HELP! Accident, blown head gaskets, and I'm clueless - BMW Forum - BimmerWerkz.com
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#1 (permalink) Old 08-13-2008, 09:31 PM
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HELP! Accident, blown head gaskets, and I'm clueless

Hi guys (and gals),

I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I need some advice:

About two months ago, I purchased a '96 328is for my daughter as a graduation present. It had about 114K on it, but aside from an issue with the bearings that I could hear, seemed to run beautifully. Until...

She was rear-ended, which also caused a front-end collision. The damage didn't seem too bad and the car was driveable, and the other guy's insurance company admitted liability. Until...

A week later, she's driving on the freeway and the car overheats. She pops the hood and a helpful guy looks at her car and announces that the radiator is cracked. Hoses are broken off, etc. We call the insurance company, they tow it to an autobody repair place 50 miles away, and then (after a week) insist that the damage to the radiator COULD NOT have been caused by the front-end collision.

I don't buy this, but what do I know? The body shop, who obviously works for the insurance company, suggests I sue the driver and offers to provide me pictures. I agree, authorize replacement of the radiator, which they do and I think, all is well. UNTIL...

I picked the car up this afternoon. About halfway home, I realized the indicator was in the red. In addition, none of the onboard computer stuff is working, nor is the radio. The indicator light that looks like a wheel is on on the dash. So I call the shop, tell them that something's wrong, and they say, Bring it back tomorrow.

However, before I could get it home, white smoke starts pouring out of the engine, a terrible rattle begins and the engine starts stalling, and the oil light starts blinking on and off. I manage to get it 50 feet into a gas station and shut it off. Another helpful guy (can you tell I'm a woman?) who says he's a mechanic tells me it sounds like my head gaskets are blown.

Obviously, the body shop will pay for all damages, but here are my questions:

1. Are BMWs tricky enough to work on that I should insist they have the work done at a BMW shop (assuming I can do that?)

2. Assuming that the original shop does the work, are there particular issues that I should be aware of in this repair?

3. I won't have to pay for the repairs, so cost isn't a factor, but how reliable will this car be after this repair is made?

4. And finally--how likely is it that the radiator damage WAS NOT caused by the front-end impact?

I really appreciate anyone who takes the time to respond. I'm really at a loss here and looking for some information to make informed decisions from here on out.
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#2 (permalink) Old 08-13-2008, 10:28 PM
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1. Are BMWs tricky enough to work on that I should insist they have the work done at a BMW shop (assuming I can do that?)

2. Assuming that the original shop does the work, are there particular issues that I should be aware of in this repair?

3. I won't have to pay for the repairs, so cost isn't a factor, but how reliable will this car be after this repair is made?

4. And finally--how likely is it that the radiator damage WAS NOT caused by the front-end impact?

I really appreciate anyone who takes the time to respond. I'm really at a loss here and looking for some information to make informed decisions from here on out.
To start off, I am very sorry for all your misfortune!
1). Yes, I would insist on the car being repaired @ a qualified BMW dealer, especially after the last mishap......
2). Did the original shop replace the radiator & hoses? because if they did, they would have surely had to bleed the coolant system correctly, because if they did not bleed the air out of the coolant system, the result after driving a long period, would be, a blown head gasket or warped head......Note: bleeding the coolant system is a little tricky & if not done right, will cause the engine to overheat & cause the condition you have now.....this is why you should insist on bringing it to an authorized BMW DEALER.....
3). If the repair is done correctly.......this car with only 100k should be very reliable!

4).Very likely, it was caused by the impact..........this is where the damn thing is located, right behind the front bumper....

p.s. Bleeding proceedure in the link below, click on link & scroll down to fig. 13
johnny,
It really helps to have a friend lend a hand by sitting in the car revving the motor and keeping an eye on the temp gauge. Start off by removing the coolant reservoir cap and the plastic bleeder screw right next to it. Fill the coolant reservoir with a 50/50 mix of coolant and distilled water. Have your friend start the car, turn on the heater to full hot on the vent position and rev the motor to about 2500 RPM, if the temp gauge goes past the 12 o'clock position, shut the motor off, let it cool down and start over again. Watch the coolant reservoir, as the engine warms up the coolant level should drop, refill as the coolant is sucked out of the reservoir. Watch the bleeder screw hole also, when coolant with no air bubbles begins to overflow then you're almost done. It's a good idea to have some paper towels handy to mop up any overflow. Screw the bleeder screw back in (be careful to not break the plastic screw) and continue to rev the motor, you should see a continuous stream of coolant spraying in to the reservoir from the small hole at the top. Continue letting that spray in to the reservoir while your friend revs the motor for a couple of minutes, until the gauge hits the 12 o'clock mark, to ensure any remaining air is gone. If the heater is blowing hot air when you're revving the motor AND when the engine is at idle then your cooling system is properly bled. If your vents are blowing cool air at idle then you still have air in the system, try revving the motor more and/or squeeze the radiator hoses to help dislodge any trapped air. Once your system is fully bled, top off the reservoir and replace the cap. Check the coolant level in a day or two and top off as needed.

Pelican Technical Article: BMW 3-Series E36 Cooling System Flush

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#3 (permalink) Old 08-13-2008, 11:07 PM
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rear-ended resulting in a front-end collision also. am surprised the insurance adjuster didn't offer to total the car.

assuming repairs are made, even if by a qualified BMW shop... i suggest you dispose of the car and try your luck with a different car. For some reason, trouble in ALL cars that have gone through "accidents" resulting in overheat always, ALWAYS complicate exponentially down the road; and that won't be in your best interests. Envision your daughter hvng to call you S.O.S. every so often, and be at the mercy of $$-eyed mechs because(as you say, you are a woman...)

Technically,(to answer your 4th Q in relation to the 1st Q)... radiator damage is relative to the degree of impact. I.E. did the front-end collision damage the radiator itself; or did the collision cause the coolant to leak? IF YES, then the whole cooling system is compromised, with or without radiator damage. On this issue, I'll 2nd Johnny's thoughts... the body shop just did not know OR isn't aware of the air purging process that BMW's have to go through to prime the cooling system.

Which brings us to your 1st Q. repairing the body damage and paintwork is 1 thing. engine performance is another thing. So yes, a qualified BMW shop would be a better bet.

Last edited by darkhorse737; 08-13-2008 at 11:12 PM.
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#4 (permalink) Old 08-14-2008, 01:34 PM
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Red face Thanks, and an update!

Thank you both for your thoughtful replies. They were a big help in speaking to the mechanic this morning.

He says that the headgasket is NOT blown, that some kind of bottle that sits next to the radiator had a hairline fracture in it that caused coolant to spray all over the engine and reduced pressure in the cooling system, and that they're replacing it and that should solve the problem. He also said that they couldn't duplicate the problem I had with the car idling in the garage, and that it wasn't until they drove it around on the streets that the temperature gauge started to rise.

I asked whether the onboard computer system (VANOS?) had anything to do with keeping the system pressurized (which he said was part of the problem) and he basically said, No. He seemed to think replacing the bottle would resolve the issue.

I'm thinking, get the car running and then sell it.

Are there questions I should be asking of the repair shop? Could the bottle have been cracked by the impact? (My daughter wasn't having any problems with it for about a week after the accident.) Did the bottle crack when they replaced the radiator?

In your expert opinions, based on the limited information I have been able to provide, what's the most likely scenario for what happened to this car?
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#5 (permalink) Old 08-16-2008, 10:28 AM
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Could the bottle have been cracked by the impact? (My daughter wasn't having any problems with it for about a week after the accident.) <<< yes, that is possible...

Did the bottle crack when they replaced the radiator? <<< yes, that is also possible...

(3rd paragraph in my previous post outlines what i think was the "most likely" scenario) ;-)

Good Luck to you.

P.S. (from your first post) "...before I could get it home, white smoke starts pouring out of the engine, a terrible rattle begins and the engine starts stalling, and the oil light starts blinking on and off." <<< that is typical of an engine in the OVERHEAT stage; and the shops won't be able to duplicate that unless they let it overheat again.

Last edited by darkhorse737; 08-16-2008 at 10:33 AM.
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