Home Automotive Reference Automotive Reference (general) Hack Mechanic Guide to European Automotive Electrical Systems

Bimmer - November, 2016

Hack Mechanic electrical guide both useful and readable

Initially, Rob Siegel and I are friends, and we have both been on the masthead of the BMW CCA's Roundel magazine since Etruscan times, even though he looks way older than me. That doesn't mean we always agree or that we can't be objective about each other's work.

With that out of the way..

If the world has needed one automotive electrical system manual ever since different systems evolved in different regions of the world, it's this one. Why? Anyone who's ever looked under the hood and dash of a 40-year-old European car knows the hell it endured at the hands of those who didn't understand its electrical system.

While complexity has swallowed the automotive electrical landscape at the black hole level, knowing the basics can get savvy do-it-yourselfers through simple to complex electrical diagnosis and repairs, or at least let them know what they're paying someone else to do. It'll also make drivers conversant in the subject matter, letting them know how electricity works and how not to get shocked or set things on fire. It will answer the most common electrical question: Is my battery shot or is it the alternator?

Not knowing how to test things is the reason so many people buy a battery and an alternator in succession, having mal-guessed the first time. As Siegel explains in detail, all BMWs built up to 1996 and some systems after that can be diagnosed fairly well with a digital multimeter. They're super-useful, and you can get one for 10 bucks.

Speaking of mu1timeters, love doesn't begin to describe my feelings for Chapter 8, which shows comprehensively how to diagnose car horns. "No beep-beep" is a common problem once cars exceed 35 years of age, and cars of that age often fail safety inspections for simple horn malfunction.

Additional chapters cover ignition systems from points through electronic, reading wire diagrams, diagnosing parasitic power drains and even a bit on audio head units.

Additionally, Siegel has gone well beyond the basics to subject matter that should make this manual required reading in technical schools and repair shops alike. Heck, BMW service managers would do well to read it. ..and if they do, they'll enjoy it because the editors at Bentley had the good sense to let Siegel be Siegel. Unlike the dry engineer types who usually write manuals, Siegel has a God-given turn of phrase that makes everything he writes worth reading.

But will it help you fix your BMW? Yes. Fortunately for us, Siegel and team have put together a heavily German-based electrical manual. As Siegel explained, "Charlie Burke, who has written most of Bentley's technical manuals for the past 30 years, [said], 'The German-ness is the use of the DIN numbering system and the prevalence of Bosch electronics: There's a lot of truth to that, so we ran with it:'

That German-ness makes it relevant to Bimmer readers, but it's also what makes it less than optimally useful. Here's why:

Surely, a manual that calls itself a Guide to European Automotive Electrical Systems would offer a tantalizingly vulgar description of the most deviant, licentious and tawdry automotive subject there is, one so kinky only the Brits could be into it: positive ground electrical systems. Yet I found barely a mention of the subject on Seigel's manual. In fact, the manual covers nothing enigmatic, also known as British. For that, Siegel privately recommended author Rick Astley's (not the musician)Classic British Car Electrical Systems.

I asked Siegel how the Brits were skirted.

"Since Bentley's customer base is mainly owners of European cars and since both the DIN numbering system and Bosch apply to most European cars, 'German' was expanded to 'European:" he said. "We didn't explicitly set out to exclude the Brits, but that sort of did, since vintage British cars use Lucas electrics, and before a certain point, they didn't follow the DIN numbering standard."

Notwithstanding skirting the Brits and dashing my admittedly more-than-a-little odd automotive proclivities like positive ground, this manual puts Siegel and the Bentley Publishers Technical Team on my list of noteworthy authors of truly useful manuals.

-Mike Miller

Review from and courtesy of Bimmer - November 2016