318 Timing Case Profile Gasket
Submitted by Ron Browne (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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Many BMW 318's were produced from the factory with a major engine defect. This defect ensures loss of all engine coolant, either slowly or suddenly. BMW acknowledges the problem, but will NOT guarantee any assistance to cover their defect, unless your car is under warranty. What follows below are all the details I have uncovered during my research.
Who is affected?
Any and every BMW 318 with an M42 (16 valve twin-cam 4-cylinder) engine built prior to 11/93. This includes the E30 chassis sold as a 1991 model and 1992-1994 E36 chassis models.
What is the problem?
A rubberized gasket (officially known as the "Timing Case Profile Gasket", often incorrectly referred to as the Head Gasket) measuring approximately 10 inches long and approximately 1.5 inches high that resides between the cylinder head and timing case is defective. I hesitate to put any exact statistics on it, but this gasket is failing at an EXTREMELY HIGH rate. When it fails, coolant leaks from the engine into the engine compartment, usually near the vicinity of the passenger side of the steering rack/onto the AC compressor/onto the ground.
When does this occur?
I have had contact with 318 owners whose gaskets have failed before 30,000 miles (in which case their BMW warranty covered all costs to repair), but the *average* failure appears to be between 68,000 miles and 77,000 miles. Some of these gaskets gradually deteriorate, leaving telltale drops of coolant on garage floors, while there have been documented cases of others failing suddenly, leaving cars overheated, stalled, and slick coolant all over road surfaces. NOT good.
Why does this occur?
According to BMW Technical Service Bulletin Number 11 10 93 (3885) dated 11/93, the Timing Case Profile Gaskets fail due to inferior/defective rubber used in the manufacture of the actual gasket. Cars built after 10/93 have Timing Case Profile Gaskets made with "an optimized rubber material composition".
How is the repair done?
Removal of the cylinder head is necessary for repair. This is very labor intensive, with most BMW dealers charging approximately $800 for labor, and around $400 for parts. Once the head is off, its simply a matter of scraping/removing the old gasket off, repairing any pitting of the metal surfaces using a JB Weld type compound, allowing ample time for the JB Weld to dry, then installing a new/improved gasket.
Is the new gasket really any better?
Hard to say, I have no evidence either way. However, I have not heard of any new/replacement gaskets failing. That's not to say they haven't/aren't.
Why doesn't BMWNA issue a recall for this?
I asked BMWNA this via their Website, and was ignored over 8 times. A certified letter to BMWNA did get a response, but did not address the actual question of why they won't issue a recall for this problem. I have been told by a reliable BMW source (under the condition of anonymity), that BMWNA technical reps are well aware of the widespread failure of this gasket, and recognize the seriousness of it, but BMWNA has NO plans to issue a recall due to the financial cost they would incur.
Does BMWNA offer ANY type of assistance if this fails post-warranty?
Several people have written me with instances of BMW paying the "$400 for the parts bill as a good-will gesture", but "made me cover the labor costs". This seems to be a very common move on BMW''s part. By the way, this $400 in parts actually costs BMW around $150 to $175, so dont think they are actually "giving" you $400 worth of stuff. Regardless, if BMW offers any assistance, its a decision usually made by the local BMWNA representative for your regional area.
Is there any type of preventative maintenance I can do to ward off this problem?
Basically, no. The only thing you can do is ensure you change your coolant at least once every two years, using a phosphate-free coolant. BMW's coolant meets this criteria, and I suggest using it. It's probably worth the extra couple of bucks. Besides, it looks good in court if you decide to go that route. ;-)
I think I want to tackle this job myself, do you have a parts list?
Below is the actual list of parts from the BMW receipt issued to me after my Timing Case Profile Gasket failed on my 1992 318is. This repair was performed by an authorized BMW dealer. Note: Some dealers may or may not decide to replace the water pump/belts while they perform this repair. It's a judgement call. My dealer stated that my pump and belts looked fine, so they didn't replace them. Here is the parts list.
This whole thing really sounds unfair. BMW should issue a recall if the problem is so widespread. Is there anything I can do?
Sure. You can always call the BMWNA Customer Service line and complain. The number is 1-800-831-1117. You may feel you want to write a letter. You can send it to the headquarters at P.O Box 1227, Westwood, NJ 07675-1227.
You can also file a complaint with the National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA). They have the authority to force an automaker issue a recall. Their 1-800 hotline for complaints is 1-800-424-9393, or you can fill out an online form at WWW.NHTSA.DOT.GOV/CARS/PROBLEMS/. I (as well as many others) have done all the above, to no avail so far. Small claims court is an option. A class-action lawsuit may even be an appropriate action. It all comes down to time, money, and willingness to pursue.