By on February 9, 2011

Thanks to links from George sent to TTAC, Sajeev writes:

Maybe everyone does indeed hate the BMW 3 Series. Probably because we read about one person, IrishTarmac, posting about his ”ninth” HPFP (high pressure fuel pump) replacement.

While that scenario may be extreme, pump failure is not an uncommon occurrence. There’s a huge number of replacement HPFP’s in BMW’s inventory, according to this source. Could this be the end of the N54/N55 HPFP Fuel Pump Saga/Lawsuit? Per last year’s Autoblog post, BMW knows what’s on the line: the 10 year, 120k extended warranty is a good move. Question is, does that stop the class action lawsuit in its tracks? I certainly can’t find any updates on it. But I think a recall, out-of-court settlement and a fat check to the lawyers is the only way out.

More importantly: as direct injected/turbocharged gasoline motors become a large part of our automotive landscape, are we in for more problems? High-pressure fuel pumps probably don’t like running low on gas, turbo failures are likely after years of abuse and rapid carbon buildup—fixed with walnut shell blasting–are distinct possibilities with this brave new technology.

It might be our automotive future. Get ready for it. I’m investing in walnut futures.

Send your queries to [email protected] Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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47 Comments on “Super Piston Slap: BMW Lawsuit, Direct Injection Hatred, Walnut Futures?...”


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    New tech has teething problems.  Ask any of the old guys who dealt with first generation automatic transmissions.  They will get better as our technological ability increases.

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    How much more difficult is this than a diesel arrangement? BMW seems to have all sorts of little problems these days, and this may be one of those more than an overall issue with direct injection as a whole.

    • 0 avatar
      jaybird124

      What other problems are you referring to?
       
      Lifelong BMW owner/lover, the way they have handled the HPFP issue from the beginning was an epic cluster f**k.

    • 0 avatar
      photog02

      As a lifelong BMW owner (well, actually just the period between age 16 [2002] and today [E36/7 Z3 and a E46 330i ZSP]), I can tell you that BMW has been making it nearly impossible to feel confident buying a new car from them. Such wonderful things as shrinking rear diffs, lifetime fluid fills, shockingly cheap interiors, and electrical problems approaching Joe Lucas levels all lead me to think that a day of reckoning is approaching for the company. Sure, they are making money hand over fist. But they are destroying the reason they got to where they are in the process.

    • 0 avatar
      Advance_92

      Most other problems I have heard about from owners of new cars and techs are with the increasing dependence on electrical sensors for oil quality in lieu of a dipstick, embedding wiring and relays in styrofoam holders at locations that have no drainage, diagnostic equipment and repair solutions for techs with incomplete translations and of course, the fuel pump issue.  My last BMW was a 1972 Bavaria and the worst part about it was getting the carbs to work together.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      “epic cluster f**k” pretty much describes BMWs handling of similar endemic problems on the bike side. “What probem?” “There is no problem” “Operator Error” “We’ve updated the latest models to solve the problem”. (Um… you mean that problem you’ve been denying exists for years?)

    • 0 avatar
      Peugeot 504 - the Car for Nigeria

      @Steve65: Been reading about spline shaft failures? :) I just had to throw my two cents in regarding the bike reliability – I’ve had a 2004 Rockster for… five years now, and it’s cost me upwards of $2600 in repairs outside normal maintenance (which sure as hell is not cheap). I’ve had an ABS pump die five months outside of warranty to the tune of $1500 as well as the infamous rear shaft seal failure that coated my rear tire in oil while out on the road – that one BMW has actually had to own up to. Now I just have to hope that I didn’t get a defective input shaft spline, because that one’s another $2K when it happens.
       
      It’s a great ride, and I’m OK with the absurd repairs because it’s strictly for entertainment- thankfully I never have to rely on it as my only mode of transportation. But my experience with it is such that the possibility of owning an actual BMW car as my only ride makes my blood run cold.
       
      On a grander scale, does anyone know where this reputation for reliability that BMW supposedly once had came from? My dad owned a 2002 back in the early ’70s and the experience so scarred him that he’s never even briefly considered owning a BMW again. I can’t really think of a period in the company’s history since the fall of the Third Reich that they had any kind of serious reputation for being reliable. Anyone have any input?

    • 0 avatar
      Advance_92

      BMWs had issues with cylinder heads cracking that reached a high point with the original 530 in the mid 70s, though all the six cylinder 2500-3.0 coupes and sedans from the late 60s on were also prone to cooling issues as well.  For the older cars it was an issue of better flowing radiators, and later cars used an alternative to catalytic converters that really raised the temperatures under the hood.  I don’t know if that caused so many more problems for the 530, though.

      My father owned a 76 2002 and it had trouble with the cylinder head as well, though I’m not completely sure of the cause in his case.

    • 0 avatar
      vento97

      High-pressure pump problems?  Rapid carbon buildup?  No thanks…
       
      I’ll stick with the port-injected engines as long as they are available.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    I am so glad that I don’t have a dog in this fight.  Hopefully,  Educator Dan is right and the technology will be more reliable by the time gasoline direct injection goes mainstream.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Doesn’t the Hyundai Elantra have direct injection? The new Focus does. That’s pretty mainstream, and it isn’t like it is above Ford to sell the public junk.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    This is the kind of thing that has me worried about the new turbos, direct injection systems, and other extremely complex and sensitive technologies in new cars (and other things as well).
     
    Efficiency is actually a far more complex notion than it first appears. Making technologies more efficient in some area often involves making them less efficient in other respects. Thus, new turbo and direct injection engines may be more efficient when measured against the simple and isolated standard of fuel consumption, but they are often less efficient when it comes to the time and cost of production, the time and cost of repairs, the time and cost it takes to properly train and educate people to maintain and repair these systems (which are constantly changing), their potential longevity and the possible need to replace them or their parts more frequently, and so on (which seems to be happening more and more with sophisticated, complex technologies–it is often easier and cheaper in the short run to replace them rather than repair them–leading to a more disposable lifestyle and more energy and so on being used to continuously produce replacement products).
     
    We need to look at the effects and impacts of programs of technological innovation and refinement at a broad, systematic level, not simply in terms of some narrowly abstracted point of focus or limited concern.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Do you want the super sticky summer tiers that are $400 each and last 9,000 miles, or do you want the super hard tires that provide little grip but cost $75 each and last 50k miles?
       
      Do people prefer the best even if it costs more.  Obviously you don’t.
       
       
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      That depends on what you mean by the best. In a car I want something that is enjoyable to drive, is reasonably reliable, easy to fix, relatively inexpensive to run and maintain, and so on. That would be best for my circumstances. I don’t race cars, so I don’t need a vehicle that performs to those kinds of specifications.
       
      ‘Best’ is a relative notion. It depends on the aim or function one has in mind. If I’m a weekend woodworker, then I probably don’t need a $1,000 chop saw when I can get by with, and actually enjoy using, a good quality hand saw for most purposes. The same goes with a lot of things. Just because something is more complex and sophisticated technologically doesn’t mean it’s the ‘best.’ In WWII, for example, the Soviet tanks were far inferior to the German tanks when it came to technological complexity and sophistication, but the Soviets won the day largely because their tanks were so easy to produce, easy to fix in the battlefield, could be mass produced in large numbers, and so on.
       
      I do like quality things for the most part, things that will be lasting, durable, and will do the job that I need done the way I like it done, and so and will often buy things for the quality over the name with which they happen to be branded. Thus, I have a very good, durable briefcase, for example, that I am very satisfied with, have some good quality woodworking tools (planes, chisels, and so on) that I enjoy using, like good quality clothes and shoes (though they tend to be less fashionable than most), and so on. While $400 tires may be ‘best’ for high performance driving, they would only be a pretentious, affectacious waste of money for me. Each to his own, I guess….

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      While $400 tires may be ‘best’ for high performance driving, they would only be a pretentious, affectacious waste of money for me. Each to his own, I guess

      What about the super soft, super quite $400 tire attached to the $2500 airmatic shock on an S550?  Is wanting to spend extra to enjoy a smooth quite ride to work also a ‘a pretentious, affectacious waste of money”?

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      I said I like a vehicle that was enjoyable to drive. I didn’t say anything about it being smooth and quiet. I actually took a Mini Countryman for a test run a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed it immensely. I also still get satisfaction from driving my old 03 Jetta Wagon. It handles quite well too for a car of that age and price range, but I certainly wouldn’t classify the ride as smooth and quiet.

    • 0 avatar
      william442

      My personnal experience over the last 12 years is that Michelin Pilot Sports make a good handling car great.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Don’t confuse turbocharged and direct injected with quality. They’re games for scoring good CAFE and CO2 numbers, and a sorry compromise compared to the subjective qualities and durability of a naturally aspirated engine.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      @ CJinSD
       
      That’s my suspicion as well. I was just wondering what other, more knowledgeable people here might have to say about that.

    • 0 avatar
      william442

      Chevrolet small block!

  • avatar
    jkross22

    I recall the Nikasil stuff from the 90’s with BMW and the leak down test, and they seem to be responding in a similar way here.  Foot dragging until they finally step up and do the right thing.  It stinks, and it’s not how it should be for ‘the ultimate driving machine’, blah blah blah, but at least they’re stepping up.
     
    I haven’t seen one car maker that doesn’t completely suck at this stuff, although Toyota probably is better than the rest.

  • avatar
    carve

    My ’07 335i has 43k and the original HPFP.  I was getting long cranks though, and there’s a recall, so it’s getting replaced right now while it’s in for something else.  The idle has been slightly rough lately, and they think it’s a DI related problem; the HPFP, injectors, or carbon buildup.

    Carbon is a problem.  The fuel never touches the backs of the intake valves, so crankcase vapors bake to it and get hot.  If carbon is my problem, my dealer said they’d clean it under warranty.  Not all dealers are so nice.  I did a seafoam treatment a while back, but I hear that doesn’t really do much.  What I’m considering doing is getting a cheap methanol injection system, and having it inject windshield washer fluid.  This is supposed to keep the intake nice and clean.

    This HPFP is belt driven, and runs a 20,000 psi.  That’s higher than most DI cars.  It’s pushing the limits, and is having teething problems for sure.  Nobody knows what the root cause is though, or even what part of the pump is going bad.  It seems a bigger problem in the US, so it may be related to ethanol or impure gas.

    The injectors are similarily built to EXTREMELY tight tolerences.  A little buildup on one of those and things just won’t run right.

    However, being able to have a turbo engine with 10.2 compression, almost no lag, over 300 hp, that pulls down 30 mpg + on highway cruises, and about 27 mpg going 85-90 is fantastic.  There are too many potential benefits.  My 335i is a fantastic machine, but it’s not reliable.  It’s CPO though, so I have a couple years to decide if these teething issues are solved, or it it’ll always have problems. I mean…this car has the performance you’d typically find in an exotic 15-20 years ago, and efficiency and practicality only a tick or two behind the econo-boxes of 10 years ago, with all the modern luxury features. If only it was reliable.

    My idea for a solution is to make windshield-washer fluid injection (basically, a meth kit) an OEM item.  Perhaps there could also be a fuel-tank bypass, where you can take your car in and run it on a cleaning solvent for a few minutes every 20k miles to clean the injectors without removing them from the car- fast & cheap.  The fuel pump issue is probably ultimately some kind of materials problem.

    • 0 avatar

      Seafoam should work if poured into a vacuum line that feeds the intake directly, PCV systems are usually the best. Any other place and you might only clean a couple of cylinders.  That said, seafoam application on DI cars are far beyond my scope of understanding.  Doubt I’d know even if I had a Mitchell or Alldata account, either.
      Curious to see how your car fares, keep us (or me) posted in the future. You have a good outlook on the situation.
       

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Carve, have you looked into getting an oil catch can?  Captures the oil out of the PCV system before it gets to your valves.  I doubt it gets all the oil, but they’re cheap and simple.

    • 0 avatar
      MrKiwi

      Oh yikes. When I finally have to replace my current carriage (2000 Camry, 175k miles, still ticking nicely), one of the options I’ve considered is a CPO BMW. But stories like this are scarier to me than a Dalek chasing me up the staircase. (Dr. Who fans will get it.) A Camry might be boring – but it starts and gets me to work every day.

      I know that different drivers have different priorities, and mine are high MPG and a reliable mode of transportation for not a lot of extraneous repair costs. I think I’ll have to break the news to my wife she is not likely to be getting chauffered around in a Bimmer any time soon.

    • 0 avatar
      carve

      I did the seafoam through a vaccum line.

      I read a month or two back on a forum though that some guy soaked a carbonized valve in a jar of seafoam for a week, and the carbon was still pretty stuck afterwards.

      The oil catch-cans seem kind of overpriced.  Costs about the same as a meth kit.  I’d love to see an intercooler with a little oil-drain sump on the bottom though.

      Kiwi: if your priorities are mpg and reliability, get a Honda or Toyota.  I have an old Cherokee to drive if my car breaks down, and my wife has a ’98 Accord.  We call the Honda “the ultimate transportation appliance”.

      I wanted a fun car at least once in my life though, and this bimmer is fantastic to drive.  It’s almost worth it- you just have to think of it as much as a toy as a a-b appliance.  My mountain bikes are toys, and they’re expensive to repair and maintain, too.

      BMW really does need to clean up its dependability act though.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      If they are running fuel system pressures that high, then I suspect the fuel itself is the problem. Our fuel here in the US is far from clean, and small debris particles probably wreak havoc with these pumps. It’s possible their fuel filters dont filter down to the micron level needed to protect this system, or worse – the filter quickly saturates and then ruptures, allowing unfiltered fuel to enter the high pressure pump and injectors.  

  • avatar
    Acubra

    The DI tech has been around for a while. Since pre-war, actually. Among notable cars, 
    Gullwing Mercedes had direct fuel injection. In 1953.

    Mitsu has been pushing out DI engines since mid 90s. They had some minor problems in the beginning but overall they have been doing OK.
    Actually BMW is rather late to the party, following a long line of others in the field. That making the whole issue even more insulting.

    Bimmers are nice cars, but seem to always have some weakness – as a result of either over-enthusiastic cost-cutting or of engineering oversight. But as with their rival Mercedes, they are getting increasingly fragile and needlessly complicated since around M1996 on.  

  • avatar
    Zackman

    “walnut shell blasting”? That’ll really send the price of rifles out of sight! Oh wait, aren’t most of the gunstocks plastic or fiberglass now? Oil prices still hold this statement true. On a back-to-topic comment: I firmly believe in the “80%” rule, whereas not exceeding 80% of a machine’s capacity, it will last forever, but exceeding that on a regular basis, or running it consistently at or near 100% will cause premature failure each and every time. In my air force days, my outfit flew the SR-71 Blackbird spyplane, and the sheer amount of resources in money, maintenance, personnel and equipment required to keep that plane in the air and functional was staggering, even in the late 1960’s-early 70’s when I served. Not only the P&W J-58’s, but the titanium skin, avionics, and my favorite, the twin Buick 455 start carts were all extremely expensive to operate. My point? The SR-71 was a military tool operated in a narrow, controlled environment by the goverment. Everyday conveyances like autos, not meticulously maintained as a high-tech aircraft, exposed to abuse, elements and conditions quite harsh and operating at such a high capacity, well, that’s a different story. maybe the technology will adapt to make these components as reliable as your toaster at home while delivering the performance demanded. For the price you pay for some of these high-performance cars, it had better.

  • avatar
    obbop

    The not-that-ancient problems affecting Detroit when fuel injection began coming on in a BIG way back in the early 1980s and that general period caused much wailing, gnashing of teeth and rendering of garments but steadfastness, perseverance and girding of loins led to, if not perfection, an eventual lusted-for much-improved across-the-board quality increase We, the Consumers, enjoy so much today.
    Gone are the days of cold, frigid weather requiring that “just so” touch upon the accelerator and crossed fingers often required to get the conveyance to start then remain running.
    Even a heated engine via a controlled climate (warmed garage) or a plug-in coolant or oil heater was not always a 100 percent guarantee an engine would operate divinely when that outside air was incredibly cold during the worst cold air masses visiting from the deepest darkest parts of the Arctic.
    Oh how I rejoiced when my first fuel-injected vehicle with the early FI teething problems a thing of the past resided next to the shanty and a mere turn of the key with no need to even look at the accelerator led to a smoothly running engine followed by a brief warm-up period to allow lube to flow within the engine then drive away though I was gentle with acceleration for various reasons until coolant level reached an acceptable-to-me operating level.
     
    Good times!!!!!
    The “march of progress” in SOME things/areas is a reality and much appreciated by this Old Coot.
    “Thank You” to the many engineers who endeavored to fix that needing fixing resulting in a pleased grateful Coot!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • avatar
    william442

    Dan has pretty much got it. Remember when Chrysler products would not start in tne rain? They fixed the problem by using GM (Packard) wires and distributors.

  • avatar

    For those of us considering a used E90, is the 328i with the normally aspirated motor still OK ?  This with a stick would be at least as good as my 2003 330i, and since I run them over 200k, I’d rather not have $1000 per month repair bills, or have to learn how to swap fuel pumps roadside.
    Is the smaller motor still bulletproof ?

    • 0 avatar
      LeeK

      The 328i with its N52 engine does not have direct injection and the corresponding high pressure fuel pump.  It therefore is not as problematic as the N54 engine in the 135i, 335i, and 535i.  Most reliability surveys show the 328i as having average overall reliability, with the 335i being listed as much worse than average.  True Delta is showing that as the cars age, the 328i and 335i are are evening out in regards to overall number of problems reported, although HPFP issues still plague some of the 335s even after a replacement with a new unit and software programming updates.

      My 2007 CPO 328i has been pretty good in the past year, only going in for service once because of a door lock issue that seems to be inevitable in all the E90 series cars. It was cheerfully repaired under warranty.

  • avatar
    relton

    My 335i coupe has about 61. The only engine repair was a new fuel injector at about 55K. This engine runs so strongly and so well I would be reluctant to settle for anything else. The rest of the car is equally enjoyable, as well.

    But, my run-flat tires were shot after about 30K, and my winter tires are almost shot after same. Ther have been a few minor issues with interior trim, but dealer handled those very well.

    I don’t regret for a minute buying this BMW. But if you want simply cheap and reliable transportation, you probably won’t be happy with a BMW.

    Bob

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    I’d trade the 300-hour durability cycles on the dynamometer in the lab, said to be equivalent to 120,000 miles of driving at wide-open throttle, for 3 years of somebody else’s Moan ‘n Whine anytime.
    DSG flashbacks?
     
     

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    I had similar heartache/heartbreak in the mid-80s with the turbocharged L-body Omnis from Chrysler’s beloved side project. The L-bodies had a unique fuel system with no parts interchange w/the K-cars before the fuel rail and injectors, which led to inconsistent sourcing for the HPFP and the in-tank HVFP. It was the in-tank pump which became the bane of many an Omni/Charger owner, as the whisper-quiet Mikuni unit had an endemic fault with its RF filter, and would overheat and fail in less than a year under normal driving. This then turned the gas tank into a gravity-feed system for the external HPFP which would inevitably cavitate, overheat and shut down, leaving your car motionless for a couple of hours while you lugged enough gasoline back to bring the fuel level above the 3/4 mark. This problem, if not addressed immediately, would also result in the HPFP burning out, which became the bane of the service techs who simply replaced the HPFP without checking into why it had failed. Lucky owners who had the much noisier but far more reliable Bosch unit never experienced the premature system failure, and when the service techs correctly identified the HVPF as being the source of the problem (I encountered 5 who did not before finally shipping the turbo terror to another island and the techs who cared), it was still hit-or-miss regarding whether or not the replacement was stamped Bosch or Mikuni. If the former, you never experienced the problem again under warranty, while the latter system was consistent in its 9-12 month failure interval.

    It can be fun to find former turbo L-body owners and ask them if they had fuel pump woes; the blanching of their face was an immediate giveaway you had found another comrade in misery.
     
    That fuel pump problem and the way it was handled ended up costing 2 service department heads their jobs during my quest for satisfaction.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    This is not just a  BMW thing, we just had the high pressure pump swapped out under warranty on our 2008 Audi A4 2.0T.
    Not uncommon apparently. Lots of problems with pumps and fuel senders. I am about to remove and clean the senders on our TT.
     
     
     

  • avatar
    jose carlos

    It appears these problems are not uncommon. In the family we have a ’07 118i, 2 liter motor (gasoline). At around 20k km, all the fuel system was replaced, fortunately within warranty and the guys at the shop were very professional. At the time I was told by the dealer of other 3 cases with similar problems. Sort of ‘you are not alone’. But in a place infested with diesel cars, 3 is a big, big number. None the less I understand why people run for these cars: it’s the way they drive. And for a fast blast on a winding road they are unrivaled. But as a daily drive, in a way the car is just part of the background, nothing matches a Benz with a large gas engine. So far, over 200k km of trouble free motoring.

  • avatar
    Boff

    I’d like someone to name one…ONE…OEM that hasn’t had at least one major component act up in a systematic way. Ford: 3.0L V-6’s. GM: 3100 intake manifolds; Chrysler: minivan trannies; Honda: autoboxes; Toyota: sludge; Nissan: exhaust manifolds; Subaru: cylinder heads; VW/Audi: coils/sludge; etc etc. All cars have their weak spots; the informed consumer avoids or plans for them. And I can’t either recall an OEM handling one of these issues in a completely stand-up way.

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    Makes me glad I have two low-tech, normally-aspirated OHV inline sixes attached to Jeeps in my garage. Not a whole lot to break on them and practically anybody (including me) can fix them for a pittance. Thanks to the support for those Jeeps (both OEM and aftermarket), I should easily be able to keep them running for the next 30 years. 

  • avatar
    blowfish

    Do you want the super sticky summer tiers that are $400 each and last 9,000 miles, or do you want the super hard tires that provide little grip but cost $75 each and last 50k miles?
    bias belted had been slowly faded out since mid 70’s , those Polyglass Good year was pretty gripless. Even the cheapest Radial ply tire will handle 100X better than the bias belted.
    In the early days, Cop were reluctant to jump on the radial band wagen, as it can get high speed blowout!

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