We have a short one today: easy diagnosis, inexpensive repair, complete cure of the problem—just the way I like them.
Life is so rarely like that.
Back in April, I wrote about doing some work on Zelda, my former Z3, now owned by my neighbor and friend Kim. In April, she described the car as not revving over 2,500 rpm. I went over to her house with an OBD-II code reader, pulled a P1580 code, searched online, and read that it was likely a stuck throttle body. I took the car home, cleaned the throttle body and the idle-air control valve, put it all back together, and the problem was solved.
While I had the car, I installed a battery cut-off switch, as neither Kim nor her son Tyler followed my advice to disconnect the battery when the car sat unused, and it was repeatedly running down and I was repeatedly recharging it for them.
The car didn’t see much use during the intervening months. Kim has been spending the summer in Gloucester with her aging parents. The car has remained here in Newton, with her son Tyler using and abusing it, as kids are wont to do.
So when I recently got a text from Kim asking if I could have a look at a recurrence of the problem on the car, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. The idea that the throttle body could’ve gotten all carboned up again seemed unlikely. I texted Tyler directly, and he said that, no, it wasn’t the same problem of it being rev-limited; the issue this time, he said, was that you hit the accelerator pedal and absolutely nothing happened. He said it felt like it was disconnected.
I assumed that he was wrong.
I grabbed the OBD-II code reader and took the three-minute walk around the block, making the three left turns necessary to reach the house that’s 100 feet from mine but separated by two fenced-in yards. He’d left the key in the car for me. I opened up the Z3’s door to find one of those air-freshener trees hanging from the mirror and a cell-phone mount jammed into one of the a/c vents and duct-taped there. Damn kids. I mean I know that when you sell a car to a friend and there’s a chance you may cross paths with it, you have to relinquish control and not critique aesthetic choices, but there are limits, and this exceeded them, even for Hack me.
I plugged in the code reader, cracked the key to ignition, and—nothing. Damn it, I thought, I keep telling them they need to disconnect the battery or it’ll run down. Now I’m going to need to pull this battery—again—and bring it home and recharge it for them—again. Thankless job being a good Samaritan. Grumble bitch gripe. Then I remembered the cut-off switch. I opened up the trunk and flipped it and laughed at my inner curmudgeon.
Surprisingly, there were no stored codes.
I started the car and pressed the accelerator pedal. Tyler was right; the gas pedal did absolutely nothing and felt floppy, as if it was disconnected. Okay, kudos for the diagnosis. But it doesn’t make up for the damned tree and the duct tape.
I pulled out my phone and did a quick search for “BMW Z3 accelerator pedal doesn’t work,” and quickly found references to a missing throttle-cable grommet. It looked like a fairly minor repair. God bless the wireless internet.
I decided that even though the repair looked straightforward, it would be best done in my garage rather than my walking back and forth each time I realized that I needed another tool. The sky was threatening rain, and the weather app on my phone cheerfully and precisely informed me that a thunderstorm would arrive in eighteen minutes, but I thought that I’d have no trouble getting the car home and in the garage before the heavens let loose.
As I’d done several months ago, I limped the car home. Last time, I had to short-shift it to keep it below 2,500 rpm; this time all I had was engine idle. I didn’t think this would be difficult—it’s literally just three right turns on level roads—but it’s surprising how challenging it is to wait for a cessation in traffic, make a hard right from a dead stop, and pull out onto a larger street when all you can do is slowly let out the clutch against the engine’s idle. I stalled the car twice. I wound up having to back up onto Kim’s street, get a running start, check carefully for traffic, and run the implied stop sign at the corner. But I got Zelda home, backed the Z3 M coupe out, and ensconced Zelda in the garage just as the first drizzles were spitting on the windshield.
I went to the laptop in the garage and searched more thoroughly for what I’d seen on my phone about the missing throttle-cable grommet. There were references to part number 35411152331, the rubber grommet holding the metal end of the accelerator cable to the throttle linkage moved by the pedal, deteriorating and falling out. I looked it up on RealOEM just to get a sense of what I needed to be looking for:
My knee-jerk reaction was to get the grommet on order. I checked on Amazon, and they had the Uro Parts version with next-day delivery if ordered within the next five hours. That was more than enough time to verify that the grommet was indeed the cause of the problem. Hate to spend the $6.38 on the wrong part, right?
To examine the accelerator linkage, I needed to pull off the piece of black plastic trim that covers the pedals. To access this, I first needed to unscrew the under-dash trim. My main complaint was that the Z3 is so low that working at the front of the footwell requires some degree of contortion. I actually considered putting the car on the mid-rise lift to make the work more comfortable for me, but my 3.0CSi was parked there, and in the twenty minutes that had elapsed, it had begun to rain torrentially, so the cars weren’t going anywhere.
In order to get the pedal cover off, you’re supposed to pull off the lower trim panel, the side of which attaches behind the left side of the console. For some reason, I couldn’t free it from the clips there, so I left it lowered, which allowed enough clearance to pull the pedal cover out. This was awkward, but it got the job done.
With some unpleasant bending and twisting on both my part and the Z3’s under-dash piece, I got the accelerator linkage exposed, which meant that I really had to jam my torso and head up in there to see what was going on.
By following the linkage with my hand, I found the hole where the grommet should’ve been, and also saw the end of the accelerator cable that’s supposed to be stuffed through the grommet.
I have a box of assorted grommets, and if it had been absolutely necessary, I certainly could’ve rigged something up to cajole the accelerator cable into hanging there, but now that I knew that Amazon could have me the part in a day, I let the Z3 enjoy a coveted garage space overnight. (I could hear the Z3 M coupe, which was now sitting in a downpour, say, “Ah, the things we do for family.”)
The tiny grommet arrived the next afternoon in the traditional giant Amazon padded envelope. I had it installed in a few minutes. Once it was all together, it did not strike me as the most fool-proof of attachment mechanisms.
The buttoning back up of the under-dash trim was easier than its removal (or its swing-aside). And with that, done. Fixed—completely. Running Z3, happy friend. My small corner of the universe is in balance.
But the question is: Do I rip that air-freshener tree down and caution Kim that if I ever so much as hear a rumor that it’s back hanging from the mirror, no more repairs for Zelda?—Rob Siegel
Rob’s most recent book, Resurrecting Bertha: Buying Back Our Wedding Car After 26 Years In Storage, is available on Amazon here. His other books, including 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. His new book, The Lotus Chronicles, will be available in the fall.