be tested today (I think). We'll know more in a day or two.

While they are in there with the top end of the motor disassembled, I asked them to look at the cam chain and tensioners. It's a pretty hefty piece and will usually last a couple hundred thousand miles, but as long as they have almost all the labor done to get at it, they might as well check. They're recommending that I replace it, which makes good sense to me, but also adds $1750 to the bill.

So, my rough running engine is going to end up costing me $4-5,000 to fix in the end (once you add Washington state taxes, etc). That has pretty much put the final nail in the coffin of my One Lap hopes for this year. The last nail before that was when Bill called and left me a voice mail (I had left my phone at home by accident that day) on March 25, letting me know that he would not be able to do One Lap as my co-driver this year. His financial situation had changed for a number of reasons and he couldn't justify the expense of playing with cars at this point. I can certainly understand that and had been expecting to hear that from him. Francis, my son and co-driver for the past six One Laps, who had previously said he wouldn't go this year (which was why Bill was) said that he would do it with me.

When I looked at the finances, I didn't see a way that I could really justify it and still meet all our other financial obligations. Hey, if I win the Megaball lottery this week, I'll go. But first, I'd have to buy a ticket! I am supremely bummed out about not going; but I was also very concerned that it would have been pretty foolish from a financial standpoint this year.

There's always next year, at least, there will be as long as they continue to hold the event. I really wanted to drive Sebring and Daytona this year. Those tracks would have been a blast. Bummer.

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I'm currently 60 years old. I currently work as the learning management system specialist for American University of Madaba in Madaba, Jordan. I was originally certified as a high-school English teacher and taught school for 13 years (1 year of substituting, 1 year of 7th grade, 2 years of a combined 5th, 6th, 7th grade, 9 years of 8th grade). I've worked for hardware and software companies for the past 23 years doing training, training materials development, certification test development and other education related stuff. My wife and I have raised four children to adulthood; some of them live at home at the moment, but that won't last (they're too independent for that). We live at home with 2 Golden Retrievers, 2 black cats, a crazy cat, and, during the winter, 70,000 coho salmon.