Adam Berlin is the chief editor of the BMW Repair Guide and writes most of the repair articles you read on this site. He is the proud owner of the following BMWs which he feels are some of the most iconic models ever produced: 1995 840ci, 1996 M3, 2006 530xi touring wagon and a 2013 M3.
As editor of the BMW Repair Guide, I am often overwhelmed with questions from our readers. And although it is not feasibly possible for me to answer all of them (which I deeply regret by the way), on occasion I do receive one that touches me in such a manner that I would be remiss to ignore it. Recently I received such a question – a reader had stripped the head on a Torx bolt without even budging it. Exacerbating the problem was that it happened on the very first bolt to be removed on the very first step of the repair. A perfect storm for generating a nuclear meltdown in a nubie mechanic.
After talking him down from going off the deep end, I explained to him that what had just happened is a common occurrence when working on BMWs…especially older model ones. We constantly strip Torx heads here at the Repair Guide, hence the reason we keep a bin full of replacements handy (à la any BMW dealership). “Drill out the head and soldier on my friend”, was my advice. He seemed grateful for the reassurance that even pro mechanics get frustrated from time to time, and I am yet to hear from him since our discussion (which I would consider a good thing).
Don’t ever start a repair assuming you are going to reuse every part you remove.
Torx bolts can be a pain in the butt, especially in high torque applications, and in my opinion, they are way overused in BMW vehicles. But that’s my personal opinion, and obviously one not shared by the brilliant mechanics that design said vehicles. They are certainly more pleasing to the eye than a Phillips head, but that doesn’t justify their use of bolting the transmission to the engine. Probably one of the worst uses of the Torx bolt in BMWs is the drain plug in their five-speed transmissions. They strip every time and have to be drilled out of the transmission oil pan to drain the fluid. The simple use of a hex-headed bolt would have eliminated this issue….but I digress.
The point is bolts strip. And often they strip no matter how nice your tools are and how carefully you attempt to extract them. Don’t ever start a repair assuming you are going to reuse every part you remove. Furthermore, don’t get angry when you break a bolt, strip a screw, or round out the head on a Torx fastener. It’s just part of being a mechanic. It’s part of the process. It’s just the way it is my friend. It doesn’t mean you have done anything wrong. In fact it’s a bit of a paradox in that you are doing everything right – you are brave enough to take on the project yourself instead of paying someone to do it.
Another source of bad behavior in BMW home mechanics often happens while disassembling plastic parts. Yes, I’m talking about that unique sound of plastic trim clips exploding. That wonderful harmony of snapping plastic and tinking metal as the clip bounces and rattles down the interior of your doors. That damn hidden fastener that you couldn’t find even if your life depended on it – only to appear in plain sight after ripping the part off in a fit of rage.
The interesting fact about plastic trim clips is that they are cheap and designed to fracture under pressure, so getting upset when you break one while doing a repair is…well…dumb. Huh? Yep…you heard me right. Trim clips are meant to break in place of the expensive plastic part they are anchoring. No one, not even high-priced professional mechanics, can complete a plastic trim repair job without eventually shattering a trim clip. They are cheap (we buy them in 50 count bags for under $10 on Amazon) and should be stockpiled in abundance if you are planning on working on your own BMW. And by the way…do the next owner of your BMW a favor. If you break a trim clip, please replace it instead of haphazardly reassembling the project. It helps prevent obnoxious “hard to find” rattling sounds and keeps trim from mysteriously falling off the vehicle.
Repairs on your BMW can often get messy. As our vehicles age, many parts become old and brittle, most notably plastic engine parts and interior trim. Age also severely affects rubber bits like vacuum hoses and intake boots. It is very common to pull on the proverbial loose sweater string when performing a BMW Repair; trying to fix one part most likely will lead to having to fix several other parts as well that were broken during disassembly. It doesn’t make you a bad mechanic when you inadvertently break parts during a BMW repair…it makes you a human one. It happens to all of us. The difference is how we handle it.
The first thing to do when you break a part when repairing your BMW is to STOP. Stop and take a breath. Remind yourself that this is part of the process and you must continue on. Unless you are working on an older classic BMW, most parts are still readily available and can be shipped relatively quickly.
Next, don’t get angry. Easier said than done you may reply, but this is extremely important. Anger is the bane of all automobile “do it yourself” mechanics. It can cause more irreparable damage than the actual repair itself leaving owners disheartened and frustrated. Anger causes many DIY mechanics to become violent towards their vehicle; trim that refuses to come loose will often be ripped clean off of the car during a session of intense fury. Compounding the situation is the lack of detailed repair instructions online or in repair manuals which makes finding hidden fasteners a nightmare. We experience these issues all of the time here at the Repair Guide while writing articles. When we get angry while doing a repair we walk away for an hour until we cool down. Just remember that everyone encounters it when working on their own vehicle. Take a break and try to avoid beating your car to death with a rubber mallet in frustration.
Finally, we encourage our readers to always remember one important fact; no one…and we mean NO ONE…is going to notice or care if you have broken a part or are missing a screw on your vehicle, even if it is in plain view. Ninety-nine percent of the people in this world are so self-absorbed in how their own vehicle looks that they couldn’t give a hoot about yours (and that includes the ding in your door you keep looking at). The only battle being waged is in between your ears. Order that replacement bolt you just shredded, finish the repair, and go have a celebratory vente cup of Starbucks cinnamon dolce latte. You can now afford it since you avoided the dealership by “doing it yourself”.