Last week I described going on a most uncharacteristic cleaning binge with Kugel, my 2002tii—well, one of them—scrubbing off years of grime until the exterior, trunk, and engine compartment looked positively spiffy. I intended to then put the cherry on the engine-compartment sundae by installing a set of three under-hood foam insulation pieces that came with the car when I bought it in 2011.
I scrubbed the remnants of the old foam off so that all that remained was smooth, clean, rock-hard old glue to which the new adhesive-backed foam would have no problem sticking. I installed the narrow left-hand piece, but when I test-fit the narrow right-side piece and the wide center piece, I realized that there were problems.
First, the other narrow piece is actually supposed to go in the center, and the wide piece on the right side, which is counter-intuitive until you see that the under-hood supports are not symmetrically located.
Second, the car’s center foam piece had been installed in the wrong place, at the top of the hood rather than at the bottom.
Third, the piece that had been installed there was wide, rather than narrow, resulting in a wide patch of old hardened glue that would need to be completely cleaned off in order to put the correct narrow piece in the correct place at the bottom—or at least partially cleaned off in order to put the correct narrow piece in the wrong place.
Fourth, when I began using acetone to remove the old hard glue, it uncovered a paint issue on the underside of the hood—a patch of primer peeking through the Chamonix paint—which may have been why the foam had been put in the wrong place all those years ago to begin with.
I reasoned that all I really needed was a second wide piece; that way I could put one wide piece on the right where it belonged, and use the second one at top center to cover up both the paint issue and the old adhesive. I searched online and found a BMW OE under-hood foam-insulation kit for $55 shipped from FCPEuro. It felt like paying a lot when all I really needed from it was one wide piece of insulation, but I figured it would solve the problem—and I’d be done in two minutes.
But when the new OE foam arrived and I opened up the box, I immediately saw that it had a completely different look and feel to it than mine. The three pieces I had—one of which was already installed—were gray and skinless; the new set was black with a smooth skin on the surface. It was also substantially thinner, too, about 3/8″ instead of 5/8″.
In all aspects, it wasn’t even close to matching the pieces I had. It might as well have been made of live green caterpillars.
I realized that I hadn’t even considered for a moment that if I bought OE foam, it might not match what I already had. I looked at the foam pieces that came with my car, and saw that even though the adhesive backs had labels with a BMW part number, and a “Made in Germany” tag, there was a big “Ziegler Car Parts” label.
In retrospect, this should’ve been a clue that a piece from a new set wouldn’t match it, but with OE parts these days, you really have no idea who the manufacturer is or if it is going to look exactly like the original part, so even if what I already had was OE, it might not have mattered. I rolled my eyes, but figured, hey, I could still use the new $55 under-hood foam set on one of the other 2002s.
I went next to McMaster-Carr. McMaster didn’t have any 5/8″ thick foam that matched, but they did have a 1/2″-thick 24″-by-24″ square of gray skinless open-cell foam that looked promising for about eighteen bucks. I clicked and bought.
McMaster probably has the best commercial website in the entire world, but they don’t quote shipping in advance; you need to buy and see what they charged you. It’s usually quite reasonable, but when the foam piece arrived, the box was big, and with shipping, it came to nearly forty bucks—ouch!
I pulled the McMaster foam piece out of the package and was initially quite hopeful, considering that it was described as gray open-cell foam which did not look totally different from the pieces I had. Upon comparison, it was certainly closer than the OE foam, although it was far from a perfect match.
However, as I laid all of the pieces on the trunk of the car to compare them, I realized that there were differences even among the three foam pieces that came with the car, almost certainly owing to one of them—the wide piece—having sat face-up on the shelf in the garage for eight years, and becoming discolored, and the two narrow pieces, which had been face-down, looking much newer. Unfortunately, it was the wide piece that I needed, and it looked different even from its siblings.
I cut the new McMaster piece to the correct width and held it and the original wide piece temporarily in place with tape. In the photo below, they look very close, but in the flesh, the difference was immediately obvious. If I installed things this way, it would bug me whenever I opened the hood.
I then test-fit something I’d already rejected: using the original wide piece in the center and the narrow piece on the right, even though that left a wider gap between the foam and the hood brace. It looked better, but wrong for different reasons.
I also tried the truth-in-advertising approach of putting both pieces where they belonged (wide on the right, narrow at middle bottom), and not even attempting to cover up the old glue and the peeking-through black primer. Other than purists approving of the correct placement (we’re talking like ten people on bmw2002faq, and I know all ten), there was nothing to recommend this.
I thought, okay, since I’m obviously never going to get a single new piece of foam that perfectly matches what I already have, what I need to do is source a set with two wide pieces. That meant either buying a second OE kit from FCPEuro, or buying two more pieces from McMaster and cutting them to fit. Both solutions would cost about the same.
I was beginning to feel paralyzed by having too many choices over something inconsequential, as I do when I’m buying cereal or trying to choose beer at the liquor store. So I did what I often do when I need to come to a decision and feel comfortable with it: I went inside, sat down at the computer, and wrote up a list of pros and cons.
The first thing I wrote was, “This is stupid. You didn’t care about hood foam until a week ago. The car, the engine compartment, and the under-hood are all far from perfect; to make things perfect, you’d need much more than a matching set of foam with two wide pieces. You’d need to first repaint the underside of the hood, and that’s never going to happen. Anything you do—any combination of foam—will hide the old adhesive and make it look worlds better than it does now. Stop trying to make it perfect, pick one, and get on with it.”
At least I was getting to the nub of things.
It’s times like this when I remember something my friend and professional mechanic Lindsey Brown says: “At the shop, we have a saying: PUT THE GODDAMN PART IN THE GODDAMN CAR!” I went back out to the garage, and before I had time to second-guess myself, I ripped the paper off the adhesive on the two Ziegler pieces, stuck them on, and patted them in place: Done. Even though this required placing the narrow piece over the right side of the under-hood, which resulted in extra space peeking out on both sides of the foam, it didn’t jump out at me as wrong nearly as much as I expected.
And with that, history records that on 9/10/2019 at 7:45 p.m., the Foam Wars came to an end, and I never thought about under-hood 2002 foam again.
However, I await my foam-related public humiliation at the hands of ten people on bmw2002faq. Y’all want to cue up and wait in line, draw straws, or do it lottery style?—Rob Siegel
Rob’s next book, Resurrecting Bertha: Buying Back Our Wedding Car After 26 Years In Storage, will be released on September 15th and can be pre-ordered here. His other books, including his most recent, Just Needs a Recharge: The Hack MechanicTM Guide to Vintage Air Conditioning, are available here on Amazon. Or you can order personally inscribed copies of all of his books through Rob’s website: www.robsiegel.com.