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Recent Blog Posts

Understanding The VIN

by james on 02 Sep 2016
Understanding the VIN   Every vehicle manufactured since 1954 carries a unique identifier, the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number).  Since 1979 there has been a global VIN standard so that all VIN’s follow the same format.  The VIN, as its name suggests, identifies the car uniquely, and the manufacturer releases information associated with the VIN.  As manufacturers offer an increasingly wide and deep set of ‘options’ with new vehicles, the VIN becomes more and more important in identifying which parts fit which particular vehicle.   Fortunately for me (and for you, too), MINI and Porsche have stuck to fairly well defined formulae for their cars, so that a lot of the time components such as brakes, clutches and service items can be identified by knowing the car’s model and year.  One notable distinction is identifying the correct steering column switch assembly for 986 Boxster and 996 series 911’s.  In these cars there were 4 different switch assemblies offered: Two lever switch Three lever switch with cruise control Four lever witch with cruise control and onboard computer Three lever switch with onboard computer but no cruise control (this option was mostly fitted to GT3 models)   The manufacturers work with their chosen software partner to make the information available, usually at a price.  So, if you want to look up Porsche information, filtered by VIN, you can subscribe to a service called Partslink24, which provides parts diagrams for every roadgoing model Porsche ever built, from the 356 up to the new (at the time of writing) Boxster and Cayman 718.  (Taking time out en route to geek out over the 959, Carrera GT and 918.)   MINI owners can also use Partslink24 to get information about their cars, but if you have a MINI, you can also get car-specific information at (Note that MINI’s are searchable by the serial number, which is the last 7 characters of the VIN).   The following table breaks down the 17 characters of the VIN:   Char Value/Meaning 1 Manufacturer identifier MINI use WMW Porsche use WP0 for sports cars, WP1 for SUV’s 2 3 4 General vehicle characteristics.  Australian Porsches will all have ‘ZZZ’ in position 4-6 and the first 2 characters of the model code, followed by a Z in position 9. 5 6 7 8 9 10 Position 10 – 17 are used for vehicle specific information. 11 12 13 14 15 16 17   …and here is a sample Porsche VIN in detail:   W Germany (‘W’ is a carry over from West Germany) P Porsche 0 Sports Car Z These three are always Z for Australian delivered cars Z Z 9 First two characters of the model type 9 Z Always a Z for Australian delivered cars B 2011 model year S Made in Stuttgart 7 Third character of the model type – so this car is a 997 1 Not used in Australia 3 Serial number (designates vehicle type in US market) 1 8 2   Fortunately, for most of the parts sold by Master Parts, it’s enough to know your car’s model year, but if you are ever unsure of the correct part for your car, feel free to call, email or contact us online to identify the right part for your car.

Who Made This?

by james on 22 Dec 2015
Who Made This?   In the world of medicine, you will often have the choice between brand name drugs or generic equivalents.  Developing new (pharmaceutical drugs) is big business.  To protect the company’s investment in R&D, the drug company has a window during which their patented drug may not be copied.  The drug company has a short-lived monopoly, and generally prices the drug the way you would expect a monopolist to price, i.e, they charge like a wounded bull.  Once the patent expires, other companies may market their versions of the drug and all those lovely free market forces come into play, so generic drugs are usually vastly cheaper than the brand name drug.   With drugs, unless you are an analytical chemist, it’s difficult to know exactly what you are buying.  (Although if you want to test for fake little blue pills, it’s not hard.)  Judging by the enormous numbers of spam emails which I receive for gentlemen’s strengthening tablets, there is an enormous market out there for fake pharmaceuticals.  And where a generic drug contains the same active ingredient as the brand name equivalent, a fake drug is exactly that: a sugar coated piece of chalk.   There’s a strong incentive to make fake drugs: the margins are enormous.  I don’t know what the chalk costs, but having researched this stuff, for purely academic reasons, I suspect I am in the wrong business entirely.  The little blue pills sell for around $4 each.  That’s good margin for chalk!   In the world of car parts, it’s a similar story, with hopefully a lot less spam involved.  The pecking order for car parts goes mostly like this: Genuine Parts OEM Parts Aftermarket Parts Fake Parts   Genuine parts carry the marque’s branding.  For some parts, there is no option.  If you want a steering column switch for your Porsche Boxster or 996, it’s a genuine Porsche part.   OEM parts are the same parts as fitted in the factory, but with the manufacturer’s branding.  If you buy a genuine MINI oil filter, you get a Mahle filter in a MINI box.  If you buy genuine Porsche brake pads, you get either Pagid or Textar pads in a Porsche box.  What you don’t get with OEM parts is the ‘genuine’ price.  This is why Master Parts sells OEM parts as far as possible.    Aftermarket parts covers a broad range, from high quality items manufactured by reputable brands, to parts that are just plain junk.  If a Mahle oil filter for a particular car is not the factory fitment, then that filter is not OEM, but it can get murky.  F’rinstance if Porsche use a Mahle oil filter for one model, and a Mann cabin air filter, then Mahle are OEM for oil filters, but aftermarket for cabin filters for that model.  Some aftermarket parts are indistinguishable from OEM (and genuine) parts, and in some cases it doesn’t really matter.  Cabin air filters are probably a good example.  There’s probably very little down side risk to using an aftermarket cabin air filter, but you’d be brave if you made it your mission in life to seek out the cheapest oil filter for your car.   The tricky thing with the term ‘aftermarket’ parts is that it covers everything from totally unserviceable items that bear a passing resemblance to useful car parts to items that are substantial improvements over the factory fitted items.  Within the Master Parts range, examples of aftermarket parts that are upgrades from factory fit items are: Numeric Racing shifters and cables for 996/7 and 986/7 models BMP aluminium coolant reservoirs for R53 MINI Cooper S L and N Engineering IMS bearing updates for 996 and 986 model Porsches   And then there are fake parts.  Piracy in car parts really does exist.  I’ve been shown examples of fake oil filters, air filters, clutch components and brake pads.  It goes without saying that buying fake parts is just not worth it.  Of course, nobody would knowingly buy fake parts but the old wisdom holds true: if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.   So, the question arises: If you have a choice, which car parts should you buy?  The answer is simple:  First prize is OEM, where this is available.  You get genuine part quality without genuine part prices.  If OEM is not available, look for OEM equivalent aftermarket parts.  Within the parts you’ll find on we’ve made every effort to indicate the part’s manufacturer, and if you are interested in a part that doesn’t have a manufacturer identified, please ask.  

When Things Go Bang

 by james on 20 Oct 2015 |
No Comment
When Things Go Bang (In A Good Way)
The heart of the internal combustion engine, you won’t be surprised to hear, is combustion.  A steam engine is an external combustion engine.  The fire burns outside the engine, to heat water and create steam which is stored under pressure and used to drive a piston.  By contrast, in an internal combustion engine, the combustion takes place inside the engine: burning air/fuel mixture expands and pushes on the piston which in turn pushes on the crankshaft, through the transmission to the driven wheels.  The mindblowing part of the internal combustion engine (which I will henceforth refer to as an engine) is the speed at which things take place.  Even at idle, which is approximately 900rpm, each piston is firing 7.5 times per second in a four cylinder engine.  The flame temperature inside the combustion chamber can exceed 2,000 deg C.  With so much happening, in such a harsh environment, it seems like a miracle that an engine can last long enough to reach the end of your driveway, let alone for hundreds of thousands of kilometres.
A quick recap of the four strokes of a four stroke engine:
Induction – The inlet valve(s) open and the piston moves down in the cylinder, creating a partial vacuum which draws in the air/fuel mixture
Compression – The inlet valve(s) close and the piston moves upwards in the cylinder, compressing the unburnt air/fuel mixture, and, thanks to the wonders of physics, heating it.
Ignition – The spark plug fires, igniting the air/fuel mixture which expands enormously and quickly, pushing the piston down in the cylinder, and turning the crankshaft.  (Diesel engines are different – they do not use a spark for ignition, instead diesel engines use the heating effect of compression to cause ignition.)
Exhaust – The exhaust valve opens and the piston moves upwards, pushing the burnt air/fuel mixture out.
These four cycles are informally and memorably referred to as suck, squeeze, bang and blow.
In this post, I will concentrate on the work of the spark plug.  Spark plugs are an ancient invention; they were invented in 1839, two years after Queen Victoria became queen, but it took until 1902 before a Bosch employee came up with a viable system for a spark ignition system.  An awful lot of spark plugs have been made since – Bosch alone have manufactured over 10 billion plugs.  Laid end to end, that’s 800,000km of spark plugs –  enough to stretch to the moon and back.  (Although spark plugs are very difficult to balance one on top of the other.)
When the air is cold and dry, you may notice static shocks occurring.  Typically you get out of your car, touch the door to shut it, and notice the zap.  That zap is several thousand volts equalising between you and the car.  You’re still alive because the current involved is tiny.  But that spark can (and in certain circumstances does) cause ignition.  And it is very similar to the spark in a spark ignition engine.
In the combustion chamber, compression raises the pressure to approximately ten times atmospheric pressure.  As pressure rises, it becomes harder for a spark to jump across the spark plug gap, so spark plugs require a voltage of around 40,000 volts.  It’s the job of the coil to increase the voltage from the battery’s 12 volts to the high voltage needed to create a spark in the combustion chamber.  The ignition timing system ensures that the spark fires at the right time to ensure optimum combustion of the air/fuel mixture, taking account of the speed of the moving piston and the time taken for the flame front to burn through the mixture.
Here is a video showing what happens inside a cylinder.  The camera is pointing upwards at the roof of the combustion chamber, with the inlet valve on the right and the exhaust valve on the left.  The shot jumps past the closing of the exhaust valve every time, so you don’t get to see the exhaust valve closing.
 For a wider view, here’s a video showing an engine built with a glass cylinder, which allows the internals to be seen clearly.  Interestingly there are a number of misfires.  The first is at 0:40, and there is another at 1:08.  (Remember suck, squeeze, bang and blow?)  An ignition (easy to see here occurs every second time the piston nears the top of its stroke. 
 The design of the spark plug has a central positive electrode running down the length of the plug.  The negative electrode is earthed via the cylinder head.  The ceramic insulator – the white bit – that runs the length of the spark plug separates the two electrodes.  Finally, the washer provides a gas-tight seal. 
As well as providing a spark (well….duh!), the spark plug helps maintain the combustion chamber at the correct temperature.  Different plug designs carry more or less heat away from the combustion chamber.  A plug that carries more heat away from the combustion chamber is referred to as a cooler plug, and one that carries less heat is referred to as a warmer plug.  A spark plug’s heat range is indicated by the number in the spark plug type.  For instance, the ‘5’ in a Bosch WR5DC+ or FGR5KQE0 spark plug indicates the heat range.  A plug containing a different number, e.g., WR7DC+ would have the same physical characteristics, but a different temperature rating.  And just to keep things exciting, different manufacturers use different numbers to convey the same information.  In other words, just because the appropriate Bosch plug for your car has a ‘5’ as the heat range indicator, it doesn’t mean that NGK will also use a ‘5’ for their equivalent. 
The other letters in a spark plug’s identifier tell you about electrode length, diameter, material and all sorts of other things, to a level of geeky-ness that no normal human being needs to know.  So let’s take a look at that, shall we, with the aid of this useful chart.  The info in the chart works well enough for the WR5DC+ plug, which is used in Porsche 911 cars to 1989.  And the info which comes out is:
W – Seat shape and thread:  20.8mm head with M14 x 1.25 thread
R – Plug design: Interference suppression resistor
5  - The heat range of the plug
D – Thread length and spark position
C – Type of electrode: Copper
+ – Marketing BS.  In this case ‘Super Plus Technology’
Like true love, but unlike herpes, spark plugs do not last forever.  Each time a spark plug creates a spark, a minuscule piece of material is removed from the electrode.  Eventually this material removal means that the plug no longer sparks correctly.  This is why spark plugs need to be replaced from time to time.  It is also why advice columnists and doctors are such busy people.


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All pictures and references to the brands and logos are for reference only, and do not imply any association with the brandholders. Most parts offered are OEM or quality aftermarket parts.  Genuine Porsche or MINI parts are specifically identified as such.  Master Parts  is not responsible for any typographical errors contained within the site.   Information within this website is for reference only.   It is your responsibility to verify that you are technically competent to carry out repair and maintenance procedures.  By entering this site, you agree to hold Master Parts free from any liability arising out of the use of any information contained within.
Master Parts is Australian owned and operated in Australia, for Australian customers.
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