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      04-28-2013, 05:45 PM   #1
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Did this ever happen to anyone ?

I took my wife to a concert Friday evening and parked in the ramp garage next to the theater. At the conclusion we went to the car, started it up, got into the line exiting, and low and behold the line came to a complete freaking stop as we started down the ramp. There we sit. Butt end up, motor idling, and going nowhere. Can't go forward to a level area, can't go back. Now, after what seems like eternity, the oil warning comes on with the usual instructions about getting it to a dealer to be checked, oil low, etc.

Get it to a dealer? My butt. I can't go down the ramp. Hell, I can't back up. Now I'm getting nervous about possible engine damage from oil starvation.

After what seemed like forever we started moving. Finally out on the highway, I'm staring at the dash waitng for the warning to go off. It does after 7-8 minutes and I exhale relief.

Is it possible that the engine was still getting sufficient oil even though the warning came up?

Your constructive comments would be appreciated.
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      04-28-2013, 06:01 PM   #2
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You drive a car not a riding lawn mower you have a fully pressurized engine.
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      04-28-2013, 07:21 PM   #3
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should have turned the car off while you were waiting throw that b!tch on neutral and let it roll when the line started moving.
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      04-28-2013, 07:50 PM   #4
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The oil level monitoring system on these cars is flawed. You're car should be able to sit at idle on a reasonable incline without any oil starvation issues. On a steeper incline, maybe best to shut it off to be safe.

As it happens, I had exactly the same experience while idling on a relatively slight gradient here in LA. The low oil warning came up on the I-drive indicating I had almost no oil! One mild heart attack later, I drove the car to level ground and had the I-drive retest the oil level which was, of course, almost full just like it was the day before.

Cars that use a basic dipstick and a simple "idiot light" are able to avoid this "Oh crap there's no oil!!!! Oh wait... Just kidding" sequence of events. I think it's a case of BMW taking something that worked and over-complicating it unnecessarily.
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      04-28-2013, 09:03 PM   #5
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^ agreed. I prefer the dip stick. I park my cars in my garage, which is perfectly flat. It's my every other Sat morning ritual. Get up, get the coffee pot going and check the wife's and my cars tire press, oil and fluids etc. Dip stick works better.

Side note, not sure about a N54, but on a regular typical car if it's running out of oil you will HEAR IT. Knocking, ticking etc.
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      04-28-2013, 09:25 PM   #6
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Yes a dip stick i which i had. I also don't like how you could smell the engine oil sometime on long drive.
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      04-28-2013, 09:29 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fl335i View Post
Side note, not sure about a N54, but on a regular typical car if it's running out of oil you will HEAR IT. Knocking, ticking etc.
This is true. Your valves will get pretty noisy if they don't get enough oil. When the I-drive scared me half to death telling me I was almost out of oil, the first thing I noticed was the valves weren't making any extra noise. That was the first indication that it was a false alarm.

Obviously, when you're engine is making a lot of noise due to lack of oil, it is slowly killing itself and should be shut down ASAP.
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      04-29-2013, 05:39 AM   #8
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OP, so I need to understand this better. Did the car indicate the oil LEVEL was low (i.e. +1qt reading), or did the low oil PRESSURE light come on? You said that after 8 minutes of highway driving, the warning went away, so that tells me it was the oil level warning; if it was low pressure, as soon as you leveled out the pressure would have stabilized.

I do find it a bit strange that idling on a garage ramp would cause the low oil level light to come on based on the way the oil level monitor works, but maybe if you were down near a quart low in the first place. I'm not sure about the N54, but the N52 has a constant pressure oil pump, however, the N54 pulls oil from the rear of the oil pan. It must have been a very steep incline.
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      04-29-2013, 12:46 PM   #9
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Quote:
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OP, Did the car indicate the oil LEVEL was low (i.e. +1qt reading), or did the low oil PRESSURE light come on?
Agreed, this is the key to figuring out if the motor encountered any oil starvation.
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      04-29-2013, 01:17 PM   #10
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I can't speak for the OP, but my experience was very similar. For me, it was an oil level warning in the iDrive and in the cluster. There was no oil pressure warning.
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      04-29-2013, 01:44 PM   #11
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The oil level sensor is on the other side of the pan. When you were parked on the incline the car just thought that you had less oil than you did and once you leveled out it took a more accurate measurement. Nothing to worry about.
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      04-29-2013, 02:44 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PINeely View Post
The oil level sensor is on the other side of the pan. When you were parked on the incline the car just thought that you had less oil than you did and once you leveled out it took a more accurate measurement. Nothing to worry about.
I am aware of this and I would never check the oil on anything but level ground. So it would seem obtuse that the car with its clinometers, accelerometers, etc. would check the oil level when it's not level. I'm guessing that's what makes it throw false alarms.
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      04-29-2013, 07:14 PM   #13
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My wish is that the message would be a bit more specific. No telling if you're just running low, or your engine is going to seize. I am sure there is a big measure of safety built in from the time this message comes on to the time your engine gets damaged. When it happened to me the first time, I was in a hot rush to find an auto parts store to get some oil to top off. (Off course there is never one around when you need it)
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      04-29-2013, 09:12 PM   #14
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You have an oil light for pressure loss and a indication for low level. Know the difference. When you first put your key (fob) in and turn everything on look at your lights. Red lights are failure type. Battery/alternator, oil pressure, brake fluid etc. Yellow indicates a message.
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      04-30-2013, 12:00 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PINeely View Post
The oil level sensor is on the other side of the pan. When you were parked on the incline the car just thought that you had less oil than you did and once you leveled out it took a more accurate measurement. Nothing to worry about.
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Originally Posted by SharkBait View Post
I am aware of this and I would never check the oil on anything but level ground. So it would seem obtuse that the car with its clinometers, accelerometers, etc. would check the oil level when it's not level. I'm guessing that's what makes it throw false alarms.
For full disclosure, the level and wear sensor works by capacitance, much the same way your phone touch screen does. There are two sensor gates, one located above the other. Once the engine is on and the pan has drained a bit (because oil moves out of it to be circulated in the engine), the lower sensor takes a capacitance reading. The assumption is made that the lower sensor is submerged, so a change in capacitance denotes a deviation in cleanliness/age of the oil. If it gets out of spec, you need a change, the oil is just worn out. It also establishes a baseline for the upper sensor - if the capacitance is the same on the upper sensor, it means it is also submerged, and you have enough oil. If it is lower on the upper sensor than on the lower, it indicates that the upper sensor is NOT submerged, and the oil is low.

In this case, because the sensor is located towards the back of the pan, it read 'low' (as indicated by top sensor not submerged) for the duration of one sensing period (a couple minutes) because you were stopped at that incline, but had the engine running. Note it didn't come on immediately - the sensors wait a few minutes before deciding a fault condition exists for two reasons - one, to let the oil circulate into the engine (avoid reading a false negative, safe condition because the oil is still in the pan), two, to rule out the possibility that you're just on a very steep incline. In this case, it ruled that out because you were there too long.

tl;dr, totally normal operation, you just happened to experience one of the extreme fringe conditions that's not worth designing against. And as you experienced, the message cleared before you were able to do anything more than worry.



I hear the complaint about both the sensor and the inability to determine incline problems. I'll happily make the argument that an electronic sensor is preferable from BMW's perspective to a dipstick. Most people don't know how to properly read one. Though people dedicated enough to be on a forum and discuss the topic don't hold true to this average, on average electronic oil sensors save much more hassle than they cause and are a win. That said, I'd prefer they went the VW route and included a dipstick *too*.

As for the incline thing, incline-sensitive systems in cars are actually a big engineering problem that there's quite a market for solving. It's easy to say 'we have all these accelerometers now-a-days and even our phones can fly planes!' which is true. But the problem is one of calibration. Lots of people park on garage floors which are QUITE level to within reasonable tolerance, but then lots of people park both up and downhill in San Francisco (SF is actually a common special case design target for these types of systems).

Your car has more electronics than your living room and runs on more lines of code than the Space Shuttle and a modern commercial jet combined, and can act MUCH faster than you (hence DSC and SMG transmissions). But you're still WAY better equipped to know about your surrounding environment than the car is. It's hard to remember that as far as sensory goes, your car is dumb as a brick compared to the meat sacks of the world.
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      04-30-2013, 01:13 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fl335i View Post
You have an oil light for pressure loss and a indication for low level. Know the difference. When you first put your key (fob) in and turn everything on look at your lights. Red lights are failure type. Battery/alternator, oil pressure, brake fluid etc. Yellow indicates a message.
I'm pretty clear on the difference. To elaborate, it was an error message in the cluster and the iDrive said the oil level was too low. None of the idiot lights came on. On the iDrive's car status screen, it showed the oil level as just above empty.

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to rule out the possibility that you're just on a very steep incline. In this case, it ruled that out because you were there too long.
The incline wasn't that steep. Maybe 10 degrees. Coincidentally, I just happened to take this pic right before it happened. Note the incline may be a little more than the picture depicts but not much.



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totally normal operation, you just happened to experience one of the extreme fringe conditions that's not worth designing against. And as you experienced, the message cleared before you were able to do anything more than worry.
Not that fringe if you live in Beverly Hills, San Fran or ski in the Alps. Those are pretty big BMW markets.

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As for the incline thing, incline-sensitive systems in cars are actually a big engineering problem that there's quite a market for solving.
I am just surprised as there is a system that detects incline to apply the brake when you drive off on a hill and it works pretty well. I would bet it's a 6DOF IMU providing incline information. That data could easily be shared with the system monitoring the oil level. Actually, I am sure this probably does happen or it has some other way to determine that it is getting an accurate reading otherwise it would happen a lot more often. But, it appears to be buggy and exceptions like mine happen.

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Your car has more electronics than your living room
You haven't seen my living room!

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Originally Posted by alexwhittemore View Post
and runs on more lines of code than the Space Shuttle and a modern commercial jet combined
Meh, the shuttles started out on 8-bit x86 processors with less than 1Mb of RAM. And thanks to Moore's law, my new phone has more processing power than most all the systems in my 3 year old car. As for your commercial jets, the 777, 787 and all Airbuses each have about the same computational hardware as a dealership full of BMWs. Actually, I am not sure what the point here is!

Bottom line, the false alarms undermine my confidence in the car's oil monitoring capability. (And makes me want a dip stick!)

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      04-30-2013, 02:12 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by SharkBait View Post
The incline wasn't that steep. Maybe 10 degrees. Coincidentally, I just happened to take this pic right before it happened. Note the incline may be a little more than the picture depicts but not much.

Not that fringe if you live in Beverly Hills, San Fran or ski in the Alps. Those are pretty big BMW markets.
That actually is a bit surprising that it'd be a problem at 10*, but the fringe part isn't the incline as much as it is the not driving but having the engine on. Even when you park in SF, it's pretty rare to then start the motor and stay at that same incline without turning onto a new incline or turning around for many minutes. And you're right that they're big markets. Which is why they didn't go and do something stupid like put the seals at a height relative to fluid level that it'd leak out on those inclines

Quote:
I am just surprised as there is a system that detects incline to apply the brake when you drive off on a hill and it works pretty well. I would bet it's a 6DOF IMU providing incline information. That data could easily be shared with the system monitoring the oil level. Actually, I am sure this probably does happen or it has some other way to determine that it is getting an accurate reading otherwise it would happen a lot more often. But, it appears to be buggy and exceptions like mine happen.
An IMU ought to help, but there are other considerations like the acceleration vector changing due to the car accelerating, decelerating, and turning. My boss was discussing all the implications of such a sensor problem with me a while back, but I sadly forget most of the conversation (this was at an IC design company, he has lots of experience with embedded sensors and systems).



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You haven't seen my living room!
True

Quote:
Meh, the shuttles started out on 8-bit x86 processors with less than 1Mb of RAM. And thanks to Moore's law, my new phone has more processing power than most all the systems in my 3 year old car. As for your commercial jets, the 777, 787 and all Airbuses each have about the same computational hardware as a dealership full of BMWs. Actually, I am not sure what the point here is!
The shuttles were actually 32-bit IBM AP-101 based, but that's neither here nor there. The LOC complexity estimate is actually from an NI newsletter, page 3. And I think the idea behind it is actually a bit misleading. Planes are complex systems, but more code just means more to go wrong. Ideally you keep critical systems as simple as possible. On the other hand, if your 7-series throws an oil light that clears up a few minutes later, nobody dies. Though I wonder what the ACTUAL complexity number is for, say, a Virgin America plane with all the seat-back entertainment.

Anyway, I'm not sure there was a strongly relevant point in the first place to that comment.

Quote:
Bottom line, the false alarms undermine my confidence in the car's oil monitoring capability. (And makes me want a dip stick!)
I wouldn't be too worried about it. Better a false positive indicating attention needed than a false negative and no flag. Your serpentine belt doesn't have a wear indicator, does it?

Wanting a dipstick is reasonable though. Wish they'd have just included one.


Edit: on the lines of code thing, here's the original source that NI used. It's an interesting read. Apparently a dreamliner, after all is said and done, is around 6.5mloc http://spectrum.ieee.org/green-tech/...r-runs-on-code
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      04-30-2013, 02:17 AM   #18
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I'm pretty clear on the difference. To elaborate, it was an error message in the cluster and the iDrive said the oil level was too low. None of the idiot lights came on. On the iDrive's car status screen, it showed the oil level as just above empty.
The iDrive indicator only measures one quart of oil. If it is showing just above empty, it actually means it's measuring 6 qts of oil, not 0 qts of oil.

"Empty" on iDrive is the same as the "min" line on a traditional dipstick, not literally empty.
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