Testing PDC with Inpa

Since I took ownership of my car the back PDC (Park Distance Control) sensors have not been working as they should, they beep a lot as though there is something behind me when there isn’t. I used the Inpa software from Cable-Shack to test the individual PDC to see if I could determine if there was one PDC which was at fault. This showed that the driver side middle PDC though that there was something around 50 inches from the car when nothing is behind.

I bought the car in June and around October time it stopped randomly making the noises and worked as I would expect.  It came back to spring again and the issue started again. This time I used the BMW Scanner software to test the PDC module and it reports no errors. It seems like this issue only happens during the summer months as during the winter I had no issues at all, it started to get warmer again and the PDC started to play up again. This time Inpa shows that both the middle PDC are showing something behind the car, at different distances.

The method I used to test the PDC with Inpa is detailed here.

  1. Start the Cable-Shack menu and choose the Inpa menu option.
  2. When Inpa starts, switch on the ignition to position II. The Inpa software should show the battery and Ignition as being on. This is indicated by the circles next to the Battery and Ignition text fields showing as solid black.
  3. Choose E39 as your car. You select E39 by pressing the F3 button or clicking on the E39 button at the bottom of the screen.
  4. Once E39 has been selected you will be shown a menu of options, select Body from the list of items on the left of the dialog, a new list of items will appear on the right. Select Park Distance Control from the list on the right hand side.
    NOTE: You need to double-click on the Park Distance Control item in the list for it to activate.
  5. If you receive a message box with an error message about language variants do not match, ignore this and press the OK button to continue.
  6. The PDC menu screen will appear. We want to look at the status of the PDC sensors so press F5 or press on the Status button at the bottom of the screen. The sensors on the car will be displayed.
    Initially all the displays should show as black as the PDC is not active. Press the PDC button in the car to activate the PDC. In the screenshot above my sensors are showing that there is something close to the passenger side outside sensor (there was a telegraph pole next to the car) and something in close to the passenger side middle sensor (nothing behind the car at this point so I know this is the sensor giving a false reading).
  7. Now you want to locate your laptop somewhere that you will be able to see it when you go outside the car to move behind the sensors.
  8. Leave the car and go and put your hand at various distances around the sensors, you should see the status screen change to reflect where you are around the car. This is all there is to how I test the PDC sensors.

BMW Scanner

As a side note, using BMW Scanner you can look at the programming of the PDC and set various parameters for distances, etc. You can also program the loudness of the noises from the PDC and whether they use the gong or speakers. I have mine configured at maximum volume and have the front PDC warn through the speakers and the rear PDC warn through the Gong.

You can set if there is a noise when the PDC is activated and when it is deactivated. You can set when the PDC will automatically switch off, by speed, distance or if you come out of reverse. I have mine configured to switch off after I have driven about 50 feet.


Streaming Audio

I see a lot of questions on the various E39 groups asking about what people do to attach their phone to the sound system. This really depends on the sound system you have in the car. I have the C53 Business Stereo cassette player with the 6 CD changer in the boot.

My C53 is the flat pin connector type. The older versions have a round pin connector.

When I was looking around based on my stereo, the options I seemed to have were Intravee, an AUX cable, Cassette with a 3.5mm jack, Bluetooth adapter or buy a new stereo head unit.

I won’t go in to the DSP (Digital Sound Processor) sound systems as I don’t have one so not sure how these work.

Intravee / Intravee II

I’ve taken a look around at the various websites about the Intravee and I am still not sure exactly what it does. It looks like it allows iPod to connect to the stereo unit and you can do various programming of the car through it. It seems to work with various stereo configurations and depending on which set up you have you have different abilities.

You can find more information about the Intravee at http://www.toysinyourcar.com/acatalog/intravee.html

AUX Cable

A quick look on eBay and you can find various AUX cables fairly cheaply. These replace the CD changer. On the back of the stereo unit you unplug the cable for the CD changer and plug in the AUX cable.

The AUX cable wire needs to be available somewhere in the car and people seem to have fed the cable from the back of the stereo to various places. Some put it in the glove box, some have fed it though the centre console and out behind the handbrake, some have it coming out via the cigarette lighter.

Using the AUX cable involves plugging the cable in to your phone or other media device and then switching the stereo to the CD changer source and away you go.

Cassette with 3.5mm jack

This is the option I went with originally. Looking around on eBay I found a cheap and cheerful adapter for about £2.50. It didn’t work. When I put it in to the cassette player it just kept switching from side A to side B and just didn’t work.

I then went for the more expensive Belkin adapter. This cost around £12 but did work and  produced some good quality sound. I moved away from this though as it required something to be hard plugged in and I hate having cables hanging around. It also meant if the kids wanted their device plugged in, the device is in the front with me and they can’t reach to change tracks or search for other music.

A good solution but not one I kept with for long.

Bluetooth Adapter

The Bluetooth adapters are a step up from the old wired adapters that send out a radio signal from the device which you can then pick up on the stereo radio. The old wired devices plugged in to your device with a 3.5mm jack and were powered via battery or plug in to the cigarette lighter. These were quite naff quality based on the ones I tried years ago. The sound quality was usually pretty dire and quite a bit of interference.

The Bluetooth adapters perform the same function, they connect to your device and then transmit a signal that you pick up on a radio station. The device is connected to the adapter via Bluetooth which means no wires and is powered from the cigarette lighter.

I searched around for quite a bit for one of these and the one I ended up with has been really good.

This device not only allows you to stream audio but it also acts as a hands free unit for the phone. I have to say that I haven’t actually used it hands free at all (not popular enough for anyone to call me) so can’t comment  on how well it works for this task.

The device allows you to pick different radio frequencies to transmit on, has a volume control and allows you to skip tracks.

The kids love this as they have a game to see who can connect to the device first when they get in the car. It plays really well. I say that, there is just one band it seems to have a problem with. Avenged Sevenfold. My eldest loves this band but whenever she plays some tracks there is some kind of hiss or distortion on some tracks. What we found here was that if we turn down the volume on the device and turn up the volume on the stereo it goes away. This must be something in their tracks which the sound processing unit can’t handle properly. Apart from that it works great. We use it all the time.

The cigarette lighter in the E39 is always on even when there is no key in the car so I always disconnect the device and throw it in the door pocket when not in the car.

Replacement Head Unit

The last option I have for you is a replacement head unit. A lot of people swap out the OEM stereo and go for Eonon or some other Android based head unit or you can get adapters for single or double din head units. There are plenty of these adapters available on eBay which opens up the standard head unit market. The only thing I am aware of for the double din units is that there is some butchering needed behind where the unit will sit to make it fit. The single din and Eonon units don’t require this hacking.

I really like the idea of the Android head units as you get some great functionality like GPS, reversing cameras, DAB (which you could get with single and double DIN units), plug in a SIM card and get a wireless hotspot in the car as well as being able to connect to the OBDII and use some software like Torque to read the car ecu and display dashboards. I just don’t think I would use all the functionality once the initial excitement had worn off and at > £260 for one of these units, my £15 Bluetooth adapter looks a lot more affordable to my wife who thinks I would be made to spend that on the car stereo.

I keep thinking that I would like a Eonon unit, I find myself looking around the site at lunchtimes,  but I have to admit that I like keeping the car as standard as it was when it was delivered and we do use the cassette units. Being of a certain age we have a few cassettes still lying around that we didn’t think we would get to play again (remember making those mix tapes and recording the Top 40 on a Sunday evening?)

That’s my run through of the different audio options that I looked at. Of course there are many more and I have seen some great set-ups with HUGE sub woofers mounted in the boot, etc.


Angel Eye LED

The first modification I made to the car after I bought it was to change the Angel Eyes to LED. The first ones I put in were the 3w cheap models from eBay. The first lot worked for about three or four months and then one went so I bought a second set. Again, these did not last long and so I started to mix and match to get two working lights. After I ran out of available bulbs I decided I needed to go brighter. The 3w just aren’t cutting it, you can hardly see them in the daylight.

I started to look around at what other people were using and had a chat with Stefan from E39 Zone whilst we were waiting at the motorway services for the convoy for the BMW Show at Santa Pod.

Some people have gone really fancy and fitted colour changing angel eyes which are controlled through a remote control device or from an app on a smart phone.  These are quite fancy and come in at around £58 upwards on eBay.

I decided I needed some bright white 40w LED. The search began.

In all fairness you can find 40w LED quite easily on eBay and I settled on a set which duly arrived a few days later.

In the pictures above, the 40w is the silver unit. The two black units were the ones I took out. These are the orange bulbs that came with the car when I bought it.

The silver bulbs have a slightly larger diameter to the previous LED that I had installed and I wasn’t sure the new ones would fit, they are also longer. They do in fact fit and they are so much brighter, especially in the dark.

I don’t think they come up to the brightness of the LED on the new BMW and other cars on the road that have the daylight running lights but they are pretty close.

The 40w bulbs come with a ballast each which means when fitting I taped the wires up as there was  a lot of lose cable now hanging around under the bonnet. I also didn’t want the ballast being battered around in there whilst I am driving.

Now to see how long these will last compared to the cheap 3w LED that I have used so far.

Regardless of how long they last, I don’t think I can ever go back to the 3w LED, not now I have seen the light. (see what I did there?)

BMW Show – Santa Pod 2nd July 2017

For nearly a year I had been waiting for the 2017 BMW Show at Santa Pod. The girls in the house had no interest in going to the show with me but I thought it would be great to have a run out, see all the fantastic cars and get some ideas for small mods I could make to mine. Sorry, not in to the lowering thing after being bone rattled to death in the wife’s lowered New Beetle, just want some simple style / tech mods. I was also saving my “pocket money” for all the trade stands that I would be running up to saying “here, take my money, give me everything”. I finally managed to talk my youngest daughter in to making the trip with me, on the promise that she had control of the stereo in the car. I know, that was a stupid thing to agree to.

So with a month to go to the show I bought the online tickets. Yay. We were going. Now, to keep off eBay and buying stuff as I will surely get it cheap at the show with their show discounts and offers.

Anyhow, a week before the show I received a message from Radu of BMW E39 Club UK asking if I would like to have my car on the stand at the show. Would I? Do bears poo in the woods? How fantastic would that be. OMG. Awesome. (and other such words that I have been learning from my daughters). Of course, Radu. That would be lovely. Thank you. See you there.

When the tickets dropped through the letter box a couple of days later I was literally jumping around the house in excitement.  Not only was I going to the show that I had been waiting nearly a year to go to but my car was going to be on a stand at the show too. How frickin’ (nope, that one is not one from the daughters, thankfully)  awesome is that !!!!!!

The day of the show arrives and it is an early start to meet up with the convoy to drive to the show. A 6am meet at the services just south of Chesterfield on the M1. The motorway is really quiet at that time on a Sunday morning.

After meeting the first couple of cars to go down (Stefan, Mike and Vicki and their friend in a 740) it was off to the next stop, in Leicester.

As we were a little behind on time the journey to Leicester was a little quicker than I imagined. I am the one on the motorway at 70mph with the cruise control on, in the left hand lane. I think that this was the first time my car had been in the right hand lane under my ownership. It did seem to like it and really did want to have a little charge with all those horses. (I spent the two weeks after this part of the road trip waiting for a letter telling me I had some points. Who knew there were all those speed cameras on the gantry near Nottingham these days).

After meeting a few more cars at Leicester it was off to our next stop outside Northampton. A longer stop this time followed by a sedate drive through the country roads and villages to Santa Pod.

Now, if you remember, I had given over the stereo to my daughter. What ensued from Northampton to Santa Pod was Spotify on repeat playing the song Convoy. I still catch myself singing that song in my head weeks later.

When we arrived at Santa Pod it was great to see the crowds and to be entering the venue as part of the convoy. It’s experiences like this that make the day one never to forget.

The BMW E39 Club UK stand looked awesome and the bacon butty’s, burgers and hot dog’s being cooked on the stand really were making us hungry. The packed lunch I had made for us didn’t last long.

To see our stand with 50 E39 was really impressive. I’m sure it must have been the biggest club stand at the show.

We spent our day looking around the other stands and watching the cars on the 1/4 mile.  I wasn’t going to take the car on the 1/4 mile. I’m sure the car would have loved it but I don’t think the beige leather seats would have stood up to what they may have had to endure if I had been behind the wheel. I have much admiration for all of you that did take a ride down the strip.

I have to say that the trade stands left a little to be desired. I expected more traders. At least I saved some money.

We are already looking forward to next year. Thinking of taking the trailer tent next year and going down on the Saturday and making a weekend of it.

Thanks Radu for inviting me to join the stand and for putting it together. It was a great day and very much enjoyed and one I am sure myself and my daughter will speak of fondly for many years to come. 🙂

PS. And I still came home with those bloody door cards. Could not give them away, even tried giving them to BM Spares trade stand for nothing and they wouldn’t take them. They ended up in the skip after I took off all the fixings to save for spares.

The Woes of Owning an E39

This is quite a long post. I hope you don’t get bored reading this but I would recommend getting yourself a drink and going for a pee before starting.

When I first bought my E39 I thought it looks great, it sounds great. This is going to go for ages without needing any work. It had been given an MOT by the dealer I bought it from. As part of the MOT it needed two new rear tyres so the dealer sorted these out. All great I thought.

I should have known in the first hour of ownership that this was going to be a different experience to what I thought. Within the first hour we were driving around and heard a thud and then a scraping sound. Me being a bit deaf thought it was just road noise but the wife and kids said that it was something more. I pulled over to find the under tray had fallen and was scraping along under the car. A quick pull and it came away and went in the boot. At least the touring has a rather large boot for storing the bits that fall off 🙂

Nothing else could be wrong I thought. I had picked up the car on a Friday so I had all weekend to play and drive around and fall in love with my new (to me) car. On Saturday everything was well with the world and I quickly grew to love my car. Then, on Sunday, the alarm started to go off randomly and it refused to start. In fact after trying it a few time a got nothing. Nada. Not even trying to turn over. A quick call to the breakdown people and within the hour they were looking under the bonnet and jump starting the car. It took the breakdown van and a booster pack to get it started. That is some serious power needed to jump start one of these monsters.

Once it was started the breakdown chappy pulled out his multi-meter and diagnosed that the battery was kaput. Oh well I thought. Time to get a new battery. I knew this would not be covered under the month warranty I had with the dealer but thought I would chance it and email them with the things that I had noted so far and the fact that the battery was knackered. The dealer came straight back to me and was very apologetic and said that he would come round to my house the next day with a new battery, even though this was indeed not covered by the warranty.

The dealer came round as promised and brought the biggest battery I have ever seen. Due to the battery being real dead by now I was unable to get in to the boot via the normal method of opening the tail gate. A quick rummage with the back seats and a crawl in to the boot and I found the battery. What I and the breakdown man both failed to do was to actually go look at the battery. What I found was that the negative cable on the battery was loose and had virtually fallen off. Oops. Saying that, the battery that was in the car was much smaller then the new battery so it was quickly swapped out and the car fired straight up. All is well with the world once more, the birds are chirping and the woodland creatures are polishing my wheels. Oh joy.

However, the alarm is still randomly going off. A bit of Googling showed this to be a common fault with the switch sensor under the bonnet. Unclip the sensor cable and hey presto. No alarm going off. Woo hoo. I must get around to finding a replacement sensor.

Sit back and relax. There could be nothing else wrong could there?

Up until now I had not really played with the stereo, preferring to listen to the quiet purr of the engine. The wife found that the stereo had a cassette player and spent an hour or so digging out all her old cassette tapes of the 80’s top 40 faithfully recorded over many years from the Sunday chart show on Radio 1. She was positively delighted to find the cassette player worked. We were not so delighted to find that the volume knob on the stereo had a mind of its own. When you turn it up it would go quiet, if you turn it down it goes to max volume. You never know what is going to happen when you turn the knob (I know you’re sniggering now, queue the remarks). The volume controls on the steering wheel work fine so not a big issue. My OCD kicks in though every time I glance over to the stereo. I just know it doesn’t work as it should and it bugs me. Off to Maplins and got some circuit board cleaning spray. Spray a little in. Hey presto. Works a treat. Until it drys out and then goes back to not working. Doh !!!. So, this can only mean one thing. The potentiometer. First thing to try, dry joints. So, after once more using Google, found how to take out the stereo and the next thing, it is in pieces on the work desk, soldering iron in hand. A little bit of heat and back in to the car. Looks like that did the trick. Well, it did for a couple of months. Performed the same trick again and same thing happened. At this point I am thinking I either get a replacement or I go for an Android unit. The wife loves her cassettes too much so the Android is out the window. The hunt is on for a replacement that is FULLY working. Hard to find one of these C53 flat pin units that is working perfectly.  The search continues…

BMW E39 Club UK

Everything is now working  and every day I find something else to love about the car. By now I have also found the E39 Club UK on Facebook. A great club to be a member of. I hear on the club about a recall for the drivers air bag and get in touch with Sytners in Sheffield. They confirm that my car is one that requires the updates and they duly book me in. When I get the car back, they provide a little video of an inspection they carry out. Well, I thought my car was great. Turns out it is not so great. A list as long as your arm of things they have found underneath. Admittedly some of this is easy stuff, break line rubbing and needs changing, etc. Water pump on its last legs. ooh . hold on. that one sounds a bit more serious. Sytners is really helpful and say that they can book me in to have all the works done and for the very reasonable price of £££££ per hour. I believe they said it was in the region of £150 per hour but that can’t be right. Anyway, a lot more than the £20-30 my local garage charges me.

I take the little video to my local garage and they say that the first thing to do is throw away the video. They will take a look around. Yep, they find a few bits and off they set to fix everything. The list ended up looking something like : –

  • Waterpump (barings had gone)
  • Cooling fan with blade missing
  • Idle Air Control Valve (car was juddering sometimes when stood at the lights)
  • Lower suspension arm
  • Inlet pipe (for something or other)
  • Leaking gasket on oil sump
  • New brake discs and pads on the front.

Whilst it was in the garage I also had them replace all the struts for the tailgate and tailgate window. This cured the hydraulic tailgate not going up without a helping hand. It now works as it should. I also had a couple of holes in the front sports bumper plastic welded and painted. Cant see that there was ever a hole there now.

Now all is certainly well, surely. Well, up to now, apart from some bodywork that needs looking at (and will be after a visit to the body shop next week) it is.

The car has now done over 10,000 miles with me in the last 13 months and on top of the items noted above it has had new front tyres, a new key from Sytners (I should tell you all about that fun some time),  a replacement air bag sensor in the passenger seat (an eBay special for that one). I have also spent money on LED Angel Eyes (cheap ones that last for about 3 months before stopping working) and HID front lights. I’ve had the front headlights refurbished so they look new again.

It passed its first MOT with me with flying colours. Yay!!! I was so relieved.

So, ownership of the E39 has not been cheap. In fact I have spent as much on the car now as I did on buying it and by the time it comes back from the body shop next week, the costs will have increased even more.

Thanks to an invite from Radu at BMW E39 Club UK the car was on the club stand at Santa Pod for the BMW Show. This has to be one of the most exciting moments I have ever experienced (apart from first kiss, first rumpy pumpy, house, marriage, kids, etc. Ok, so it is down the list but it’s still up there)

Arriving at Santa Pod for the BMW Show July 2017

Whatever car I would have bought at the age of the E39 there would have been issues That is just a fact. With this car though you get a lot of car for your money. You get a great drive and a car that you can never ever want to sell because they are just THE BEST CAR EVER !!!!