Sometimes, all the evidence points to just one thing. You do all the tests, and everything you do confirms your suspected diagnosis.

So you go to work. You get it fixed, button it back up, and... NOTHING!

Yup, like that time I replaced my rear wheel bearings only to find it was actually my 195k mile driveshaft failing

You weep, wail, gnash your teeth. Your S.O. doesn’t care (or at least won’t understand what happened). Your buddies can’t diagnose much over the phone, so they offer condolences and leave you to stew.

Which you do.

What did you miss?

Did you forget something, or screw something up?

You stew and go over the whole operation again in your mind.

As that fetid cauldron percolates, bubbles rise to the top and burst with the sweet, desperate smell of the “Grasping at Straws Last Ditch Effort.”

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Skeptical but without any other good options, you give that last ditch effort a try.

And as if Saint Peter himself (the original “The Rock”) is there wrenching with you, a miracle takes place.

IT WORKS!

Here’s how it went down for me.

My car’s first clutch lasted almost exactly 100k miles. So at 204k on the clock (and after several track days and such) I knew I was living on borrowed time.

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So it was no surprise when my clutch stopped working in the middle of downtown Austin on a Saturday morning last month.

Yes, in the middle of SXSW

Now, when I say “stopped” working what I really mean is it WOULDN’T stop working - wouldn’t disengage.

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I managed to rev match / grind it and got the car home. I poked around online, and the sudden failure mode made me lean towards the actual clutch rather than any of the hydraulics (which tend to slowly go, giving you plenty of warning).

However, I’d mauled the old rubber line between the master and slave years ago when I removed the infamous CDV (Clutch Delay Valve) BMW started adding somewhere in the middle of the E36 production run.

And I’d seen a friend replace his clutch and pressure plate, only to experience one of those massive diagnosis errors. He got it back together and still no workie. We laid under the car and watched him clutch in, and his old rubber line was flexing and expanding like a birthday clown making balloon animals (except less creepy). We replaced it with a new braided line and it worked like a charm.

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So naturally I went easiest first. I’d ordered a new braided line months ago, waiting for a time like this. I R&R’ed it, bled it well, but no change.

Furthermore, all the hydraulics seemed to be holding pressure, and there was no external leaking (which was my main failure mode), so I ordered up a new clutch.

Pressure plate.

Lightweight flywheel.

Throw out bearing.

Pilot bearing.

SSK (you know, since I was already in there).

New transmission shift pins, springs, and bushings.

I mean, you might as well while the transmission is out of the car, right?

This is where those shifter pins (and bushings) go. Textbook example of the slippery slope of, “well, while you’re there, you might as well...”

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And while I have access, I might as well replace my rear main seal, selector shaft seal, and the input and output shaft seals, right?

Oh, look, with the transmission out those hard to reach, 20-year old heater hoses are easy to get to.

Well, I suppose “easy” is a relative term

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And hey - my starter is ALSO 20 years old, and just hanging there by a wire. (Speaking of the starter, getting the last stripped bolt loose from the bellhousing was a heroic save, but a story for another time).

Grand total? Far more than a normal person should have spent on a 20-year old car.

But it was a complete refreshing, and I didn’t have any abnormal trouble getting it all back together.

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Until the moment of truth.

Transmission in, slave reattached.

With the car in gear, I had my daughter push in the clutch while I tried to rotate the transmission output flange by hand.

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No dice.

I talked it over with some friends while I ran some Saturday errands, and came to the only conclusion left - it must be the hydraulics, and since the slave wasn’t leaking, it must be the master.

Epic fail, right?

After two full weekends already, I wasn’t ready to start on replacing the master cylinder late on a Saturday afternoon.

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So I wallowed in my defeat.

As I sat there dejected, I couldn’t help thinking that a simple bubble in the system would give me all the same symptoms of failed hydraulics.

Despite having already thoroughly bled it, I didn’t see any harm in trying to bleed it again.

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I opened the bleed valve with some pressure on the system, and a HUGE air bubble came out.

I couldn’t believe my eyes, and more than that, I started to hope that maybe - maybe - I actually did this.

Clutch test for the second time... VIOLÁ!

The miracle!

IT WORKED!

Safely back on the ground

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Through research, hard work, and no small measure of luck, I as able to pull this out when it seemed all was lost.

I did it, and I’m sure you’ve done it.

Tell me your best story of when you snatched Victory from the jaws of Defeat.