Is there a short course to learn for fix my old BMW?
September 24, 2007 11:49 AM   Subscribe

Are there any schools that have something like a week-long auto repair course? Preferably BMW-focused, and preferably in the DC Metro area, but even without those two, would still be useful.

I've seen a number of adult/continuing education evening courses that take a couple of months, but with my crazy freelance schedule, I can never know if I'm going to have to work late and end up missing a bunch of the classes. However, it looks like I'm going to have a break in my freelance schedule for a solid week, and I could go somewhere for a week of day classes.

I'm not doing this to become a mechanic, but just to get better at servicing my own car. I just bought an old used BMW (1990 525i (E34/M20)), and I'm hoping to save some money on the repairs that know are coming soon, if I were just a little more confident in repairing my car.

If there isn't a week-long course, what would you recommend? Are the evening adult classes useful? Are there any other options?

Thanks for taking the time to help!
posted by mboszko to Education (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Your best bet at this point is to get the user manual.
It has details on parts, troubleshooting, etc.

relevant ebay search
posted by PowerCat at 11:55 AM on September 24, 2007

Response by poster: I have a repair manual-- What I want is hands-on training with someone who has years of experience. As much as I'd like to think it sometimes, you can't learn everything from a book.
posted by mboszko at 12:04 PM on September 24, 2007

Response by poster: I should mention, the Haynes Repair Manual for my car covers both 3- and 5-Series for a number of years, so it's a very thin one, and not anywhere near as detailed as I'd like. Perhaps I'd feel differently about PowerCat's answer if someone could point me to a better repair manual as well.
posted by mboszko at 12:10 PM on September 24, 2007

Best answer: What sort of repairs are coming soon? The owner's manual ought to have a maintenance schedule in it which ought to have the major service intervals mapped out.

For basic stuff, a Chilton's book will do fine.

The official service manual (not a Chilton's or Haynes) can go a long way towards helping identify problems and repair them. They can tend to be pricey, and some of them are in multi-volume sets (engine, body, electrical), but they're the official last word when it comes to repair, especially if you aspire to anything ambitious, like a tranny or engine rebuild).

I've also found the newsgroup invaluable in helping diagnose problems. You might also look at Lurk on there for awhile and you'll get to see the most common problems/diagnoses and repair tips.

One of the biggest barriers can be amassing the tools: metric wrenches, a torque wrench, etc., if you're starting from nothing. Otherwise, buy them (or rent them) as you need them.

Doing minor maintenance (and I define minor as things like brake pads, alternator, starter, thermostat and the like) will definitely save you money, even if you buy OEM parts from a dealer instead of the stuff at the discount parts places.

As far as classes go, I've occasionally seen them at the local colleges as part of their Continuing Ed programs. They tend to cover simple repairs and maintenance procedures like oil changes and whatnot.
posted by jquinby at 12:16 PM on September 24, 2007

Best answer: I would suggest joining one or more BMW message forums. Even though they are not in-the-flesh hands-on places, they can provide very complete do-it-yourself instructions for common repair tasks, as well as members who can provice clarification on stuff you might not understand. Also, you may find that the forums have have members in your local area that can provide hands-on assistance.

I belong to several Hyundai forums and I've learned a boatload of stuff about my car from them- enough to know that doing my own brakes is a job within my abilities, but that strut replacement isn't.
posted by Doohickie at 12:48 PM on September 24, 2007

Oh... and reading through the forums is something that you can work around, no matter what your schedule.
posted by Doohickie at 12:49 PM on September 24, 2007

Response by poster: Well, the idle is hunting, and it also probably needs a tune up. Tune up info I can get from the Haynes I have-- hunting idle, I dunno. Is the Chiltons any better as far as that sort of detail goes? Where would I get the official service manual? I've looked around online, and the only other service manual I see is Bentley, for around $90-- is that the "official" one? Do I need to go to my local dealer for an official BMW one, or is there an online / mail order source?

There's some old accident damage I'd like to repair (mostly by replacing the hood, bumper cover, and the panel where the fog lights mount underneath the bumper cover. Mostly cosmetic, but I'd like to fix it at some point.

It also seems like it might need exhaust work, but I assume that's something I won't be able to do myself, if it takes any welding work.

There's also a couple of power window switches that could use replacement.

I used to repair my old Chevy S-10 pickup (1983) but I haven't fixed my car for over a decade, and it was a lot simpler engine bac then. That's most of why I'm looking for a helping hand to get comfy with it.
posted by mboszko at 1:02 PM on September 24, 2007

Best answer: It looks Bentley has the official service manuals...this one, maybe? If in doubt, scan one of the newsgroups or forums and see what's recommended. I've bought them before for Toyotas and Hondas, and they've been published by the automakers or specialty publishers. $80-$90 sounds about right for a shop manual.

Mail order, try the parts counter at a local dealership (they'll likely have to order it) or check on e-bay for used copies. Dirty is long as it's legible and complete, it's still useful.
posted by jquinby at 1:28 PM on September 24, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers. I'm guessing there's really nothing in the form of the class I was looking for, aside from perhaps finding a friendly mechanic who'd be willing to teach me a few things. I am grateful to find a better service manual though. Fingers crossed!
posted by mboszko at 8:59 PM on September 24, 2007

Best answer: Seriously, that's the kind of of thing the forums can help with. I found out that Hyundai posted their entire service manual, including schematics and troubleshooting guides, online with free registration and free access. And a lot of repairs have been further documented by forum members who did it themselves and took pictures during the process. One of the guys from the U.S. office of Hyundai is a member of one of the forums, and their technical service bulletins now look more and more like our forum's DIY instructions....
posted by Doohickie at 9:42 AM on September 25, 2007

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