February 14, 2004
Leather armrest replacement, and six years of ownership
As I mentioned last month, I priced a new armrest to replace the leather that had become quite distressed after serving its purpose for six years. I had considered replacing it a couple years ago, but the $360 price was just too high to justify. Now priced at $180, however, it seemed like a reasonable way to improve the look of the interior and get the part while BMW had it in inventory. There were apparently only 30 armrests left in worldwide inventory, and no word on whether the color-matched part would continue to be produced when that supply ran out. I also knew that a leather shop wouldn't be able to recover it for less...so I told the parts guy to order it.
The parts guy, accommodating as ever, printed out an exploded diagram of the armrest assembly and I took it over to my mechanic to get some pointers on the installation process. He suggested I get a couple new "friction grommets" (my words, not his...not sure what they're officially called) to replace the existing grommets. The purpose of the grommets is to add friction to the armrest hinge so it will remain vertical during deceleration, and after six years worth of "cycles" it was pretty clear the original grommets were shot. At $0.40 each (actually thrown in for free by the parts guy), that was a no-brainer.
The parts came in a few days ago and I finally got a chance to install them today. It took about 10 minutes, and would have taken only about 5 minutes had I not slowed down to take a few pictures.
To remove the existing armrest, I pulled out the ashtray for the rear seats to expose two screws. I removed those, pulled the black ashtray frame out of the color-matched rear center console cover, and then carefully removed the cover, exposing the armrest hinge and two 3" plastic hinge pins that retain the armrest. Based on a tip from my mechanic, I used two large flat blade screwdrivers to gently pry the pins out from the hinge and then pulled up on the armrest itself to remove it from the hinge.
I then installed the new grommets, aligned the new armrest in the hinge, and reinstalled the hinge pins before replacing the armrest cover, ashtray frame, ashtray, and finally, the two retaining screws. I took care to insert the hinge pins to retain a 1/8" gap between the flange on the pin and the hinge, as I found it originally, to make it easier to remove the armrest in the future. While replacing the ashtray frame I took care to route the wire leading to the ashtray lamp to avoid pinching it anywhere. And that was about it.
The one thing I noticed is that the leather matches the color of the seats (mostly...it's not perfect), rather than the darker color of the center console. I'm not sure why the color is different on this part (it may have something to do with BMW trying to reduce parts inventory...who knows), but I actually prefer the new arrangement over the old.
All in all, this was a simple fix, and saved me $65 in dealer labor charges.
Six Years Old: She turned six years old today. I can't quite believe it's been that long, but with some minor exceptions the car still looks and works like new. Pretty amazing. This car continues to remind me why I bought a BMW and why I'll likely buy another one, that is provided Chris Bangle doesn't fsck up the design of the next generation 3 any more than the early renderings would seem to indicate.
Speaking of Chris Bangle, have I mentioned that I think his designs suck? First, he destroyed the lines on the 7 with that stupid trunk lid stunt, then he put all sorts of annoying abstract lines on the Z4 (which is not selling well...I wonder why...), authored the Japanese-lookalike abortion that is the new 5, and most recently created the most hideous interior door panels I've ever seen on the X3. Oh, almost forgot the thing that initially sparked my displeasure with Mr. Bangle. EYEBROW HEADLAMPS. They looked a bit strange on the X5, but they totally destroyed the 7's front end.
Lest you think only the designers have lost their minds, BMW engineering is obviously having some kind of collective intellectual seizure as well. Consider the giant segfault that is the 7's I-Drive system (windows embedded based, if you hadn't guessed). For the first time in its history, BMW is buying back 7's from disgruntled owners, and I've overheard more than one BMW mechanic comment that the new 7 is the most unnecessarily complicated, unreliable piece of shit to ever come out of BMW. Yes, they're that screwed up.
Of course, problems like this rarely involve just one person, but if I were running BMW, I think the most prudent corrective action (at least on the design side of the house) would be to replace Chris Bangle with a German designer possessing the class, taste, and brains necessary to achieve the balance of form and function so evident in prior BMW designs. I'm not sure who to blame for the I-Drive fiasco and their ill-conceived alliance with Microsloth, but they need to get in line at the unemployment office as well. Uh, now...before it's too late.
Key points to BMW:
- I want my next BMW to have nice, conservative, tasteful, symmetrical, understated (call it "sleeper") styling. I do not want to drive around in a damn fashion statement stamped with a lot of hard-edged, tacky-looking American automotive design cues. Next thing we know, the X5 will look like a fscking Escalade...gaudy oversized badging, 40 inch chrome rims, and all. Uh, I think I speak for most BMW enthusiasts when I say "spare us please".
- I want to drive my car...not the computer that runs it. Being forced to navigate 12 different menus to change a given parameter just so you can save pennies on a few extra switches is not my idea of progress. I also don't want to talk to my car, nor do I want it talking back to me. The only feedback I want from a BMW is the squealing of the tires as I take the turn at 90 pushing lateral G's. Refocus on the driving experience and eliminate all the technology that doesn't directly contribute to that.
*sigh* Okay, sorry about that. I'm done ranting.
Future maintenance: I have an inspection I coming up in about 3000 miles, which I should schedule for sometime in mid to late March. I've also noticed increased frequency of ABS activation when brakes are applied when the rear wheels pass over a bump. This likely means the rear shocks are on their way out. I had hoped to wait until 100K miles, but I think I'll just do them at the Inspection to get them out of the way and get handling back in check for the summer performance driving season.
Tire update: All I can say is that the Pilot Sport A/S 225/50R16 KICK ASS in the snow AND dry conditions. It's a brilliant, well balanced tire that gives probably 95% of the dry performance of the SP8000 without the noise and extreme tramlining. Expensive, but worth every penny. This is THE perfect year-round tire for the E36 in 16" and larger sizes. (unfortunately, it does not come in 15"). The only reservation I have about the tires is longevity, but with a 400 treadwear (double that of the SP8000), I can only hope I'll get at least 30K miles out of the set.
Total Cost: Parts: $185, Labor $0, Mileage, 91105.