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DIY: Do It Yourself
Post here to share or improve your wrench turning skills! All BMW E46 DIY tips, tales, and projects discussed inside. Learn to work on your car and know the right BMW parts you will need!

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Old 02-03-2010, 06:08 PM   #1
jjrichar
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Fuel indication problem diagnosis

I've been using lots of the DIY stuff on this forum (which has been a fantastic help) for a while now, so I thought I'd contribute a bit.

This piece is on diagnosing issues with the fuel system, and attempting to work out if incorrect fuel readings are due to fuel sender inaccuracies, or the siphon pump (otherwise known as a sucking jet pump). I'm not going to put a DIY here of how to change senders/pump etc. There are numerous DIYs floating around the net to show you how. This is just a tool to diagnose what your problem is, plus a few tips along the way that I hadn't read anywhere else.

The background to this is that my 330 was running out of fuel with about 1/8 tank remaining. This same problem occurred a few years ago, and it was fixed under warranty by BMW. Unfortunately, when the car is no longer under warranty, it has occurred again.

What I wanted to do was diagnose the problem, and not start replacing parts, without knowing exactly what the problem was.

Firstly, you need to access the test menus in the instrument cluster. There's a whole bunch of information that is accessible from the instrument cluster that is very useful, and can help diagnose a problem.

Accessing the menus takes a little getting used to, but once you've done it a few times, it's pretty easy.

Here is how you do it.

1. Place the key in the ignition and don't turn it.
2. Hold in the left instrument cluster button. (ie the odometer reset button)
3. Turn the key to position 1.

The cluster will now go into the test mode. You will immediately see "test" on the left, and 1. on the right. After about 1 second, a bunch of numbers will appear on the left (this is the car's VIN) and 1.0 will be on the right.

Before I go on, it's important to know that you can now start the car, and the cluster will remain in the test mode. All the instruments will work OK, but the odometer section will give the test readouts, so you can drive the car and have the instantaneous readouts of fuel levels, RPM, coolant temp, etc, etc. Very useful for diagnosis. If you turn the key to position 0 (turn car off), the cluster will go out of test mode, and you will have to start all over again.

There are 21 test menus (numbered 1-21). For each of these, there are sub menus. eg. for menu 20, it has the sub menus 20.0, 20.1, and 20.2

The problem is that menus 1 and 2 are always unlocked and accessible. To access all the others, we need to unlock the system. This is test menu 19

Hold in the left cluster button for approximately 1 sec. The 1.0 that we had there before will now turn into 1. Now continue to press the left cluster button. It will cycle through all the menus, 1. 2. 3. etc. When you get to 19, stop. On the left of the odometer it will now cycle every second between "L-OFF", and "L-ON". When it's saying "L-OFF", press the left cluster button for about 1 sec. The 19. on the right will now turn into 19.0 and cluster testing is now unlocked.

Now press the left cluster button for about 1 sec, and the 19.0 will turn into 19. Now press the left cluster button continually to cycle through to test 6. When you get there, stop pressing, and the 6. will turn into a 6.0 after a couple of seconds. Now successive presses of the left cluster button will cycle through tests 6.0, 6.1 etc. If you now wanted to go to test 7, press the left cluster button for about 1 sec, and then you will be able now to move to menu 7.

The test we are going to be using is test 6.0 On the left of the cluster you will see a series of 6 numbers. It might look like 105127. This means the level in the left lobe of the fuel tank is 10.5 litres, and the level in the right lobe is 12.7 litres. If I now start the engine and drive, you will see the instantaneous readings that are coming from each of the fuel senders. They will constantly change slightly as fuel is used and fuel sloshes around the tank.

Now for a few basics on the fuel system.
The fuel tank is under the rear seat, and it is in two lobes, one each side of the drive shaft tunnel. The right lobe has a fuel sender and the fuel pump. The left lobe has a fuel sender and the connection that runs the siphon pump. The fuel senders give the indication of how much fuel is in the tank. So that the fuel from the left lobe can be used, a siphon pump (a one way hose that uses return line pressure) moves fuel from the left lobe to the right. The right lobe is actually bigger than the left, so when the fuel tank is full, the readings you will get from the instrument cluster test 6.0 is going to look something like 240330 (24.0 litres in the left lobe, and 33.0 litres in the right), giving a total of 57.0 litres (this is actually what you get from test 6.1).


In normal operation, fuel is drawn from the right lobe by the fuel pump. As fuel in the right lobe is used, the siphon pump moves fuel from the left lobe to the right lobe. The siphon pump (called this in my Bentley manual, but the name "sucking jet pump" used elsewhere is more appropriate) doesn't attempt to keep each lobe equal. It doesn't work like a siphon, and keep the levels the same. It works by using return line pressure to induce fuel flow from one the left lobe to the right. Without going too much into it, the pump has no moving parts, and is one that utilizes the venturi effect to induce a flow. What this simply means is that whenever the electric fuel pump is working there will be a return flow back to the left lobe, and the siphon pump uses this return flow to move fuel from the left lobe to the right. The only time the flow stops is when the fuel in the left lobe is zero (ie. nothing more to pump). If the right lobe is full, the fuel continues to flow from left to right by the siphon pump, but immediately moves back to the left via the opening that connects the right to the left. It is normal when the fuel level is about 1/2, for the right lobe to be nearly full, and the left lobe to be empty.

Now for the diagnosis.

Before I describe what I did, I must point out that you need to take extreme care when opening the fuel tank. Work in a well ventilated area, and when you have the tank open, when not dealing with the inside of the tank, make sure you cover the openings to avoid anything dropping in, and so fuel is not exposed.

Disconnect the battery and then remove both the sender units. Make sure the fuel level is less than ½ when you do this.

Tips:
1. Disconnecting the rubber pipes on each sender is a PITA. You may have to use some sort of tool to attempt to get under the rubber, and lubricate with fuel to get them off..
2. Both lines contained fuel, and the right had a significant amount of stored pressure (about 200 ml came out). Make sure you have a jar handy to immediately put the line in so you don't get fuel everywhere like I did.
3. Both of the lines had single use CV joint type clamps on them. When I removed these, I used normal stainless hose clamps as a replacement.

After removing the sender units, cover the fuel tank openings. Pat down the sender units to get rid of most of the fuel, and then leave out in a warm place for about an hour for the rest of the fuel to evaporate.

Now what you want to do is connect up each of the electrical harnesses to the sender units, but outside the fuel tank. Once attached, reconnect the battery, and then go through the procedure to get test 6.0 up on the instrument cluster. DO NOT move the key to position 2. This will put power to the fuel pump, which can damage it with the pump not being immersed in fuel.

Now you can simply move the wipers on each of the senders, and see immediately what the reading is on the instrument cluster.


Here are both senders connected to the car as described


What I found was:
Left- with the wiper all the way up reading 24.0 litres (good), when the wiper was all the way down approx 4 litres (bad). ie. when the tank is empty, the car thought there was 4 litres remaining.
Right- with the wiper all the way up reading 33.0 litres (good), when the wiper was all the way down approx 2 litres (bad).

So when the tank was dry, the car actually thought it had about 6 litres remaining, about 10% of the fuel capacity.

I then pulled both of the sender units apart. This is a simple process that only takes a couple of seconds. Just gently remove the thick wire that holds the float out of the two catches that hold it.


The wiper and contact when pulled apart.


What I noticed was that each of the wiper contacts (the two ½ ball like things that are spring loaded), had some black stuff on them. I used some very fine sand paper to quickly remove this.


Contact after cleaning black stuff off.

Most importantly though was I noticed that each of the circuit boards that contain the other part of the wiper were able to be moved about 0.5 mm back and forth in their slot. Where the circuit boards are mounted, the fit is not exactly perfect, and they can be moved a small amount up and down. On my car, the position they were in made the wipers think there was a little bit of fuel left in them, when in fact the tank was empty. What I did was get a small screwdriver, and move the circuit board the smallest amount so that when the wiper was at the empty position, it actually gave the correct reading to the car.


Circuit board prior to moving


Circuit board after moving

After reassembling the sender units, I reconnected then to the car, and the reading in each tank was now zero at the empty position, and 24/33 litres at the full position. Bloody marvelous.

Cost of fix: Approx 3 hours, and the two hose clamps.

Tip: Getting the sender units back in the car, was getting pretty difficult, until I worked out the correct way. At the top of each sender unit is a large rubber seal. You need to fit this to the top of the tank first, and then slide then sender unit down onto it. On the left you can completely remove it from the sender prior to fitting, but on the right, you won't be able to do this. You will need to have to get the seal detached but still around the sender unit and fuel pump. Put the pump and sender in about ½ way, and while holding it in this position, fit the seal in the correct position first, and then lower the sender and pump down. Also, smear the smallest amount of oil around the top of each sender prior to lowering it down into the rubber seal. This will allow the sender to easily slot into where it needs to go.

I hope this is of help to some people in diagnosing similar problems to mine, and thanks again to all who post in this forum. It's saved me a fortune, and my car runs miles better.
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Old 02-04-2010, 03:32 PM   #2
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Old 02-04-2010, 05:26 PM   #3
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Wow... just... wow. This is EXACTLY what I needed to diagnose my fuel level problems!!! Awesome job and a HUGE thank you for taking the time to write this up (and write it up so clearly to boot).
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Old 02-05-2010, 08:42 AM   #4
vimal32
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I done this DIY recently too and still got stuck with empty fuel tank just after the fuel light came on. Looks like my circuit board might be out of place like you described.

Thanks for the DIY though, great addition to this forum and good job for taking the time to write it up.
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Old 02-15-2010, 06:24 AM   #5
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Thumbs Up

A big thanks for posting such a comprehensive fix.
I ran out of fuel whilst showing 1/4 of a tank the other day - not much fun in the outside lane on the motorway!
I knew that the fault was one of the senders (rather than the transfer pump) as to fill up took around 66 liters, but was wondering how to go about testing each.

Hopefully I'll be sorted this weekend!

Cheers,

Andy
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Old 02-15-2010, 06:10 PM   #6
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well done Mr. You want to hear something funny? It'll give you an idea about WHY the service at the stealership is so bad.

I'm a tech. for a BMW dealership and, the trick you just mentionned for test in the cluster, I had to learn from a fellow enthusiast. Nobody there even knew about this. Now my bosses think I'm a super hero when they think I just "magicaly" solved a problem in no time at all. LOL

I tought that thigns like that would be the first thing they teach you when you go for a training workshop. I guess they must reserve this info. for the Master techs., which in turn would never have let me know because, what would they look like if the new guy was able to diagnose as fast as they can...

Every system in corrupt in one way or an other.
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Old 02-21-2010, 09:13 AM   #7
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Thanks for explaining how the gauge inaccuracy happens. My board started to move out of position during some extremely cold weather now its worse. The right sender is available for $90. But it looks like the left sensor is not sold separately by BMW it is sold with the fuel tank (part #1) for $430


so it seems like the replacement option is not available. So I will take the 3 hours to do this.
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Old 02-21-2010, 09:31 AM   #8
E46-Cabrio
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It is available, you need this,

http://www.realoem.com/bmw/showparts...g=15&lang=enUS
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Old 02-23-2010, 10:33 PM   #9
xi_ter
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When my car started to starve for fuel, the menu 19 test 6 showed the following:

The left lobe shows 0.7 liters and the right lobe shows 30.2 liters.
Any ideas? I think I'm going to pull, clean and check the circuit boards of the senders as above.
I'm also going to replace the siphon pump part 16 14 6 755 880 since the tank isn't balancing http://www.e46fanatics.com/forum/sho...php?p=10088115
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Old 02-23-2010, 10:50 PM   #10
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Superior post sir.
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Old 02-24-2010, 06:41 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by xi_ter View Post
When my car started to starve for fuel, the menu 19 test 6 showed the following:

The left lobe shows 0.7 liters and the right lobe shows 30.2 liters.
Any ideas? I think I'm going to pull, clean and check the circuit boards of the senders as above.
I'm also going to replace the siphon pump part 16 14 6 755 880 since the tank isn't balancing http://www.e46fanatics.com/forum/sho...php?p=10088115
Yeah same problem here, out of gas at 058197 - left 5,8 liters & right 19,7 liters. I think the suction jet pump is bad.
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Old 02-25-2010, 01:15 AM   #12
jjrichar
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With regards to the indications above "070302" this means the car thinks there is 7.0 litres in the left lobe, and 30.2 in the right lobe. This is quite a normal indication. The siphon pump (sucking jet pump) will attempt to move fuel from the left to the right whenever there is fuel in the left, up to the point where the right is full (in my car, a convertible, this occurs at 33.0 litres). I have quite regularly seen no fuel in the left, and nearly full in the right. Fuel sloshes from the right back to the left as you drive, and then it will transfer again. Remember, the fuel pump is in the right lobe, so that is where all of the fuel is drawn from.

For the case above, I would open each of the fuel lobes (remove each of the senders), and see if what is in the tank is the same as what is seen on the odometer. If there is lots of fuel in the right lobe, then the issue is definitely not due to the fuel level being low in the right lobe, and is something else.

If you find the right lobe is actually empty then the sender is giving the incorrect indication, and is not going to be due to a small movement of the circuit board. The way the sender works is by measuring resistance as the wiper moves due to changing fuel level. When the float is low in the tank, the sender shows a low resistance, and this increases as the wiper moves with more fuel in the tank. I've heard before where people have found the contacts very dirty on the wiper, and as a result this shows a higher resistance, and hence more fuel in the tank than is actually there.

Prior to buying new senders, I would be cleaning up each of the wiper contacts as much as possible, and then have them out of the car as I described, and see what indication they give you at the full and empty positions.

Also, here's a tip to work out if the problem is due to starvation in the right lobe. If you look at the post above from xi ter that has the fuel tank drawing, you will see that the hole that the right sender/pump goes into is in the forward portion of the right lobe. When you accelerate or go up a hill, the fuel flows to the rear of the tank and the pump doesn't have any fuel to pump, so the engine stops. When you go down a hill, or take your foot off the gas the fuel flows back to the pump, and the engine comes to life. Both times my car ran out of fuel this was the case.

On the point of the sucking jet pump. To test if it is faulty, have the fuel down to less than half. Drive down a long straight road (so the fuel doesn't slosh around), and see what the fuel indications on test 6.0 are. If the fuel in the left lobe doesn't go down to 000 with the right less than full, the sucking jet pump is the problem (or a return fuel pressure problem, that drives the sucking jet pump). If this happens, remove the left sender, and check there is actually fuel in the left lobe, and the sender indication is correct. If the sender indication is correct, the sucking jet pump is the problem.

I just read my original post, and I put some stuff in there that might confuse some people. The siphon pump (called this in my Bentley manual, but the name "sucking jet pump" used elsewhere is more appropriate) doesn't attempt to keep each lobe equal. It doesn't work like a siphon, and keep the levels the same. It works by using return line pressure to induce fuel flow from one the left lobe to the right. Without going too much into it, the pump has no moving parts, and is one that utilizes the venturi effect to induce a flow. What this simply means is that whenever the electric fuel pump is working there will be a return flow back to the left lobe, and the siphon pump will attempt to move fuel from the left lobe to the right. The only time the flow stops is when the fuel in the left lobe is zero (ie. nothing more to pump). If the right lobe is full, the fuel continues to flow from left to right by the siphon pump, but immediately moves back to the left via the opening that connects the right to the left.

Also, I noticed that on realoem it looks like the fuel tank and the left sender are only supplied as the one item. I found on autohaus az that they supply the BMW OE left sender individually (part no. 16146755879) for about $85.

Hope this helps.

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Old 03-12-2010, 01:35 AM   #13
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One question, if the sucking jet pump is normal the fuel indication must down to 000 with the tank total less than 33 lites? it was coz my 330ci just down to 5 lites when the tank is total 25 lites, the 5L in the left and 20L in the right. is that normal or has fault working with sucking jet pump.
My problem is when I accelerate or go up a hill the engine stops. while I take my foot off the gas the fuel flows back to the pump, and the engine comes to life & the fuel indication level 1/5.
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Old 03-12-2010, 10:28 AM   #14
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I have a nice picture here for some information, ripped it from the Haynes repair manual.
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Old 03-12-2010, 03:44 PM   #15
jjrichar
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With regard to the question from BMWDW8212 above, if there is 20L in the right lobe, there is no chance that you can starve the fuel pump of fuel when you accelerate or climb a hill. This will only occur with a few litres only remaining. It does sound like the indications you have are of the fuel pump being starved. The first thing I would do is open up each lobe and see how much fuel is in there. My guess is that your senders are giving you an incorrect level.

Also, if the left lobe is empty (even though it is reading 5L) then the sucking jet pump is working OK. If the left lobe still has fuel in it with less than about 20L in the right, then you have a sucking jet pump problem. Note also that the left lobe can't be empty when the right is reading 33L. Because of the join between the two lobes where fuel can easily move from one side to the other (see the attached schematic from E46 cabrio above), the level in the left lobe will only start to go down towards zero when there is maybe about 25 L in the right.
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Old 03-14-2010, 01:52 AM   #16
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regarding jjrichar there is not total 25 lites out of fuel when accelerate or climb a hill, thats around 1/5 trank. and i had checked the sender indicate is correct. but right now the total tank is around 17 lites and the OBD shown 057114, and the left lobe still has fuel in it with less than about 12L in the right, thats normal or the indication must be 000 on left should be correct?
So I need to change the sucking jet pump first coz it can not pump all the fuel from left to right (left 5.7 lites when total tank not more than half). Am I right or wrong?
I had contacted the maintenance with BMW HK, thay said not really the fault with the sucking jet pump, the low fuel pressure also coz this case, may be the fuel filter or the weakness of right fuel pump. I'm no idea which one I change first. pls help
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Old 03-14-2010, 05:32 AM   #17
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bmwdw8212, I think I understand what your problem is. If there is about 11L in the right lobe there is no chance that you will run out of fuel as you go up a hill or accelerate. I think the BMW people there are correct. If the pump is not producing enough pressure or the fuel filter is blocked, this would result in your indications. Also, if there is minimial fuel pressure reaching the engine, there is going to be very little going back to run the sucking jet pump to transfer fuel, hence why the sucking jet pump is not working properly.

The first thing I would do is change the fuel filter, which is going to be much cheaper than changing the fuel pump, and see if this fixes it. Changing the fuel filter is a relatively easy DIY.
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Old 03-14-2010, 09:16 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jjrichar View Post
bmwdw8212, I think I understand what your problem is. If there is about 11L in the right lobe there is no chance that you will run out of fuel as you go up a hill or accelerate. I think the BMW people there are correct. If the pump is not producing enough pressure or the fuel filter is blocked, this would result in your indications. Also, if there is minimial fuel pressure reaching the engine, there is going to be very little going back to run the sucking jet pump to transfer fuel, hence why the sucking jet pump is not working properly.

The first thing I would do is change the fuel filter, which is going to be much cheaper than changing the fuel pump, and see if this fixes it. Changing the fuel filter is a relatively easy DIY.
I will change the fuel filter first, as the result and will report in this thread.
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Old 03-19-2010, 03:27 AM   #19
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i had changed the fuel filter DIY spend US$32.5, as the result the problem could not be solve, the total tank is around 24 lites and the OBD shown 078164 & no droop down to 000, that means the fuel cannot though the sucking jet pump move from left to right. the next i will change the sucking jet pump, i had quoted US$75 from HK BMW parts shop. may be action on tomorrow or weekend.
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Old 03-19-2010, 10:11 AM   #20
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1. Drive the fuel low or pump it out (or just work with the tank full and wash all the fuel off your hands later).

2. Disconnect battery. Remove the left and right access panels under rear seat.

3. Remove fuel pump (right side).

4. Remove fuel sender (left side) and pull the sucking pump off it.

5. Reach into right side and pull other end of sucking pump hose out from bottom of tank; fish the whole thing out through the left side.

look for the the black plastic pipe, and pull it from the other (Opposite) end.
Basically the jet pump connects the left to the right side. The one end has a connector, and the other end is just an open pipe - so pull from the connector end.

One thing I noticed, make sure you put the pipe back in the same position you found it, dont want it to be floating around.

While you at it, try cleaning out the contacts for both fuel level sensors. I used some alcohol and a q-tip to clean. It gets quite dirty over the years.

I replaced mines recently and so not sure yet if my DIY is workiong or now, will probably know will let the fuel run down abit by run the fuel under 5 liters - - need to keep some fuel in the trunk just incase. Dont want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere with no fuel.




b4 replace left level 8 liters and going to 11 liters final.

see replaced the new sucking jet pump droop to 2 liters than less than 1 liters, that mean this is working with the sucking jet pump
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Last edited by bmwdw8212; 03-19-2010 at 10:57 AM.
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