Saturday, March 1, 2003
On what became the warmest and nicest day of the new year, I decided to wash and wax my baby. Shortly after I put the buffer away, I stepped back to admire a beauty I hadn't seen in several months due to the lousy weather and salt grime. I then hopped in to put the car away, turned the key, and then...misfire! In fact, not just a misfire...I really nasty steady miss that shook the whole car and eventually tripped the check engine light (first time I'd ever seen it do that). Damn...not again.
I started wondering whether she was getting back at me for having scheduled her for an Inspection II in two days, but I told myself...na...this baby gets all the TLC she needs...why would she intentionally cause me pain? (Sadly, I've found myself asking the same thing about "real" women, but I digress). :-)
To make a long story short, Monday morning rolled around and there I found my car on a flatbed again (well, last time it was a fork type truck and this time it was a real flatbed). I learned some more about towing BMWs. Believe it or not, if they're careful, they can hook to an E36's lower control arms but NOT on the E46...those components are now aluminum (which should serve to clarify why it's a pain in the ass to tow an E46 relative to an E36). Because the car started, I was able to drive it half way up the ramp so the tow driver could hook on to the lower control arms and minimize the force necessary to pull the car up on the ramp.
I arrived at my dealer, paid the tow guy $40, and found my mechanic standing by his bay door chatting with someone. I soon got his attention and related my theory on what may have caused the problem. He initially suspected that I flooded one or more of the spark plug holes, because a consistent miss will usually result from the water wicking up into the long tube that extends from the top of the plug to the base of the ignition coil and shorting out the connection. I told him I sprayed water near the sides of the bay, and maybe a bit on the engine cover, but nothing extreme and certainly did nothing differently than usual. He suggested that he'd give it a good look and call me later in the day, and recommended I just leave the car with him for another day so he could complete the Inspection II at the same time.
I arrived the next morning to snap some pics, expecting the car to be in a million pieces, but my mechanic not only managed to fix the misfire problem, but complete the Inspection II as well. It turned out the misfire was on cylinder number 6 (again), and he traced it to a loose ignition harness connector [click on thumbnail for a closeup view]. Somehow, I must have managed to jog that loose, but given how I cleaned the bay this time around, I don't think it happened this time...I think it was like that for the last several months, and ever since I had the earlier problem (if you'll recall, there was a misfire as well as an idle valve problem).
The good news is that the Inspection II went off without a hitch, with the following highlights:
- Normal items for the 2nd Inspection II, I wasn't charged to replace the plugs or brakes, since we just did those a few thousand miles ago (remember, the Inspection is just that...an inspection...if your car needs work, that's extra).
- My mechanic said the diff and tranny fluid is in good shape. He added that although BMW suggests the fluid needn't be replaced during the "lifetime" of the car, the reality is 100K miles is a good time to change both. Since I'd have to pay for a new diff or tranny...not BMW...I'd say it's good insurance.
- He maintains that it is VERY rare to put a transmission in any of the 3 series cars before they head to the scrap heap. He said his dealership does maybe 2 a year...which says a lot about BMW trannys. 250K miles is not uncommon for both engine and transmission in these cars, and I'm beginning to believe it.
- My suspension looks good. I asked him about the rear shocks, shock mounts, and snubbers and he said they're all in good condition. I could probably get another 15-20K+ miles out of them if we watch out for the warning signs...damaged snubbers and/or mounts as the shocks weaken and transfer the pounding to those components.
- The weatherstripping on the lower portion of the body that meets with the driver's door had a slit in it, no doubt due to the repeated hammering by my shoes as I remove myself from the car on a regular basis. He repaired it with superglue, just so it wouldn't get any worse. Replacing that weatherstripping is (drum roll please...) $170 in parts and about an hour labor ($80) PER SIDE, so it's clearly something to avoid unless absolutely necessary. Although we had spoke at one point about replacing the weatherstripping on both sides of the car for other reasons as well, he suggested I eventually replace just the side that needs it. Guess you can't fault a mechanic that looks out for *my* bottom line.
- I decided to replace the sunroof seal. It wasn't leaking, but the top-most exposed "fuzzy" portion of the seal had been worn away by overzealous use of the orbital polisher over the years. It was also crammed with a bit of wax dust. For only $35 Parts and $35 labor, the new one looks great, and should help prevent a lot of water from finding its way into the sunroof cavity. Granted, the cavity has four drains, one at each corner, to drain off any water that gets in there...even if you park on a slope...but it's generally not a good idea to rely on them to keep things dry.
- I requested synthetic oil again, and this time the oil only had around 4K miles on it...perfect timing.
Total damage: $700 for the inspection (P&L), $80 for troubleshooting the loose ignition harness connector, $70 for P&L to install the sunroof seal, for a grand (almost) total of $850. Mileage 73440.