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Replace Instrument Cluster Lamp in Porsche 996

At some point, a light bulb is going to burn out on your 996 instrument cluster. My money is on one of the three bulbs that back-light the mileage on the left, speed in the middle, or oil level/time on the right. In my case, it was the left one. The bulb you want is Porsche part number 999-631-303-90-M97 [beige base], and amazingly, they only cost about $1.25 each so pick up some spares while you’re at it. (If you want one of the warning indicator bulbs, they’re part number 999-631-302-90-M97 [black base] and also the same price.) The procedure to replace the bulb will take about 20 minutes. In addition to the appropriate bulb(s), you will need a Torx T20 driver and pry tools, as well as a 10mm wrench to disconnect the battery. And a flashlight helps too. Below are the steps I followed — use at your own risk. The procedure is also covered in the Bentley manual.

  1. Disconnect your battery. Better safe than sorry.  Make sure you have whatever radio codes you need before you do however.
  2. Use your pry tool to carefully remove the round plastic microphone cover on the left side of the instrument cluster.
  3. Carefully remove the Torx T20 bolt. The bolt is recessed so be careful not to drop it off of the driver once you remove it.
  4. Push the emergency flasher button so it is in the up position.  Carefully remove it using your fingers if you can, pry tools if you cannot.  The center button will pop out.
  5. Remove the plastic surround from the emergency flasher button with pry tools.  Be careful not to mar the dash.
  6. Now comes the hardest part of the entire procedure, remove the flasher switch by pinching either side.  You may be able to grab it with your fingers, but more likely will have to pry from both sides at the same time.
  7. Carefully remove the Torx T20 bolt from the flasher switch opening.
  8. With the two Torx Bolts removed, the entire cluster lifts straight up.  Carefully work your finger tips to get leverage and pull up.  It’s held in with several clips so you can give it a hearty pull.
  9. Rotate the cluster so it is face down on the steering wheel column.
  10. Looking down from outside of the car through the windshield, locate and release each of the three electrical connectors by pinching the catch and sliding the release.
  11. Slide the electrical connector for the emergency switch out of the bottom of the cluster.
  12. Lift the cluster free of the car for repairs.
  13. Locate and replace any burned out bulbs.
  14. Installation is the reverse of removal. Pause before pressing the cluster back into the dash to be sure everything is working.

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Lapping Jefferson Extension

I had the MINI at Summit Point this past weekend on the extended Jefferson circuit and it ran great. I really like the new Bilsteins. Very predictable weight transfer, good grip, and nice ride-height. Currently riding about 40mm lower than stock in the back and 50mm lower than stock in the front. Could go another 10mm lower but don’t see the need currently.  (Interestingly, the current height is 20mm lower than H&R Sport Springs on Konis.) The car isn’t slammed and the tires aren’t rubbing, but it is fairly low. I did have to not use the 5mm spacers I normally run on the street to avoid rubbing the rear arches (the wheels are 17 x7 with offset 37.)

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Here’s a lap I filmed behind a student.

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Bilstein PSS B14

Two years ago, we tried using the budget-priced Speedtech coilover suspension for MINI at the track. The suspension is the bargin cousin of the KW v1 coilover. Similar spring and (non-adjustable) dampening rates, a bit heavier construction, and a limited 5-year warranty. On paper, it’s a good trade-off of function vs price, but it wasn’t robust enough for heavy track use.  We blew out the right front damper the first season, and the left front the second.  For the street performance driver who wants to significantly lower the car without a harsh ride, we would still recommend it, but not for a car that will see a lot of track time.

Our favorite non-height adjustable suspension for the MINI is a set of B6 struts over H&R Sport Springs.  By far, that’s the best combination of predictable track performance and road comfort. The only major limitation for a trackcar is the size of the front springs which limits the amount of negative camber that can be dialed-in. The spring perches on the Bilstein struts are a bit lower than Konis so the car sits about 10mm lower on the same springs. Since we wanted to go just a bit lower than that, we started looking for heigh-adjustable coilovers.

This season we’re trying the Bilstein B14 Performance Suspension System (PSS). Bilstein offers five suspension options for the first generation MINI and the B14 PSS is second from the top (but the top is almost double the price).  At the low end, are the B4 struts for use with stock springs; followed by B6 struts to use with stock or lowering springs; the B12 kit which are B6 sport struts with Eibach Sportline Springs; B14 PSS described here; and the top of the line is the B16 PSS10 Adjustable Coilover Kit.  The goal of this experiment is to see if we can dial-in just the right set-up using just height-adjustment, camber settings, and adjustable swaybars.

The car goes for an alignment on Tuesday then it’s off to the track on Friday so we’ll post an update next weekend.

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Dust Boot

At some point if you track your MINI, you’ll notice that you’ve destroyed a rear dust boot. It will tear because you caught the rubber in the pad retaining clip thanks to its poor design, or you’ll cook the rubber and notice it has cracked to pieces and decide it needs to be replaced.  If you talk to your dealer, you’ll probably hear that the caliper cannot be serviced and that you have to buy a new one, but if you look in the BMW parts catalog (see picture below, no. 12) you’ll find part number 34216757250 which is surprisingly called “repair set brake caliper” and only costs about $25.

At this point, you’ll be thinking to yourself, “those bastards, they’re ripping me off by saying it cannot be serviced.” And in your righteous indignation, you order the part and determine to do it yourself. The fact is your dealer is right. And there is this kit available. The kit only includes the dust boot. To “service” the caliper, you also need to replace the piston seal which is not available. Before you decide to skip the seal, you have to ask why the boot needs to be replaced. If you really cooked the caliper. By cooked, we’re talking sustained caliper temperature above 550 degrees F, then you need to replace the seal and that means purchasing a new or remanufactured caliper. If the boot is torn because it’s becoming brittle with age or you pinched it with the brake pad retaining clip, then you’re probably safe just replacing the dust boot.  But don’t rejoice too quickly, however.  Be prepared for hours of frustration if you don’t have the proper tool.

The dust boot simply presses on the caliper, but like so many things, the devil is in the details. To press it on, you need to hold the caliper securely with one hand, use a screw driver to hold the bottom of the boot in place, use a third hand to press on the upper left, and a fourth hand to press the upper right. That’s hard enough to do with the car on a lift, and impossible to do with the car on jack stands. So if you don’t want to remove the caliper and work on a bench, and don’t want to pay an outrageous amount for a tool you’ll use once every couple of years, then here’s how you roll your own tool. (Follow at own risk; no wagering.)

Ideally you want something shaped like a small measuring cup, 1.8 inches inner diameter/2.0 inches out diameter, and about an inch deep. If you can’t find one, the plastic cap from a spray can may work.  I used a cap from a can of testers paint. Clip the cap in a couple of places (which I’ll explain later) and wrap very tightly with electrical tape. You’re going to first position the boot on the caliper, press your make-shift tool over it, then use your brake caliper tool to press it on.  The cuts in the side were to make the diameter smaller when you wrapped it in tape, but also so that when you release the tape, you can pull the cap off without removing the dust boot.  When complete, be sure to press the inner part of the boot into the furthest groove in the piston so the dust boot and brake pad retaining clip are not in the same groove. Good luck.

If anyone has found an actual tool for this that doesn’t cost a fortune, please post a link in the comments.

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CravenSpeed MINI Cooper Door Sill Plate DIY

At some point you’re going to want to do this mod.  Will it make you faster, better looking or get the chickweed out of your lawn?  No.  You’re going to want to do it for one of two reasons: 1.) You’ve become obsessed with removing all the shiny bits from your car; or 2.) Your current sill plates look like crap (my case).  Whatever your reason, this is an easy 15 minute DIY project and the only tool you probably need is a plastic pry tool, and maybe some goo-gone.

First some background.  If you look in the MINI parts catalog for sill plates, you’ll find part nr. 51717200469 for the Cooper S (number 4 in the drawing below). They’re bright aluminum with a printed “Cooper S” and sell for about $56 each.  Their function is to cover up the four clips that hold the top of the side skirt to the sill.  If you look on the inter-webs, you can find different versions, some with checkers, others JCW, some that even light up.  Since ours got all banged up taking the stock seats in and out of the car a couple of times, we thought it was time to find something a little more substantial and a little less flashy.  Enter the CravenSpeed black sill plates.

CravenSpeed sells these plates primarily to people who want to black-out their cars.  They’re a little less expensive than stock and are much more substantial.  Swapping them out couldn’t be more straight forward.  Find a plastic pry tool, start at one edge and pry away.  Since the stock ones are fairly thin metal, be careful to not cut your hand as you run the tool along the edge.  If the old ones do not come up cleanly, use some goo-gone to clean up the old adhesive.  Since the 3M adhesive the new ones use is pretty robust, we didn’t bother to clean them up too much as we know this stuff sticks to almost anything.  They certainly look better than the banged-up ones they replaced.

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Hand Brake Handle DIY

Sometimes a part comes along that you just want to have. The CravenSpeed Hand Brake Handle is one of those. It won’t make you any faster; it won’t save any weight; you don’t NEED it. But once you pick one up, you will WANT it. Installation takes about 10 minutes using common hand tools. Installation is very easy:

  • Set the parking brake, and use a pry tool to remove the end cap. (You can use a screw-driver but you risk scratching the cap. If you never plan to re-use it, go ahead, otherwise, get a pry tool.)
  • Push in on the back of the brake boot to free the frame from the console, and then pull the boot over the handle to expose the zip-tie. Cut the zip-tie and remove the boot.
  • Use a screw-driver to pry the tab and remove the old handle.
  • Fit the new handle with the set-holes facing up. Insert and tighten the set-screws with the included 1/16 inch hex key.
  • Put the boot back on and use the included zip-tie to attach it to the handle. Trim the excess of the zip-tie.
  • Pull the boot back over the handle and set the frame back into the console. Set the front first, then pinch the back until it slides into place.
  • Slip the three rubber grip rings into place.
  • Sit back, grab a cold brew, and enjoy. You’re handy now!

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Current Score: Potholes 2 – Porsche 0

For those of you keeping track of the score at home, the score is now New Jersey Potholes 2, Porsche Wheels 0. The Potholes seem confident they can run the score up to 4:0. All the Wheels can hope for is an early spring. Stay tuned. The wheels coach said they’re fighting back the best they can. They called up a rookie from the factory to replace the bent front rim while the rear went into surgery this past weekend and seems to be on the mend.

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Budget Dent Repair: Heat, Air, & Claybar

The High School Parking Lot. Ah, the Horror. The Horror. Since dents and dings are inevitable in this crucible of parking trial-and-error, it’s best not to get worked up over dents and dings until graduation. There are some hints that will help get you through.
Take for example this trifecta: scrape, dent and cracked paint. The most serious aspect is actually the cracked paint. If left untreated, the fender will rust making for a much more expensive repair later on. The easiest to fix is the scrape since it’s on the surface. Just use the Claybar with some Speed-shine and elbow grease.
Dent removal is the area of experimentation for this post. We wanted to see how far we could get with just a heat-gun and compressed air. The result was actually pretty good, especially considering that complex curves are especially challenging for any paintless dent-repair technique. We removed the plastic fender liner, and then used a 1000 watt heat gun alternately with a can of compressed air held upside-down. Heat the area slowly and quickly quench with the cold liquid spray. We did this combo about five times, reducing the size of the dent by about two-thirds. Once we were satisfied (ran out of beer) we decided to flake off the cracked paint, sand the gash a bit, then hit it with some primer and touch-up paint. It’s good at 20 feet and I’m sure not the last time we’ll be doing this.
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SPC FASTRAX Adjustable Camber/Caster Gauge

Another tool you need and didn’t know about. If you keep messing with suspension set-ups like I do, then you need this camber gauge by SPC. The FASTRAX™ Hands Free Adjustable Camber/Caster Gauge comes in two models: the 91010 which fits wheels 17-22 inches in diameter; and the model 91000 which is for wheels 13-17 inches in diameter. I like this gauge because it’s easy to use following the instructions included in the box and has several additional optional components like wings so you can set toe, and adapters for wheels without lips.

The gauge comes preset for level ground from the factory. The level can be adjusted to account for un-level ground, or just measure the ground and compensate when you set the camber. In this example, I’m actually using the model 91010 on 16 inch wheels. The left side of our garage was almost level — only 0.25 degrees off, so we just added that to our target camber setting. We lengthened the control arm until the gauge showed 2.0 degrees of negative camber. Subtract the 0.25 error and you get the final camber of 1.75 degrees negative.

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