Diagnosing a Failing BMW Vanos System – When to Repair Your Vanos

This guide brought to you by BMW N54 Tuners will explain what the VANOS system is, the importance of the technology, and most importantly when and why it should be replaced or rebuilt. The VANOS system isn't unique to the N54 engine; it is used in many variations of BMW engines. However, for tuning purposes it is important to at least be able to identify VANOS problems, and know how to fix them as a faulty solenoid can cause a major loss of horsepower.

What the hell is BMW VANOS?

The BMW VANOS (variable nockenwellen steuerung in German) is a variable valve timing technology developed by BMW. The system variably adjusts the timing of the valves by changing the position of the camshaft relative to the drive gear. In simpler terms, it adjusts the camshaft for the intake and exhaust valves, allowing for smoother idling, more torque, and a more elastic powerband. In addition to this, the vanos solenoids control the flow of oil to the cam gears, which is what allows the timing to adjust. Dirty, clogged, or improperly functioning vanos solenoids will have a significant impact on horsepower, performance, and overall drive-ability.

The first inclusion of Vanos was in the 1992 BMW M50 engine that was used in the 5-Series and only adjusted the position of the intake camshaft. Double Vanos was introduced four years later in 1996 in the S50 engine and featured continuous variability of the intake and exhaust valves, rather than only the intake valve like the single vanos had done.

Here are two diagrams that show how VANOS works, if anyone wants to confuse themselves even more:

How BMW Vanos WorksPin

Why do I need to Understand VANOS?

Well, you really don’t. Understanding the Vanos system and the technical and mechanical ideology behind it is a headache and filled with jargon that only advanced mechanics and ECU tuners need to understand. What’s important to us as BMW owners is knowing that the Vanos system is a major electronic component of our engine’s computer system and that a bad or damaged Vanos can cause a decrease in power and torque, rough idling conditions, and poor fuel economy.

Symptoms of a Bad BMW VANOS System

  • Loss of power and torque, primarily in the lower ranges, typically below 3k RPMS
  • Engine hesitation and bogging in the lower rpm ranges
  • Rough idle with frequent hiccups
  • Increased fuel consumption or poor fuel economy
  • Cold start issues and stalling in cold weather
  • Engine fault codes, aka a check engine light
  • Engine constantly falls into limp mode after acceleration

Vanos Fault Codes:

N55 and N63 owners need to use this Vanos solenoid: N55/N63 Vanos Solenoids

Our readers get 5% off vanos solenoids by clicking the link above and using the code "N54TUNERS" at checkout!

These are only a few fault codes for the Vanos system, other codes could also indicate a failing Vanos system. If you have a check engine light, we highly recommend buying a code reader and finding out what it is yourself before you pay a shop $100 to plug their scanner into it.

When to Replace a Bad VANOS System

Although there are various symptoms caused by a failing Vanos system, sometimes they are not noticeable at all until the system has just about completely gone bad. Certain engines are good at hiding any symptoms and you may not realize your Vanos has gone bad. Here are a few key mileage points we note:

  • 50,000 Miles: at 50k miles, your Vanos seals are probably just about all worn down. If you do not notice any issues at this point you can go a bit longer without repair, but your car might be performing below par without you knowing.
  • 70,000 Miles: by 70k miles you should repair/replace your VANOS if you have not already. At this point, your seals will be worn out and your car will have less power in the lower ranges, whether or not you notice it.

When you replace your Vanos you will notice an increase in lower range power, up to about 3k RPM’s, you will improve your fuel efficiency by a decent amount, and it may solve any rough idling that your car has (this can also be caused by spark plugs or the spark plug gapping). A lot of the time you won’t notice that your car is underperforming, especially if you haven’t experienced it at full performance, and therefore will be hesitant to repair a part that isn’t technically broken yet. But we recommend replacing the seals and the whole system around 70k miles if not earlier. We consider it preventative maintenance and you will notice a difference in the performance and smoothness of your ride.

IImportant Note: if you are going to fully replace your VANOS solenoids, I highly recommend using URO or Pierburg Solenoids, rather than some crappy solenoids you can find on Amazon. The URO brand is a great aftermarket budget option and Pierburg is a pricier but top quality brand. In our opinion both of these options are better than the Genuine/OEM product. We don't generally recommend the Genuine brand since they are poorly constructed, fail easily, and are 3x the cost of the other solenoids.

Please do not go the super cheap route and buy a set of off-brand solenoids from Amazon for $30 each. These solenoids are a crucial component of the timing and overall performance of your BMW/N54 engine. You wouldn't put 87 octane gas in your N54, would you?

VANOS System Maintenance: How to Clean your VANOS Solenoids

As we mentioned prior, having clogged or dirty vanos solenoids can result in poor oil flow to the cams, and therefore poor timing. You might not want to fork out $300 for some new solenoids, especially if your BMW hasn't started to experience any of the symptoms to a severe extent, or enter limp mode. The good news is: you can remove and clean your vanos solenoids, and it is relatively easy.

Cleaning your Vanos solenoids is a 30-minute DIY and can be completed by novice tuners. As much as I would love to write a DIY on it myself, I haven't gotten around to cleaning mine yet, and there is a perfectly good DIY guide on the forums.

BMW VANOS Solenoid Replacement/Cleaning DIY: https://bmwtuning.co/vanos-solenoid-replacement/

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51 thoughts shared

  1. So I am new to working on BMWs had replaced my intake side Vanos solenoid and I’m still getting the code I noticed that I have one on my exhaust side and was wondering if they are the same part?

    1. Hi Josh,

      Correct – intake and exhaust solenoids should be identical. Cannot remember off the top of my head if that is the case for ALL BMW’s. However, for the N20, N54, N55, N63, S55, etc they are the same.

      Best Regards,
      Zach

  2. Comment author image

    Robert F Altvatter

    says:

    I have a 2008 535 xi that runs like a champ. Recently I was driving it and it just decided to slow, all the lights came on the dash, and it settled on the battery indicator. With help I got a new battery, replaced it and the car ran fine for 2 days. Then history repeated itself and it did the exact same thing. I really don’t know where to begin, and I have little faith in the 2 local BMW mechanics. My X5 did something similar and neither one could figure it out. I ended up selling my X5 for another, but I don’t want to let my 535 go. Any places to start looking?

  3. I forgot to say that the engine idles smoothly at 650 rpms but the gas mileage is seriously diminished at 23-24 mpg when it is normally around 30 mpg.

  4. I have a 2010 328i sports wagon with 132,000 miles which I bought in Stuttgart while in the USAF. I’m getting the “Service Engine Soon Light” with P0012/$07E8 “A Camshaft position Timing Over-Retarded Bank 1” code. I have replaced the solenoids, the intake cam position sensor, and cleaned the oil screens. Still getting the same code. I’m not equipped to delve further and my mechanic wants to look inside at the VANOS cam shafts which he’s saying could cost $2k. Is there anything else I can try or ask my mechanic to look at before spending tons of money? I can’t afford to keep going down this rabbit hole.

  5. Hi I have a 2007 318 I it shows Misfire cylinder 1 misfire several cylinders the misfire is very noticeable if I disconnect the solenoid while the engine is running and drive off and clear the codes with the engine running the car will then run fine until and stop the car I’m restarts engine then you have to do the process again has anybody got any ideas

  6. Hello Jake

    Great info! Simple question. I purchased new Vaico vanos solenoids and fitted them. One throws up an intake fault code 2A82.

    If I replace it with the old one, the fault goes away again. Any thoughts?

    I’ve checked the oil filter cap (and vanos insert) which seems to be fine.

    The car is a 2008 630i with N52 motor.

  7. You recommend VAICO as a brand. I ordered 2 of them for my N53, but the car was running very poorly on those and got a check engine light immediately! Put back the old OEM without any issues.
    (wanted to do a preventive replacement)
    Very strange that these solenoids are not running as they should on my car. Any idea why?

    1. I have been a independent hobby tech, auto and marine my whole life. I recently purchased my 8th bmw, it’s my second v8. The first is a 745 I purchased under 10,000 @60k w/ trans issues And leaking oil from every orface. At 117k I had the infamous motor mount oil leak on a February evening and it was -35. I’ll just say it was 19 miles til home and the unexceptabe oil level light was on and I kept goin til I got home. that was it’s last oil change, or service of any kind, no BS! It’s got 167k now. It has a little wrist pin noise from the no oil drive home and obviously it leaks oil again so it’s added as needed But the car just keeps running and great I have to say .BUT the newer one I purchased a couple months ago is a 08 all white 650 w45k for too much$ . I should of test drove it like I stole it in stead of babying it. I’m having trans issues (harsh shifts, gurgling pump noises….) but on top of that ..Vanos issues peddle issues with no light. . I ordered a “ cheaper “ vanos set from A1 auto “Lifetime “ replacement.. well I remove the original vanos to clean, check the O rings and ohm tested them to see if I was in the right area. I put them back in and the performance was much better but still a issue with surge and the peddle is starting to get spongy. The new solenoids showed up and, just cause, I OHM tested the new ones. And The old ones were reading 11.2 (room temp) and the new ones were 12.5.( room temp. So I placed one in the car on the dash while the sun was baking and it went up .02. They are still in a box because I was worried about the same thing that you are going through. And I already know I will personally be ripping the transmission out this fall So… I recently have been googling in regards to my new nightmare and normally I don’t look on sites and gather knowledge, actually this is my fist time. I don’t even have Facebook but I found this to be inspirational towards helping those who spend good money on fancy money buckets on wheels, it’s almost worse than boats, that’s my worst hobby . Sorry to ramble on But maybe it was missing a O ring, or maybe your ECM notices a change in value “perimeters” with your parts, in which it thinks there is a issue. From what I am seeing, software has become first priorities to repair and maintain. You can’t even change the battery without having a issue! Unless you pair it to the car… In 2005 I sold my shop because of all of this change and the cost of each tool to do 1 thing that was certain to be obsolete 1 year later.. but this week after doing a little research I have decided to take the $ I would spend on 1 repair and update my scan equipment. There are cheaper alternatives quality software tools out there now that are Dealer quality at a 10th of the price. I spent $800 total. A used Lap top, 500g hard drive just for bmw, multi plug, A2 interface… and I’ll just pay daily for ISTA. $35. That’s what top techs make when the DL is charging $150hr. Keep that in mind when your car is still not fixed or the service writer calls and says it’s gonna be a lot more. Tech need book time to make $. Some do 100+ hrs in a 40hr week. Food for thought. This for sure will be my last Bmw.. I will keep it til it dies, one way or another. But I already see it being a garbage space taker. Probably why it only has 45k on a 08. . I will be replacing my poor 745 with a Audi s8 in the near future. I have a built z06 that I am ready to part with as a trade.

  8. I have been experiencing rough idle when I stopped at the light or just when the car is in Park. I cleaned the vanos out and the check engine light was gone for about 2 weeks. I replaced them, code did go away for few days. I have decided to replace them with a better OEM vanos. Had a certified mechanic do the job. Two days later engine light comes back on. The car still jerks with RPM jumping. Got the code read and it says vanos mechanism error. Any idea how to fix this for good?

  9. Hello and thanks for your support I have a problem with my n45 vanos when I connect them on, the engine starts shaking and idling very rough and stalls finally.
    As you would suggest, I was told to check my vanos solenoids and clean them, I checked them with 12v, cleaned them they are working, same results, so I bought 2 solenoids but it does the same.
    After that, I was told it could be Vanos Gears, I bought 2 (intake/exhaust) and installed them with timing tools and latest updated tensioner. Same results.
    We checked the timing with every step of the procedure done as it should be. Nothing changed.

    We’ve noticed if I unplug the upper vanos solenoid (intake?), the engine could run smoother if I unplug the lower one, it run rough.

    The mechanic finally told me that it could be my DME whome vanos need to be re adapted

  10. I have a 2011 bmw 328i that has a rough idle on cold starts only. RPMs bounce around 5-600 and car shakes pretty bad. This only happens with cold starts. Once car is warmed up I have a perfect idle at 600 rpm. I have replaced the coils and spark plugs, cleaned MAF sensor and cleaned VANOS intake (top) solenoid. No avail. Does this sound like something that would be solved by new vanos solenoids ? Thank you

  11. Timing chain guides, tensioner’s chains, solenoid bank 1 and sensors replaced. Service engine light still on. Bank 2 needs replacing I’m thinking is the culprit. 99 bmw 740i

  12. Comment author image

    Anthony Cocomazzi

    says:

    Having an issue with my 2010 328i. At times whenever I come to a stop light (only under 1k rpms) my car will start to make a bogging noise and the rpms will jump between 500-600 rpms. I have a P0012 and P052B both camshaft “”A”” position timing over retarted. I was told it’s most likely my solenoids are failing. Would it be smart to change them out? I have no idea when they were first replaced if they ever were. Car has 158,000 miles on it.

    1. Hi Anthony,

      Sounds like VANOS solenoids are the likely culprit. It’s pretty common for N5x vanos solenoids to fail just north of 100,000 miles; you’re a good bit past that. You can try cleaning the solenoids but it’s typically a short term solution, if it even works at all.

      With your mileage, we would recommend changing them out. https://bmwsparkplugs.com/collections/vanos-solenoids/products/bmw-vanos-solenoid-11-36-7-585-425

      Best Regards,

      BWM N54 Tuners

  13. I have a 2008 535xi manual. I just got this car a week ago, and today was the first day I really went to spool up the turbo in 4th gear. It started to hesitate and jump a little. I wanted to recreate this, so I did it again on a side street in 3rd gear. It was hesitating by the time it hit 3.5k rpm where I would have really expected full power. When I got to the stop sign, it was idling rough, and I was almost not able to take off (I thought I shifted into 3rd and missed 1st gear when I took off). There was a check engine light on without any other details. I shut off the car, and turned it back on. Idle was smooth again, and I wasn’t able to recreate the poor idle problem or check engine light again with my mechanic friend in the car, but I can get it to hesitate when powering through a gear, but driving normally doesn’t cause any noticeable issues. Does this sound like a Vanos problem?

  14. Does will banks failure cause the car to not crank over? All the codes leave to banks problems. Took out banks cleaned and same problem one crank and then shuts down won’t crank over Moe than one crank.

  15. Hey Jack I have a BMW 530i I was driving home and then all of a sudden the tach jumped all over and then stalled and won’t start back up I replaced the top navos and still nothing do you think it’s something else or am I on the right track

  16. Hi Laura – My guess would be a bad guibo (flex disc) but its also probably a good idea to clean your vanos solenoids. It also could be spark plug or ignition coil related, “cleaning” the spark plugs won’t do anything if the plug is fouled – but a coil or plug issue would likely happen in every gear, not just 4th.

  17. I have a 2004 BMW X3 3.0i that recently started kind of shaking when I accelerate in fourth gear over 3,000 rpm. Any ideas what might be causing this? I have replaced the disa, mass air flow sensor, intake boot, and cleaned the spark plugs.

  18. Jut want to share my experience.

    I was working on my BMW 2012 550i xdrive when I read this article, decided to check all 4 Vanos solenoid at 60,000 miles. N63 engine 8cyl twin turbo

    Upon close inspection and test all 4 showed to be be clean, and excellent shape I was surprised as the vehicle had extremely poor maintenance from previous owner the intake valve were clogged with carbon build up took me 4 hours to clean them all, it has no history of Vanos replacement and the signs on the outer case gave it away it was never replaced. The Orings were also in very good condition, could had reused, yet I replaced.

    This is my experience, not saying that the article is wrong in any shape or form, I actually think is good it addresses the preventive maintenance, considering that 4 of these solenoids can cost from $500 to $800 better do preventive work for sure.

    Only related to this topic, I would recommend always cleaning the spark plugs and ignition coils from time to time (presuming they don’t need replacement) , use good gas, oil change with proper oil way before it is due, drive a bit fast on weekly basis helps prevent carbon build up, let turbo cool (a minute or so) before shutting off the car.

    Upon other research some people have claimed that these solenoids can last beyond 100k miles, perhaps it is true like a lot other things if the owner do a lot preventive work around the clock.

  19. A very experienced BMW tech told me to take the car for a good run after valve seal and solenoid replacement.
    What is a “good run?” I asked. 1000 miles was the reply. During the run my mileage went up 25% and the car eventually ran like a bought one.

  20. I currently own a 2011 BMW 328i xdrive. A week ago I had just filled up with gas and started to head home, about 3 miles later when I stopped at a red light my car just suddenly stalled and would not start back up. Thinking it was just a fuel pump I had the car towed to a local mechanic who specializes in BMW’s. After he looked at it he told me that 2 cylinders had no compression. According to them they think it could be a timing chain problem. My question is could the VANOS system cause this problem to happen or what you possibly think the problem could be?

    1. Just changed complete valve cover because I was told the diaphragm busted from pressure from the crank case drove it a few hundred miles engine light came on and it idles funny when I crank it for a few minutes then it’s fine acts a little funny when it come to a stop just bought new Vanos solenoids hope it does the trick

      1. Dakota – this could also be from gunked up spark plugs due to the valve cover leak. But vanos solenoids is a good place to start and its a good part to replace anyways if you are higher mileage.

    2. I have a 2008 BMW 550i I’m getting codes from both Vanos exhaust and intake on bank 2. Along with camshaft position sensor codes, exhaust and intake on bank 2. I replaced all 4 parts with BMW OEM parts. Cleared the codes. And started the car 2 times. And the same exact codes reappeared. I was wondering do I need to have my DME computer repair? Or would this problem have something to do with my VVT computer needing to be replaced.

    3. Austin:

      This may sound silly, but since you mentioned you filled your tank and the problem started, make sure that the gas cap was closed properly, it has happened to me, not necessary with a BMW but 8 cyl SUV, it is not always obvious and mechanics often have to guesstimate what the trouble might be, not always their fault as cars have thousands of parts and any of them can go bad, a single O-ring can cause problems beyond our imagination, computer codes often gives us potential problems and not definite diagnostic.

    4. Comment author image

      Anthony (Tony) Young

      says:

      Did you ever solve that issue? I have a 650i and an currently experiencing the exact scenario that you stated.
      After about 2 months of research I’ve learned that my issue too could be the timing for the low compression, no start after vanos failure

  21. I have a 2007 m6 ,Iam getting a high current reading greater than what is allowed what causes this is current flowing backwards if so whats the fix thanks

  22. Water pooled up in the plug in part of the eccentric sensor and both cam/crank sensors back there while changing valve covers somehow the morning mist found a way into the plug portion. I let it dry out and sit for about 3 or 4 days in the heat just wondering if I should replace it?

  23. I have a 2004 BMW X3 3.0 the only codes pulling is random misfire. I replaced coils and spark plugs. The car sound great during high rpm, low rpm it misfire and hiccup. I don’t see the vanos in front of motor I think my motor has the solenoid is under the cover. I hate to break X3 down not knowing for sure if Vanos is problem. Not throwing codes for vanos.

  24. I followed the steps to clean the vanos, but now the car is idling sporadically, te entire car shakes and stalls after a few seconds. I even cleaned the sensors contact points with electrical cleaner. What could be causing this? It was never this bad prior to taking out the vanos for cleaning.

  25. Cody, did you find the cause of this? I’m experiencing the exact same issues (crazy idling, engine cutting out) after cleaning mine. Did replacing the vanos solve this? Thanks

  26. Ada Ejika
    11 hours ago
    Hey man. you videos has been very helpful. look, i’ve an e46 320i. it should be a 2003 model with the mobile phone in it. Also with a small navigation screen. The transmission settings symbol light pops up pretty often, and the car becomes so heavy and really slow. Especially when i try to speed a little. Sometimes, first thing in the morning. If i should turn the car off and turn on the ignition, move the gear stick to neutral then it will display “N” before i can engage drive then “D” displays. It is so humiliating.
    I Have noticed a severe power loss over the last six month. Although, when “R’ has a lot of power. The “D” doesn’t. Plus i recently changed the gear box. ( imagine a 2003 toyota corolla out racing me). My engine is an “i6” . It hurts!!
    can you advice me on what to do?
    i met an engineer that said that i may need to replace the “air flow meter”. i don’t think thats the case. besides, car parts in my country are very expensive.
    eejikaa@yahoo.com

  27. Cleaned my vanos but I was getting a system to lean code… clean the vanos and it’s ran great for 30 mins… cars never had anything done just did a full tune up just need to change the oil… if the oil is gunked up would it cause the vanos to jam again or should I replace the vanos?

    1. Cullen – you will likely need to replace the solenoids unless you are long overdue for an oil change or didn’t change the oil filter last time you did the oil change. I have also seen crappy aftermarket oil filters cause this problem…make sure you are using the OEM oil filter (I think its like $10). Oil change and solenoid replacement are both pretty easy DIY’s so if you are hesitant to spend $300+ on new solenoids then I recommended changing the oil first and then seeing how it is running after that.

  28. Comment author image

    Sheila Gletherow

    says:

    Hi Jake. Have code 2870 symptoms rough running .rough idle.have removed and cleaned solenoids.engine flush and oil change.how can you know for sure which part of the vanos system is failing? Have tried swapping inlet and exhaust vanos and symptoms got worse.

  29. so I have a 2008 535i and I have replaced VANOS 3 times now since I first went into limp mode, a few months ago, the first time I went a month before I hit limp mode again, after that its been a few days after I have replaced them the other two times, its manly been the Intake, but then I got a fault code for the Low pressure Fuel Sensor so I replaced that then it gave me an exhaust VANOS code. so I replaced them again and now we are back on the intake, the only thing I have done to the car was put on DCIs, and it was about 2 weeks after I put on the DCIs I went into limp mode, so I am wondering if I need to go back to the Stock intake box?

  30. i was getting the codes for the vanos solenoids and car going into limp mode, so before i bought new ones i figured id try cleaning them and see if that fixed the problem. once i cleaned them and put them back jnto the car the car wouldnt idle right, rpms gojng up and down almost stalling and making noise from the engine, idk if the noise was valves or knock from misfires. i just ordered the vanos solenoids, but i was just wondering why it started doing it after i clean them, and it wasnt any where close to as bad as it is now.

  31. Comment author image

    random passerby

    says:

    Not sure if you’ve purchased this yet or not, but as an owner of a 2009 128i my recommendation is to not buy. While most BMWs have costly repairs in later mileage this car has had more issues early on than I expected. 2009 was the first year in the US for the 128i and as such has some issues. Also check to see if the engine is the N51 or N52. Parts for the N52 seem to cost a lot more for some things. The later year 128is might be a better option when they upgraded the engine.

    Problems I’ve experienced.

    AC compressor went around 70,000 miles,

    It shreds tires like no other car I’ve ever seen (the dealer actually told me they dont expect the car to get more than 15000 miles out of the factory run-flat tires). Run-flats are a pain in the butt, recommend replacing with regular tires, downside is you have no spare.

    Rear taillight LED went out (its a known defect but BMW doesn’t have a recall for it) and you have to replace the whole light housing to replace LED rear running lights.

    If you’ve never owned a new BMW, be prepared to pay a premium to replace the battery. They’re all registered with the cars computer and only a shop/dealer with the right equipment can do it. Dealer wanted $500 to replace the battery.

    Manual options (so not a problem with automatics) have a steel oil pan that will eventually rust through. They put an aluminum one on the automatics. Its a very expensive repair as they have to drop the front suspension to get to it.

    Goes through spark plugs pretty fast (every 30-40k miles or so, but thats a lot of BMWs).

    Oil cooler seal was a recall item. If it hasn’t been replaced it needs to be.

    Check to see if the VANOS solenoids have been replaced. At 90k miles it should have already been done. If not it needs to be, or will be shortly.

  32. I am considering buying a 2009 BMW 128i Coup which has 93,800 miles. The interior is exceptionally clean and there is a few paint chips (gravel likely caused) on the front nose. It is automatic with manual shift available. It is a two owner and the last owner (primary) driver/ was a 17 year old female.
    It is owned by a used car dealer with more than 30 years in the auto business. Price was at $9999 and I’m considering a thousand lower and a warranty. Your thoughts and advice. I’m 77 and need a reliable auto, but like the looks and feel of this car.Thanks.

  33. Jake that was very helpful thank you. however, i have one concern, i have bad solenoid i can tell cause the engine is shaking before then i cleaned them and worked fine for a week and now came back. there is no check engine light though. my question is can i drive it in this condition or it will harm other parts in the engine like vanos unit systems or timing chain?

  34. Thanks for the very informative article Jake. After already spending close to $2,000 in repairs at the dealership, all the symptoms are matching a faulty vanos to my 2010 328i. Grrrrrrr!!! ????

    1. Hi Marian,

      Do you mean in regards to the Check Engine Light (codes) still showing up? Once you clear them, which you can do with a simple OBD scanner (or JB4) then the codes should go away for good. If you don’t have one of these tools, you can drive to an Autozone or O’Reilly’s and they should be happy to do it for you. Will take a minute or two only.

      Let me know if this doesn’t answer your question!

      Best,
      Jake