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Thanks to Raj from Beisan Systems for including me in the trials of their latest product. The testing was definitely full of "interesting" moments, but all worth it in the end
Just this past week while finishing up my timing case repairs, i took the opportunity to disassemble my VANOS unit and install a prototype Anti-rattle Bearing Ring provided to me by Beisan Systems into the VANOS thrust bearing's assembly. As well i installed Beisan's well known VANOS Seal rebuild kit onto my VANOS piston. This had been a long awaited installation for me since my Bimmerfest excursion this past May where i first met Rajaie of Beisan Systems. During the few minutes i talked to him at the event, Raj was able to instill a complete understanding of how our VANOS units operate inside our engines. There in front of me he presented a completely disassembled VANOS unit and piston, with the multi-piece thrust bearing apart into its most basic parts. With this apart he was able to show exactly the source of all the noise and rattling that many E36 owners experience with their cars as they age.
The thrust bearings inside the VANOS unit have fairly loose tolerances inside the piston assembly from the factory, and these only increase with wear and age. This slop of the bearings inside the two washers causes the vibration that commonly manifests itself as the infamous VANOS "marbles in a can" noise. Beisan Systems has created a custom precision milled bearing ring, that when used to rebuild the piston, eliminates the slop between the bearings and washers that make up the thrust bearing assembly of the VANOS unit. Along with easily installing their VANOS seal rebuild kit, i ended up with a noticeably smoother running, clatter free, VANOS unit. A far reaching accomplishment looking back to the symptoms my own VANOS unit was experiencing prior to it's rebuilding:
Normally for a project like this i would make a DIY article to supplement the manufacture's sometimes lackluster instructions. Though Beisan Systems along with its beta testers like myself have spent much time trying, tweaking, and revamping the procedures for the easiest, most consistent experience when installing these rebuild kits. What has resulted are their tested guides, expert customer support, and a great desire to always improve on the old standards. This was a necessity on this project as our dismantling of the VANOS unit is something that would have not been done in the past outside of the hands of a trained technician. On the scale that Beisan Systems is planning to release these kit, such consistency in the process would be key in allowing the average enthusiast like myself to tackle this project. You can see all of Beisan's DIY articles on their web site:
Now my timing case repairs came to a conclusion towards the end of June, less then a week away from a 600 mile road trip i had planned long in advance for the Independence Day weekend. You could say i was tempting fate somewhat, considering that i already knew that i would be making the trip up the Central California's San Joaquin Valley in 104F heat without my precious A/C due to a busted condenser. Though with 3 days left, i was confident that i would get it done and running with plenty of time for break-in. At this point i had already assembled, aligned, and tensioned the timing chain assemblies. All that was left was to rework the VANOS unit and install it back onto the cylinder head.
With the VANOS unit already off my car its was a snap to remove the piston from the VANOS housing. Its simply a matter of removing the 5 bolts along the piston cover. Remove those and the piston assembly should slide right out. With it out you can see how simple the operation of the VANOS is. The solenoid allows more oil to flow in when at higher RPM, pressing the helical shaft into the camshaft splines, shifting the cam gears clockwise. The drainage passages that are exposed when the VANOS unit is engaged keep the oil from overpressurising the cylinder, and steadily drains the oil out when the solenoid is deactivated. The thrust bearing allows the whole unit to spin with the camshafts while still allowing the pressure to push and pull the helical shaft out of the camshaft splines.
Now the first bit of innovation would come when attempting to remove the bearing cap on the piston. As you can see the bolt face of the cap is only about 3mm wide. This would be a major issue after taking a look at every socket i have in my toolbox. Go check your sockets at home, you will see at the edge of the socket's gripping surface, the socket camfers out towards the edges. This extra space would prevent the socket from sufficiently mating with the bolts head and possible result in stripping the bolt. So using a spare 18mm socket, went to the bench grinder to make a perfectly flat surfaced socket.
As you can see, what resulted is a socket without those pesky camfers. Placing the socket on the bearing cap, you could immediately feel the difference in the way the two mated together.
Later after talking to Raj, i ground down a 6 point 18mm socket to provide better mate up between the socket and bearing cap.
Included in the Beisan rebuild kit are two vinyl vise liners. Using your standard bench vise, you can attach these with their magnetic backing to the gripping surface of your vise as shown below. These will allow you to grip the VANOS piston in your bench vise without damaging it. The soft vinyl will conform to the metal piston as its tightened down. I went ahead and mounted the piston in the vise.
I found the piston assembly would want to rotate counterclockwise out of the vise when attempting to loosen the bearing cap. The simplest way we found to counter this was to use a screwdriver in the farthest bolt hole and while loosening the cap, use your forearm to hold down the piston cover while you twist the cap off in the opposite direction.
Using this procedure the bearing cap came off the VANOS unit without a hitch, and with it off you could finally see the exposed thrust bearing that makes up the inside of the VANOS piston. From there you would need to grip the helical shaft with the bench vise and proceed to remove the reversed threaded torx bolt from the bearing's center washer.
With that removed the VANOS piston will complete disassemble into its most basic parts. You will see that the whole bearing is encased by two large washers and a metal ring, inside of that ring are the two thrust bearings and center washer. When disassembled i could immediately see wear marks on both the inner and outer washers from where the bearing had rode. Using some 600 grit sandpaper on a flat surface, i LIGHTLY polished the washers that made up the inner and outer races of the bearing assembly to remove the wear marks and leave a perfectly smooth finish.
Removing the Beisan Systems anti-rattle ring from its packaging, you will see that it looks almost identical to the stock bearing ring, differentiated by the "B S" insignia on the ring's surface. Though this part has been precision machined to replace the stock piece on all single VANOS units, removing the slop inside the bearing assembly.
During this time i took the opportunity to clean out the all the parts in front of me. I used my original VANOS housing, piston cover, and helical shaft as they appeared to be in better condition. With everything prepped, i proceeded to reinstall the bearing into the piston housing after dipping each individual piece in fresh oil. First the base washer, then the new Beisan bearing ring, then the first thrust bearing and the thick center washer. At this point i needed to reinsert the left-hand threaded bolt and torque to 6ft-lb. Though my wonderful Harbor Freight 1/4" torque wrench didnt want to work in reverse. Fortunately, it was easy to tell when to stop when tightening it by hand, its only finger tight that is necessary.
Replacing the second thrust bearing and the top washer, i then proceeded to reinstall the bearing cap by hand-threading it onto the piston and then reinserting the piston back into the bench vise. I then proceeded to torque down the bearing cap to 30ft-lb. I then took it out of the vise and gave it a turn by hand. As described in the instructions i read, there was a chance that the bearing may need some adjusting, which mine obviously needed as the turning motion of the helical shaft was rough and uneven as i turned it by hand. To correct this motion, i replaced the VANOS piston back into the vise and opened up the bearing once more. After removing the torx bolt, i took out the center washer that is the race between the two thrust bearings. The binding of the helical shaft i was experiencing was a result of too much pressure against the bearings with the stouter Beisan bearing ring installed. To adjust this i would need to polish away a few fractions of a millimeter ways from the center washer in order to allow more room for the bearings to rotate in.
With the center washer out, i went back to the table and with some 400 grit, then 600 grit sandpaper i lightly polished both sides of the washer while rotating it 90 degrees every few strokes as described in the instructions. With that done, i cleaned off the washer, dipped it in some oil, then replaced it back into the bearing assembly, repeating the steps to reassemble the piston. With it ready, it twisted the helical shaft by hand and found there to be light and consistent tension on the shaft as i freely spun it by hand. Perfect.
Satisfied with the bearing tolerances, i moved on to installing the Beisan System's VANOS seal rebuild kit. Using a small metal hook, i pulled out the piston seal about half way before it snapped in two, revealing how stiff and brittle it had become from years of use. Pulling out the o-ring was easier, though it still showed signs of age. Per the instructions, i soaked the new Beisan seals in some warm water for a few minutes to make them more elastic, then dipped them in fresh oil before stretching the o-ring and then the piston seal onto the newly rebuilt VANOS piston. With that done all that needed to be completed was inserting the VANOS piston back into the VANOS housing and torquing down the bolts to spec.
From then on it was just a matter of properly reinstalling the VANOS unit back onto the cylinder head and bolting up the valve cover and ignition coils, which Beisan provides a detailed tutorial of in its guide. I found the BMW Sprocket Turning Tool to be invaluable for installing the VANOS as you will need to rotate the secondary timing chain assembly while pushing it into position. With everything done, i proceeded to reconnect the batter, add any fluids or oil that i needed to, and did one last visual inspection before firing it up. Hanging outside the door listening while i turned they key, the engine started without a problem. The idle was very rough and erratic, and needed some help from the throttle the first few seconds, though this was all expected as the DME "relearned" the proper idle for the car. I let the car run for about 30min while i bled the cooling system, and over that time the idle became perfectly smooth. As i was cleaning up my tools i realized that something was missing from the engine, the familiar clatter i had so long been accustomed to hearing, it had but all subsided. Revving the engine by hand, the timing chain clatter was gone, the VANOS rattle was gone, all that was left was the usual chatter from the lifters.
Ready to go, i took my M3 on her maiden voyage with its new rebuilt VANOS unit, oil and timing case gaskets, and freshly bled cooling system. The car was still hesitating from the DME reset, though that would smooth out with time. What was immediately noticeable was the increased smoothness of the incline of power coming from the engine. It didnt seem as if power had been added, as much as being unleashed. Not much more would i be able to learn until i put a sufficient number of break-in miles prescribed by Beisan's instructions. So in the next half day it would be my duty to put as many soft, low revving miles i could onto the odometer. Painstakingly i kept the car under 4000rpm for the next day as i drove around running errands before leaving that evening north to Kings River, outside of Fresno, CA.
Putting about 100 miles on the ticker since i first started it up, i checked all my fluids, tires, and packed up my little M3 to the brim for 5 days of long needed vacation time. Leaving at around 8pm, traffic was light as i set out from Los Angeles, taking the 405 north to Interstate 5. Passing Magic Mountain, i headed north on the highway towards the Tejon Pass where 5 freeway traces the historic Ridge Route over the mountain range that acts as the symbolic border between Norcal and Socal. Here on the 6% grades is where i let my engine really open up for the first time, and it did so magnificently. The top end power of my car had definitely risen since before i started, there just seemed to be more there then there was before. Also it came on with the same smoothness i had experienced throughout that day. Flying up this mountain to its 4200ft peak, i was quite pleased wish my car. Down i rushed using the forces of gravity to their greatest.
The 17 miles of Interstate 5 from the base of the mountains at Grapevine to the CA99 highway interchange is known as one of the straightest, most level stretches of highway in California. Much more like a runway then a expressway, this section of I-5 is well known by travelers to Buttonwillow Raceway who to the CHP's delight like to use this stretch to max out their cars' potential. Being past midnight, i decided to test my luck. With my V1 Valentine on, ipod off, and cruise control already set to 80mph, i pressed the accelerator to the floor. The car took a moment letting you know what was about to happen, then took off from under 3000rpm to 6000, 6500, 7000. Shift, 5000, 55, 60. The car feeling as it wanted to take off, i gripped both hands on the wheel praying for a squirrel not to run out in front of me. It kept creeping up past 6000 rpm as i hit 130, 140, 145, then in the distance i saw taillights approaching quickly, so i immediately let off the throttle and began to lightly apply the brakes to bring myself back to cruising speed. Just shy of 150, not bad, im sure i could hit 160 if i had enough road.
Another two hours of driving laid ahead for me, and another three and a half on the way back. The return trip was hell, as i was sunburnt like a lobster with no A/C. Though the entire trip the car ran without so much as a hiccup. Returning home i popped the hood to take a listen, nothing. Not one rattle, clatter, or noise from the front of the valve cover. Just as it should be.
The Beisan System's VANOS seal and bearing ring rebuild kits are a leap forward in the attempts of enthusiasts like myself to solve the long standing issues we have had with the VANOS units. Its significance also extends to our fellow E36 owners reliance on the dealerships for replacing this large expensive unit for the failures inherent in it from the factory. If you are confident in preforming a head gasket job or installing cams, then this should be remarkably easy for you. On the other hand, someone who has never advanced past doing a brake job should probably approach this at a slower pace. Though regardless by the time these rebuild kits are ready to hit the market, you can expect several additional changes to take place. First, all the knowledge and experience gathered here and by Beisan's other beta testers will be going into the development of the final rebuilding procedures, ensuring the easiest, most user friendly process attainable from taking on such an intricate repair. Second, the 6 point, flat-faced socket i had to make for this project is already being manufactured by Beisan Systems for inclusion in their soon to be released rebuild kits, more proof that these are people devoted to the continual development of their product.
All that aside, the Beisan Systems anti-rattle bearing ring and VANOS seal rebuild kits are able to provide a better then new operation from your VANOS unit for a fraction of what a new unit would cost. Even if you bought a new VANOS unit, it would still come with the same loose fitting bearing and old buna rubber seal that would eventually lead to the same issues down the road. With these kits you are fixing the issue at the source, not just covering it up, and in the process will be able to squeeze that "extra 10%" out of your engine with the benefits of having one of the few M50 series engines that do not have the unmistakable rattling sound we all too familiar with.
Been reading up on the Vanos rebuild here and have to say the write up and how to is absolutely tops, it just makes understanding what will be getting doing so easy. One thing I would like to throw into the soup is a suggestion for putting the Vanos piston back in with the new O ring and teflon seal is that if the O ring and seak are mounted then smeared in vasiline (not grease) it has to be vasiline then tightly bind electrical insilation tape round the seal so that it sits it down into the groove then place the item in a freezer for 10 - 15 mins. Pull it out of the freezer and quickly remove the tape, the seal and O ring remain tightly down in the groove and can easily be placed in the bore without any danger of pinching the seal. The vasiline is cleaned out with the flow of oil (thats why you don't use grease because its not soluable in oil) when the engine is running again. I have been using that trick when rebuilding automatic transmissions to get the servo pistons in without pinching the O rings. Keep going with the great write ups Caligula you missed your vocation, well maybe you didn't I don't really know.
I would like to add a bit more and that is when I was cleaning the parts I noticed a hex to suit a 6mm allen key down inside the splined unit. I presume that it is there to make getting the small counterclockwise bolt out instead of holding the splined unit in the soft jaws. Wish I had seen it there before I disassembled as the counterclockwise bolt was really tight and the thing kept slipping from the vise but thats life you usually find the easy way after the hard ones have been tried.