My First BMW 128i Wrenching Experience Went Strangely Well

Despite the hate that modern BMWs get, these simple maintenance items were incredibly easy to do on my 128i project car.

byPeter Nelson|
Culture photo


I'm scared. I recently performed the very first bit of mild maintenance on my new-to-me six-speed 2011 BMW 128i, and it went strangely easy and smoothly. I’m feeling frightened because I've read all about how BMWs are a pain in the ass to wrench on — too complex and too packed full of odd reliability issues, despite being supposedly so overengineered. Regardless of reputation, I’m choosing to tune out all the negativity, stay focused on what I can do, and also take pride in the fact that my example has been well taken care of. 

The crew will soon be part of The Drive. Stay tuned for more project cars, DIY tips, and useful automotive advice from these guys here soon.

This article is part of a project series that started on Car Bibles. For more background about this car, visit Part 1.

For a car that recently passed its 10th birthday, this 1 Series is in great shape. When I took delivery, it only needed a couple of small things, such as a new washer fluid pump, power steering flush, and an oil pan gasket. I recently fixed the first two of these issues on a warm and sunny SoCal day, and they went off without a hitch.

The first DIY maintenance experience on a new ride is always special, much like the first wash. It's a good time to become more familiar with the car, and if the service requires a jack and jack stands, it’s also helpful to crawl underneath with a flashlight and examine every single little component. Luckily, besides the lightly weeping oil pan, everything else was quite clean. Even the various suspension pieces and chassis bushings looked to be in good shape. Under the hood was the same story. The engine had a light coating of road schmutz, but I easily wiped that away with a rag and some brake cleaner.

The seller disclosed the washer pump and oil pan gasket with 100 percent transparency when I bought it. The power steering flush I decided to tackle as a precaution because I noticed some light groaning during the initial test drive and during my first couple of days with the car. You know, a groan that's similar to what you utter when you receive a dumb chain email from your boomer relatives, or the sound that a cat makes when it's about to claw you for drunkenly trying to make it your best friend. What, you've never attempted the latter?

I became quite familiar with hydraulic steering systems while owning my previous Land Rover Discovery 1, so I was confident I could tackle anything this Bimmer might need. Some quick investigation online pointed to it probably just being in need of a fluid flush. After all, enthusiasts recommend the stuff should be changed every 30,000 miles, so why not get acquainted? Plus, if that's not the source of the displeased noise, I'll know that at least the fluid is good, and fluid is cheap.

Dirty brown fluid flowing out., Peter Nelson

My process was quite simple. I secured the front end on jack stands, chocked the rear wheels with the e-brake up, brimmed the power steering fluid reservoir with fresh fluid, positioned a pan, and then cracked open the lower banjo bolt on the steering rack. Light brown fluid started flowing out, so I knew it was indeed time for fresh green Pentosin CHF 11s, which smells so good by the way. I didn't fully remove the banjo bolt because I wanted a slow drip. 

I had plenty of time to keep the reservoir decently topped up while the old fluid dripped out, and my turning of the steering wheel back and forth forced more fluid out. Once the drip stayed clean green, I tightened it back up. I then sealed the reservoir, turned the car on, and turned the steering wheel lock-to-lock for a few seconds, then added more fluid. I repeated this a few times, and don't think I ever got too much air into the system, as it didn't take very long for the fluid to stay at a consistent level. 

This method maybe didn't completely drain out some of the old fluid, but after having a gander at the reservoir after a good 10-mile test drive, it was still a very clean green. BMW recommends you replace the crush washer on the banjo bolt, which I didn't do, but I haven't noticed any leaks yet after checking a couple times, so I'll just have a crush washer ready and keep an eye on it.

Clean fluid drip on the left, dirty fluid drip on the right., Peter Nelson

I then moved onto the windshield washer pump. After watching DIY videos on YouTube, this seemed like a pain in the ass, so I was prepared to have to fight tooth and nail, er, tooth and Torx bolt, to replace the little bastard. Only a couple of fasteners were plastic Torx bolts (is this one of BMW's methods of saving weight?), the rest were those dumb two-piece plastic fasteners that always break and some 8mm bolts. To do this, you remove the front passenger fender liner to reveal the washer fluid reservoir, remove and disconnect the passenger side marker, unbolt the reservoir with a single bolt, and then pull it out carefully. It somehow sits up on some kind of hanger, and there are a lot of thin wires all over the place, so careful finagling is key.

I was able to pull out the reservoir just enough to get at the pump, which came off with ease and disconnected from its power supply without issue. Some washer fluid trickled out as I was doing so, but installing the new pump and its accompanying seal from the old unit cut that off. Buttoning everything up was the reverse of removal, and I didn't have any issue getting the reservoir back into its proper position.

This was very easy., Peter Nelson

The fruits of my labor paid off. I had a solid wrenching introduction to the chassis, and I learned a few things along the way. After finishing the job, the power steering system's whining was drastically reduced and it's now down to a volume that's barely noticeable unless I'm maneuvering around in a tight parking garage near other cars. The washer pump also now sprays with glass-cleaning vigor. Some BMW foibles, like the failing washer pump, might be in a weird place for space-saving reasons, but at least it's cheap and easy to replace. I think I paid $18 for a new unit after tax and shipping.

I learned that not all BMW maintenance is a headache. In fact, some of it is really easy. This is quite convenient considering the power steering fluid's 30,000-mile interval. Though watch, because I've just written this, future maintenance will prove to be an immense pain in the ass to perform. I actually might skip the headache of doing the oil pan gasket and have a reputable Orange County shop do it instead. But for future projects, I'll have to stock up on some more Torx and Allen-headed sockets for future maintenance and modification. I have new front brakes ready to install in the near future (the current ones are fine, just feature ultra-loud and focused track pads) and after taking this fun 1er on some twisty mountain roads, some stiffer shocks and springs and fixed camber plates are on order as well.

Peter Nelson