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Camber plates and gumption traps

Posted by kernelbob on November 23, 2008

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig coins the term, gumption trap.  A gumption trap is when you try to do a task, and some sub-task is much harder than expected, and it makes you wonder whether you’ll ever finish the original project.

Way back in August, I ordered some adjustable camber plates for my M3.  I procrastinated putting them in for a long time.  Finally, on November 1st, I rented some spring compressors from Autozone and started in.

I’m almost done.

Now that the project is (almost) finished, I can explain how camber plates are installed.  Jack the car up and set it on jack stands with the front wheels dangling.  On each side, remove the front wheel.  Disconnect the brake lines and wiring from the strut.  Attach something to hold up the weight of the hub.  (I used an adjustable tie-down strap.)  Remove four bolts at the bottom of each strut that attach it to the hub and anti-sway bar.  Remove three bots at the top that attach it to the car.  Carefully lower the strut and tilt it so that it can be lifted out through the wheel well.  Once the strut is out of the car, compress the spring, unscrew the large nut at the top, remove all the bits above the spring, and install the camber plates and all the bits that came with them.  Put a new big nut on the top of the strut.  Put the strut back into the car and put everything back together.

But when I rented the spring compressors on November 1st, I didn’t know any of that.  I had a vague idea that if I compressed the spring, the strut would somehow come loose.  So I spent a long time trying to get the springs compressed while they were in the car.  That didn’t work because (a) there’s no room for the compressors inside the shock tower, and (b) that’s not what you have to do.  Finally, I gave up and went back to Autozone, asking for a slimmer compressor.  The Helpful Parts Guy gave me a copy of the Autozone Extremely Terse Strut Removal Procedure for E30 and E36 BMWs, and I saw that I was doing it wrong.

Time went by, and I started again on Saturday, 11/14.  This time, I got the driver’s side strut out of the car after one full day of struggling.  Every bolt in the bottom was corroded into place, and I didn’t have the right wrenches.  (gumption trap one)  On Sunday afternoon, I went to Autozone again and re-rented the original strut compressors.  We stayed in Eugene until late, and I didn’t get back to the car until Monday night.  On Monday night, I compressed the springs, but I couldn’t get the big nut loose.  (gumption trap two)  Reading on the web convinced me I needed an impact driver or a socket I could grind flat and use with a hand wrench.  Went to Ace Hardware Tuesday, where they didn’t have the big socket, but they did have the adapter that would let me attach the socket I have to my impact driver.  I also got one smaller socket that would make the bottom bolts easier.

Didn’t get home until late Tuesday night.  Or Wednesday night.  Or Thursday night.  Or Friday night.  (gumption trap three)  But I did make it to Jerry’s where I got a second, better impact driver adapter and another useful socket.

On Saturday (yesterday), I clamped the strut to a big board and Anne helped me hold it while wrenching on the big nut.  After several tries, it finally came loose.  (end of gumption trap two. duration: five days)  Then the strut went back together and back into the car reasonably quickly.

This morning, I started on the passenger side at 8:00.  I finished about 1:00, with no new issues except losing one washer.  While working on the passenger side, I realized I’d left one piece out of the driver’s side.

I took the strut compressor back to Autozone — they want their tools back within seven days, and I’d had it for that long — and bought yet another socket.  Now I have all the tools to do the job.

This afternoon, I removed the driver’s side strut again to insert the missing piece.  It came out and went back in in just under an hour.  That’s entirely satisfying after working on it for 23 days.

Took the car for a brief drive.  It feels like the passenger wheel isn’t centered right, so I’ll check that before I drive it again.  I’ll also get the car aligned, just to be sure.  And I need to clean the garage.  And I killed my 1/2″ drive ratchet, so I need to get a new one.

If it was easy, it’d probably be boring.


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