Fixes - Fuel system

Fixing the Fuel Gauge - "Getting the Right Reading"

My E32 was terrible when I first got it for trying to judge how much gas was left.

Often, after about 2 minutes of highway driving, I would see the gauge drop from 1/4 full to empty (without the warning light) and the on-board computer range would get screwed-up along with it. I'd heard the sender unit could often "lose" a "sensor wire", and as the gauge seemed OK otherwise I was willing to poke around in the sensor to see what I could find.

I found cleaning my sensor fixed my gauge so it read correctly - and linearly - across the whole scale.

It turns out the E32 sender is based on

* a cylindrical float, riding a vertical rod
* two paralell resistance wires
* a straight on/off contact (at the bottom of the rod) triggered from the float for its "low fuel" warning
* a cylindrical housing, with baffles at the bottom, to reduce float reaction to waves on cornering etc

The float carries 2 contacts, creating a moving bridge between the sensor wires - the other ends go to the gauge. My problem seemed to be from the (very slight) varnish residue on the sensor wires - they're "wiped" by a pair of very lightly sprung contacts (BMW must have guessed that this light contact would cause problems, since the contacts are gold-plated). I cleaned mine with alcohol and the problem cleared up.
Also, be aware that battery condition & load will affect the gauge. Mine would vary by about two needle widths with all lights on to all lights off when the car hasn't been used for a week or so.... dirty plugs/contacts will also give a premature empty reading.

Here's how I cleaned it...

* First, get car on level in well ventilated area
* Remove trunk carpet until you see the tank access cover on the trunk floor (it's an oval black metal lid with 6-7 screws, placed to the right of the spare wheel well)
* Remove the bulbs from BOTH the courtesy lights in the trunk, so there is no spark/flame hazard. If in doubt, disconnect the battery (it's under the rear seat; remember to sort out radio security code/ alarm/ airbag issues first!)
* Let's get the sensor & pump assembly out & accessible...

* Remove the access cover - it doesn't go into the tank yet, so don't go mad about fumes yet
* You should now see the access plate entry to the tank, with the fuel out/return lines and the wiring loom
* Disconnect the wiring harness - slide the metal "frame" horizontally back towards the back of the car - this will "lift" the connector from the block. Jam the connector out of the way in by the spare wheel
* Now make sure you've got some cheap electrical tape handy
* Remove the two hoses - beware residual petrol pressure (not much on mine after having run the engine within the last 5mins). Have a rag in hand ready to soak up the spillage. DO NOT LOSE the circlip clamps down the hoses!! Give each hose a couple of turns of tape and leave a 6inch "fly" end and tape this to the floor of the trunk to keep the hose up and out of the way on the side it came from. DO NOT LET THEM GET MIXED UP.
* With a 10mm socket undo the 8 nuts holding the access plate to the tank.
* Clean the access plate (with the nuts off, they get dirt held around them) before you get any dirt in the tank too.
* Pull up the plate the first 1-2 inches firmly to release the cork gasket - mine styed with the plate
*Use two hands from now on
* Lift the plate up and out. Beware the petrol trapped in the sensor body and the hoses. Take it slowly and you can get most of it to drain back into the tank. Be careful of the end of the sensor ( the sensor is a tube about 8" long and aboout 2" diameter, with a bigger "settling tank" at the bottom) - it's a bit of a squeeze with the hoses to the pump too.
* Get the sensor/access plate clear, so that only the hoses and wiring to the pump are left going into the tank
* Let's remove the pump now. Get your hand into the tank, and follow the hoses down to the pump. Follow the pump body down until you feel the horizontal metal flange in the tank that it sits in, then come back up to the pump mounting collar and find the two plastic tabs (180 degrees apart) that lock the pump in. Squeeze them together and then lift the pump out out of the flange.
* Lift the pump out - you can use the hoses (gently) but DON'T use the wiring. Be careful with the input filter screen at the bottom - it's fine & plastic.
* Get the whole sensor/pump assembly out of the trunk. Suggest you wrap the input gauze filter on the pump in a clean rag to protect it from being accidentally torn/poked through
* OK, now to clean the sensor...

* Get the small collar nut off the bottom of the sensor tube - don't lose it. It's the only metal thing on the bottom of the sensor tube.
* Pull the sensor tube off the metal tang it slides onto on the underside of the access plate. BE CAREFUL OF THE VERY FINE SENSOR WIRES.
* Now you can see the 3 sensor wires - the middle one is just for the low fuel level contacts, so it doesn't matter if it's "slack". The other 2 fine ones are the ones you want.
* Check the 2 fine wires are complete and soldered to their mountings. Mine were; if one of your wires is broken, it is not normal wire - it's "resistance wire" what you can get from electronics stores - problem with that is that resistance wire comes in different "strengths" (ohms/meter). Try taking a sample of a broken wire into a really good electronics hobby shop, or try for a replacement sensor.
* Clean your wires carefully - I cleaned mine with an isopropyl-alcohol computer screen wipe, and then ran the thickness of the pad/sheet between the wires and the 2 gold contacts on each side of the float (2 per wire, 4 total).
* Use the pad or alcohol or whatever to clean the harness connector pins as best you can, and the plug too. (With mine I found the best jewellers' screwdriver that was just undersize and scratched out the insides of the plug connections too.
Remember, the total sensor resistance at full-empty is only something like 60-70 ohms, so any bad connection (slight resistance) is going to indicate as a prematurely empty tank...
* Rinse out any silt in the sensor body with clean petrol and discard the dregs; the "lid" on the baffle chamber can be gently popped up enough to clean in there too
* Reassemble carefully noting the following things....

* Make sure the pump tangs are engaged fully - you don't want a pump with LIVE ELECTRICAL CONNECTIONS floating loose in a metal tank full of petrol vapor
* Take care with the hose circlips
* Spray the access plate with a rustproofer if rusting (mine was) but AFTER reconnecting the electrics.
* DO NOT LET THE OUTSIDE OF THE PETROL LINES STAY WET WITH PETROL. The outers of petrol lines are not usually proof from softening from petrol, as they shouldn't see any of it - only the insides should. Don't let them get soft/sticky.

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Replacing the fuel filters

Remove the rear right wheel to give a bit more clearance. Since you'll do most of the work with your head in the wheel arch make sure the car is securely supported. If you've got a ramp it would be easy to do it without removing the wheel.


With the engine running, remove fuse 23 - this is the fuel pump fuse. A few seconds later the engine will cut out, but you will have reduced the pressure in the pipes. Now switch off the ignition.
Jack up and remove the right rear wheel.
Loosen the two hose clips.
Unscrew the 10mm bolt holding the fuel filter to the car
Pull off the two hoses - you will lose some petrol at this point. Most of it will be in the fuel filter itself, so have the two protective end caps off your new filter ready, you can plug the leak with them.
Note which way round the old filter was
Remove the metal clip from the old filter, and the rubber band. Under there you should find an arrow indicating the flow direction. You did note which way round the filter went, didn't you? The new one needs to be fitted in the same direction. Usually the flow is from the wheel towards the centre of the car.
Fit the rubber band and clip around the new filter
Bolt the new filter to the car, and attach the hoses to it. New hose clips would be nice.
Replace the wheel, lower the car, tighten the wheel bolts
Replace the fuel pump fuse
Start the car - it will take a while longer than normal as it has to refill the fuel lines

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