kallisti5
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AC Condenser Damage - 2015 BMW i3 REX

Thu Mar 21, 2019 8:12 am

A few weeks ago with it starting to warm up in Texas, I noticed the AC wasn't cooling.
I got a AC valve set, and attempted to check the pressure. 0.

A quick look at the front of the car and I realized the AC condenser took a small stone and damaged it causing a leak.
Looking around online, I found a replacement aftermarket condenser for $65. "easy enough".

Being the lazy guy I am, I called around to a few local non-dealer European mechanics.
None of the local mechanics want to work on the BMW i3 (yet)

Called my BMW dealership. Explained the issue (including the damage), and they said to bring it in, it would be covered under warranty.
As you can guess, 5 days later with $139 in labor, they diagnosed the same issue. (gee, Thanks BMW)
They then confirmed it would not be covered under warranty (since it was "road debris damage")

Their price to change the condenser and recharge the system? $1,975. One thousand, nine hundred, seventy-five dollars.
For the purchase price of 11k, I could almost total the car over a stone :-)


So. I turned them down on principle and am sitting here with an i3 with an empty AC. Since the front of the i3 is "completely open and unprotected" to the condenser, I'm going to try and DIY a solution since I have a bit of AC knowledge.

I'm sure 3 or 4 years down the road i'm going to run into this issue again. I'm going to take some time and document the repair process. The guy at BMW said "we see a few of these a month with this issue."

Thank goodness for:
https://www.newtis.info/tisv2/a/en/i01- ... 1VnXfJXXOI

:-)
Last edited by kallisti5 on Tue Mar 26, 2019 11:13 am, edited 3 times in total.

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MKH
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Location: Dallas

Re: Condenser Damage - 2015 BMW i3 REX

Thu Mar 21, 2019 9:28 am

Some 1/4 inch hardware cloth, and a few zip-ties from Home Depot are cheap protection. You have to take out the frunk box to get good access, but an easy DIY project. Have added the mesh to every car I've had for more than a decade - and never had stone damage to an AC condenser.
Mark H.
2015 i3 Rex, Capparis White, Tera World, Technology & Driving Assistant, Parking Assistant, Harman Kardon Audio System, 19 inch 427 wheels, EVoInnovate EVSE

kallisti5
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Joined: Mon Jan 29, 2018 8:37 pm

Re: Condenser Damage - 2015 BMW i3 REX

Thu Mar 21, 2019 10:28 am

Just spent my lunch break ripping into it. The most difficult part seems to be a black cross-member added by BMW for the US market under the fronk storage bin. It sits right above the condenser/radiator. The service manual says on US cars you have to remove the front bumper and left headlight.

Sure enough. While you can get the cross-member unbolted, you can't slide it out without removing a bracket which is blocked by the left headlight. The sad thing is the cross-member is only 1-2 mm too long to prevent removing it without tearing the front of the car apart.

The conspiracy side of me can't help but think at least some of this is on purpose by BMW to ensure drivers go to the dealership for this expensive service, which is guaranteed to not be covered under warranty.

That hardware cloth idea is lookin' mighty good :-)

kallisti5
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Joined: Mon Jan 29, 2018 8:37 pm

Re: Condenser Damage - 2015 BMW i3 REX

Thu Mar 21, 2019 5:30 pm

4 hours in. *definitely* going to put the hardware cloth in-front of the condenser. To change the condenser you must:

Image

Warning: By following the steps here, you're taking the continued functionality of your
BMW i3 into your own hands. New electric AC compressors run several thousand dollars.

Don't blame me if you follow my steps and something goes horribly wrong.
Don't assume anything since this is not a normal R134a system.
Don't ask your local auto-part store... they don't know. :-)

If you had all the right parts at hand, this is still going to be a 2-3 day job.
(have backup transportation)

My car specs:
* R134a, REX, non-heat-pump.
* All R134a is missing since it leaked out with damage.
* If you have a slow leak, remove + dispose of R134a properly. (maybe call an AC tech?)

Requirements:
* AC Manifold. Buy new. (Everyone should have one.. handy, also you must not contaminate your system with PAG oil)
* AC Vac Pump. Rent. They say "not for use on electric / hybrid cars". I think they're worried about contamination, however, if you're pulling a vacuum I'm not sure how big of a risk it is.
* Cans of freon matching sticker on car. > 2016 or later... likely R1234yf, 2015 or before likely R134a
* Sanden SP-A2 AC OIL (I think it's POE and *NOT* PAG) (You might need to contact BMW parts for this.. I found a small new can on eBay for $49)
* New condenser. The ports should be sealed, don't open until on car. There is a desiccant built-in so need to keep moisture out of it.
* A garage of tools.
* New / Clean AC oil injector. Don't use reuse one that has been used for PAG-*

Notes:
* The AC is used to cool the battery. If it is hot out, it'll kick on by itself for cooling.
* Without a functional AC, don't level 3 charge.
* Without a functional AC, try not to level 2 charge when car is hot.
* I'm assuming level 1 charging doesn't need the AC :-)
* If you contaminate the system with PAG oil (even trace amounts in used lines) bad things will happen

Steps:
* Remove frunk container.
* Move all fluid tanks out the way.
* Remove both front wheel well plastic panels. (You don't have to take the tires off, start at the top)
* Remove front bumper.
* Remove headlights
* Remove the annoying metal brackets blocking removal of the cross member.
* Remove cross member.
* Remove all ducting.
* Remove cooling fan.
* Gently move radiator out of the way by scooting (prying) it back (it's *TIGHT*) without destroying all the fins.
* Separate radiator from the condenser
* Pull condenser.
* Replace O-rings.
* Put system back together somewhat. (make sure all AC related connectors are attached)
* Attach quick connect lines to High / Low ports.
* Attach Vac to the yellow line.
* Open BLUE + RED. Pull a vacuum on the system
* Close ALL knobs on the manifold. turn the vac off. take note of high/low pressure. Wait 45 minutes.
* Check for leaks (loss of pressure). Any loss of pressure... stop and fix the leak.
* Turn Vac on. Open BLUE + RED valves. Vac out for 60 minutes straight if no issues found.
* Close BLUE + RED AC manifold valves
* Put on leather gloves, engage safety squints. (don't skip this step, R134a to the skin hurts + burns)
* Ensure you have plenty of ventilation. (Don't inhale R134a)
* Disconnect Vac, attach a bottle of *plain* R134a to the yellow line.
* Open can.
* Bleed air from the yellow line by momentarily loosening the connection at the manifold. Watch for flying R134a. Retighten.
* Plug drivers seatbelt in. Sit down. Turn car on. Set MAX AC
* This will let you keep the car running while not sitting in it. Handy for hot texas days as well.
* Slowly open the BLUE LOW-PRESSURE valve. *NEVER OPEN RED HIGH PRESSURE WHEN CAN ATTACHED. It will explode.*
* Gently shake the bottle and watch for freon entering system. My car shows 750g which is 26.45547 oz. That's two full cans == 24 oz.
* Swap cans by shutting LOW valve, shutting can. Detaching, attaching, bleeding freon. Opening can + LOW valve.
* You'll need to weigh the last can. Put on a scale while connected, tare, and try to get as close to the remaining coolant amount as possible.
* Close valves, disconnect. Cold air should be present.
* Add 30 ml SP-A2 oil via an injection tool. (per https://www.newtis.info/tisv2/a/en/i01- ... s/1LEbCldB) Make sure you bleed out any air from the tool prior to use.
* Work in reverse. See the BMW service manual for bolt torques. To be honest, "very snug" is likely fine for most. I'd torque the cross member though since it is used in a crash.

DO NOT USE PAG-ANYTHING!

BMW was as confusing as possible around the AC oil. It seems like they couldn't make up their minds
on which oil to use since all the documentation is conflicting. (Hell, even the can of BMW AC oil is conflicting.

However, additional research shows PAG-ANYTHING will damage the electric compressor and your car. Even though the SP-A2 is
labeled for R1234yf (and even says *DO NOT USE ON R134a systems* on the can, it is compatible with R134a and R1234yf per this:
https://www.behrhellaservice.com/behr-h ... ils_EN.pdf

My 2015 has a BMW part number for the AC oil, which matches the can of Sanden SP-A2. My car is also R134a. I feel like BMW were going to have all BMW i3's use R1234yf, but changed their mind to R134a at the last minute for the 2014, 2015 years. The SP-A2 can saying "do not use on R134a" is really saying "don't use it on traditional mechanical compressor vehicles (since it won't mix with PAG-ANYTHING).

To make matters even more confusing, the BMW AC sticker says "PAG 2339920" which when you look up 2339920 you find a the SP-A2 (which i'm pretty sure is a POE oil, not PAG)

The electric compressors require an AC lube with a high "dielectric strength" since it co-exists with the motor windings for the AC compressor. Using something conductive like PAG-ANYTHING will result in arcing within the compressor and damage your compressor/battery.

tldr: use SP-A2 if your car says "PAG 2339920" and DON'T use any PAG.

It's quite a job. I don't blame BMW for the hours... but the parts are still outrageous :-)
With a garage of tools, buying a new condenser, and buying the needed AC tools.. I came out at $300 to repair myself vs the $1,975+ BMW wants. If I was faced with this issue again I'd DIY it again in a heartbeat.

Update: Two weeks of Texas heat, still working fine.
Last edited by kallisti5 on Sat Apr 06, 2019 6:49 am, edited 21 times in total.

IvanRex
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Re: Condenser Damage - 2015 BMW i3 REX

Thu Mar 21, 2019 6:37 pm

Congratulations
Looks like a lot of work patience and skill
What would you use to cover the condenser I would love to do it and avoid such an expensive job

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MKH
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Re: Condenser Damage - 2015 BMW i3 REX

Fri Mar 22, 2019 4:01 am

What would you use to cover the condenser I would love to do it and avoid such an expensive job
1/4 inch hardware cloth from Home Depot. Cut to the size and shape of the open black plastic grill in front of the condenser. Mount in back of the plastic grill, and fastened to the grill with black zip-ties.

https://www.homedepot.com/p/Everbilt-1- ... /205960850
Mark H.
2015 i3 Rex, Capparis White, Tera World, Technology & Driving Assistant, Parking Assistant, Harman Kardon Audio System, 19 inch 427 wheels, EVoInnovate EVSE

alohart
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Re: Condenser Damage - 2015 BMW i3 REX

Fri Mar 22, 2019 12:08 pm

MKH wrote:1/4 inch hardware cloth from Home Depot.
Do you feel that a stone less than ¼" in size would not be able to damage the condenser? Woven wire mesh with smaller openings is available but would reduce airflow more.

Not all galvanized metal has a thick zinc layer so rusts fairly quickly in our humid, salty climate. I would be more interested in stainless steel.
Aloha,
Art

2014 BMW i3 Arravani Grey, Giga World, Tech + Driving Assist, Parking Assist, DC Fast Charging, JuiceBox EVSE

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MKH
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Re: Condenser Damage - 2015 BMW i3 REX

Fri Mar 22, 2019 2:38 pm

Do you feel that a stone less than ¼" in size would not be able to damage the condenser?
I've been considering that too. Have ordered some of this, to experiment with. Will have to sectioned, as getting the stuff in one long section is really expensive. Will see how it works.

https://www.amazon.com/TIMESETL-Stainle ... ooghydr-20
Mark H.
2015 i3 Rex, Capparis White, Tera World, Technology & Driving Assistant, Parking Assistant, Harman Kardon Audio System, 19 inch 427 wheels, EVoInnovate EVSE

alohart
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Re: Condenser Damage - 2015 BMW i3 REX

Fri Mar 22, 2019 3:13 pm

MKH wrote:[Have ordered some of this, to experiment with. Will have to sectioned, as getting the stuff in one long section is really expensive.
Are you concerned that the open area of the woven wire mesh that you have ordered is only 52%? In very hot weather, I wonder whether the reduced airflow through the heat exchanger would cause problems.

What are the dimensions of the area that needs to be covered?
Aloha,
Art

2014 BMW i3 Arravani Grey, Giga World, Tech + Driving Assist, Parking Assist, DC Fast Charging, JuiceBox EVSE

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MKH
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Re: Condenser Damage - 2015 BMW i3 REX

Fri Mar 22, 2019 3:20 pm

What are the dimensions of the area that needs to be covered?
The open grill area is 32" by 4", experimenting with it.

Bee keeper supply houses also sell galvanized mesh with 1/8th inch opening, so that is all so something to look at too.
Mark H.
2015 i3 Rex, Capparis White, Tera World, Technology & Driving Assistant, Parking Assistant, Harman Kardon Audio System, 19 inch 427 wheels, EVoInnovate EVSE

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