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Monday, December 22, 2014

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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January 27, 2005

Windshield Washer Fluid Update

We've had some pretty huge swings in temperature lately. One night a couple weeks ago it was 60 degrees at 9PM. This past weekend, however, we experienced a blizzard with single digit temperatures (and ridiculously low wind chills). Due in large part to the weather, I've gone through two tanks of windshield washer fluid in the last month. Each time I refilled with one bottle of concentrate and then topped off the tank with the premixed stuff. This ratio (which is actually pretty weak based on the directions), appears to work well. The washers have worked in as low as 5 degree weather. I *am* getting high from the vapors every time I use the washers, but at least they work.

Oil Service

(Image: On Lift During Oil Change) The oil service indicator illuminated on schedule after approximately 4500 miles, so I made an appointment. As usual, they were booking about two weeks out for loaner cars, but just around a week if I wanted to wait, so I decided to hang out. The night before the appointment, I decided to make a list of the things I needed my mechanic to look at -- a sort of "squawk list" as we say in the aviation biz.

Ever since I brought the car back from the body shop, I'd noticed the windshield jets weren't spraying in the right place. They were so misaligned, in fact, that I had to use a few more spritzes of fluid to fully clean the windshield. The spray pattern made me think that they had mistakenly reversed the jets when they reinstalled them in the hood, but as it turns out, my mechanic told me they are fully adjustable. You just need to swivel them in the desired direction with a small screwdriver or other small tool. I asked him if he could take care of that, and he did.

In addition to the needed oil service, I figured that since the odometer cranked over 110000 miles this week, I figured I'd do the tranny and diff fluid. The good news is that the diff fluid looked as clear as the day it was new, so no service was required. The bad news is, well...read on.

Transmission Troubles

I was making my way to a family dinner over the holidays, climbing and descending the hills of western New Jersey, when I felt the car suddenly downshift from 4th to 3rd and then upshift to 4th again. RPM started at around 2200, jumped to 3000, and then went back to 2200. I knew this 800 RPM difference to be associated with the difference in ratios between 3rd and 4th gear, so I knew the transmission was shifting vs. unlocking the torque converter. The latter sequence is usually accompanied by a smaller change in RPM, usually 400 RPM in my car. BMW specs indicate 500 RPM is more typical, but it's still not 800RPM.

This happened two more times before I decided to test a theory. I figured maybe the transmission adaption program was confused with all the subtle ups and downs, so I decided to punch it at a light, depressing the downshift trigger at the base of the pedal, thereby telling the transmission "I'm not driving like a pansy anymore...please change your shift profile!". Sure enough, that appeared to solve the problem, as I didn't experience it again that day. Unfortunately, on another trip to a friend's house the next week, it happened again. I collected some basic performance data, in an effort to draw some kind of conclusion about causal factors. Hmmm...same parameters -- cruising in 4th gear, around 50 MPH and 2200RPM, except this time on a level grade.

Fast forward to today. I'd experienced this problem several more times in the last month, so I knew something was definitely wrong. The common thread appeared to be a particular throttle setting, so when I described the issue to my mechanic, I speculated it might be a glitching throttle position sensor. He fairly quickly dismissed that because he said a throttle position sensor problem usually triggers a check engine light and associated code, but said he'd pull the codes and look into the problem.

When all was said and done, he spent close to an hour researching service bulletins and speaking with BMW's chief liaison to their transmission manufacturer in France (Getrag). My mechanic showed me a printout of a service bulletin that affected E36 transmissions and specified symptoms like pendulum shifting (oscillating between gears during cruise), general gear hunting, and delayed engagement, particularly immediately following startup. The only problem? The bulletin applied only to a batch of transmissions produced roughly 100,000 units earlier. In other words, my transmission was much newer that the problem units. The solution for that problem, if you want to know, was replacement of the torque converter lockup solenoid.

The Getrag liaison ultimately suggested that my mechanic take it out for a drive with the BMW diagnostic computer connected so he could look at data produced by the Engine Control Unit. This would allow him to determine if the engine was doing what it should do and was sending correct signals to the Transmission Control Unit. I'd experienced how misfiring, for example, caused the transmission to shift inappropriately, so I agreed this was a good troubleshooting technique. My mechanic returned from the test drive and discussed the (normal) results he found with the Getrag liaison, who then suggested that the transmission itself was, um...faulty.

Faulty. If you didn't know, that's another word for $3600, or $2600 in parts and $1000 in labor. To make a long story short, there was an alternative to a new (remanufactured, actually) transmission. It involved a $100 repair kit that would have required the same amount of labor to drop the transmission. This option would have cost me a third of the cost of a new transmission, but there was no guarantee that this would actually fix the problem, and when all was said and done, I'd be left with a transmission with 110000 miles on it. So, given the car's mileage and the fact that I have planned to keep the car for another 4-5 years (or 100000 miles), I figured the new transmission would be the best route. This is, after all, my primary vehicle and it needs to be reliable. The work is scheduled for two weeks from now.

If there is any "silver lining" to this problem, it's that the transmission in the E36 is one of BMW's "value line" units. In other words, it's used in several cars (the 328 and 528 of the same vintage, for example) so based on volume production, BMW is able to reduce margins on them. Other transmissions in BMWs newer and less popular models can be upwards of $6000, and my original guesstimate for this work (which I considered inevitable as long as a year ago) was about $5000. And, when I again consider that a new car is $48000, I guess I should consider myself (gulp) lucky.

Parts $37, Labor $133. Total $189, Total mileage, 110303.

Februrary 10, 2005

New Transmission Installed

(Image: New transmission in the box)Hmmm. What can I say that I haven't already said in the last report? Well, I'll start by saying that the new tranny has been installed, and my wallet is $3700 lighter as a result. Yea, that's a lot of money, but I have to look at this in the same way I look at expenses on the airplane. This is not an oil service that effectively lasts 4500 miles. A transmission is a core mechanical device that is supposed to last the "life" of an average car, or over 100000 miles. It just so happens that the BMW 328is, if properly cared for, can last more than twice the lifespan of the average vehicle. So, if I amortize the $3700 over the next five years or 100K miles, the average yearly cost of maintenance rises only $740, or about the cost of an inspection.

I received quite a few emails and did quite a bit of personal research about this problem. Several readers suggested that the transmission could have lasted a lot longer -- had I not believed the marketing hype regarding "lifetime transmission fluid" and changed the fluid on a more regular basis. After all, as one person put it, ATF is nothing more than a lightweight oil with additives, and it breaks down just like engine oil, so why should anyone expect it to handle the stresses of 100K+ miles? Based on my personal experience, I think these people are right. The fact that the engine continues to purr along at more than 110K miles is very likely because I made it practice to change the oil at half the recommended interval.

(Image: Old transmission core)When a manufacturer says that something doesn't need to be maintained for the life of the component, one needs to ask the manufacturer for his definition of the word "life". To me, the expected lifespan of an automatic transmission (GM/Getrag or not) is 150K miles. To Getrag, who makes money selling new and remanufactured transmissions, the lifespan is obviously far shorter.

If you take nothing else away from this, take my advice and change your transmission fluid at some regular interval. From this point forward, I am planning to replace the fluid every 18K miles (at each inspection interval) simply because there appears to be statistically significant evidence that changing the fluid on a BMW transmission extends its life by between 30-50%. The number of people who appear to get at least 150K out of a properly maintained BMW transmission is as striking as the number of people who have needed to replace their transmissions before 120K miles if they did NOT service it regularly.

(Image: New transmission installed)My mechanic got the car in the shop around noon on the day I dropped it off, and was on the test drive the next morning around 9:30 when I dropped by to see him. Assuming he didn't stay late, the transmission swap took him around 7 hours with another half hour for the test drive. The dealer charged book labor of 10 hours, but that's just par for the course with dealers.

Much to my surprise, I learned that it is not necessary to pull the engine in order to replace the transmission because the engine is designed to pivot rearward by a couple inches. The saves a tremendous amount of labor and hassle. Indeed, the right tools and experience are all that is needed to disconnect the bell housing from the rear of the engine. I noticed also that my mechanic had pulled off the entire exhaust system aft of the headers as well, so if you have to pull the tranny, it would be a good idea to replace the exhaust system mounts if you haven't already. As you may recall, mine cracked and were replaced about a year ago.

Parts $2541, Labor $950. Total $3700, Total mileage, 111161.

April 12, 2005

More Tranny Troubleshooting, Oil Service

About two weeks after the new transmission was installed, I was on my way back from lunch one Saturday when the car started pendulum shifting again. I suddenly got that sinking feeling that I'd just spent $3700 on a new transmission for no good reason. It shifted strangely a total of three times before I got pissed enough to punch the throttle. As expected, this returned the transmission to normal operation and I went about my business.

Figuring that this might have something to do with the downshift trigger switch beneath the accelerator pedal, I managed to come up with an experiment to see if intermittent actuation of that switch was causing the car to downshift even if the pedal and throttle position did not agree with it. I accelerated to about 45 MPH and held a steady 2000 RPM with my right foot, while I carefully reached behind the pedal with my left foot to depress the switch. Nothing happened. I tried again several times to no avail. At that point I knew that switch wasn't the cause of the erratic shifting.

The following Monday I dropped by my dealer to give my mechanic the bad news. I told him of my experiment and he told me that he expected as much. He noted that on some cars that switch doesn't actually do anything -- it's there for "feel" only. The way to tell whether the switch is "real" vs. "fake" is to look for a single wire coming out of the switch (closing the switch pulls the wire's potential to chassis ground, so only one wire is necessary). It so happens that my car has the "real" switch, but my mechanic added that in such cars the switch works in concert with the throttle position sensor to determine if the driver is really asking for full throttle and therefore needs the transmission to downshift for maximum acceleration. If the throttle position is not "full", depressing the switch should indeed have no effect aside from perhaps triggering a fault code if done enough times. Oh well...back to the drawing board.

After some additional discussion, we figured it was time to replace the throttle position sensor. And yes, the irony of that moment did not escape me, as replacement of the sensor was my original suggestion. Of course, hindsight being what it is, I cannot and will not fault my mechanic. Fortunately, he said he happened to have a brand new sensor in his parts bin'o fun, and as long as the car continued to perform normally, it would be okay to simply wait until the next oil service before swapping out the sensor. I agreed.

Today, I brought the car in to replace the sensor and do a few other things:

Oil Service and Brakes/Tires Status

The Oil Service (a mid-cycle this time) went off without a hitch as usual. After replacing the throttle position sensor my mechanic took the car out for a long drive to sample the result. When I came to pick the car up, he refrained from giving me a glowing thumbs up, and instead asked me to drive it for a bit to see if I noticed any change.

He also told me that the brakes have about 10K miles left and that the front and rear are about equal in terms of wear state at this point.. That means I probably won't need to do brakes until September or so, but when I do, it will be all four wheels with pads and rotors...and that means another $1000 including a fluid flush (note to self: learn how to do brakes).

I asked him to diagnose what sounded to me like tire noise (in the form of low-frequency, rhythmic vibrations) coming from the front of the vehicle, just to eliminate the possibility of a bad wheel bearing or something similar. He concurred with my opinion that the noise is due to cupping of the front tires. I had hoped to stretch the tires until the point at which I did brakes, but given that the rears are pretty much DOT-legal racing slicks at this point and the fronts are making noise, I will likely replace them earlier -- perhaps next month. That would translate into a wear rate of about 18 months and perhaps 30K miles, so while I can't say they have lasted any longer than the Dunlop SP8000's installed previously, I can easily say that they track as true as the day they were installed -- and that's a far cry from my experience with the Dunlops.

While I was at it I asked if there was anything in the front end (tie-rod ends, bushings, etc.) that should be replaced on a car of 115K miles to preserve handling or tire wear. He pointed out a couple of bushings on the lower control arms that handle side-to-side loads and, using a sample he had hanging around, showed me how they typically fail. They're easy to replace, so I'll likely have that done while the wheels are off to replace the tires.

At the end of the day I had to ask myself whether replacing the transmission made sense, and at this time I think "yes". Except for the 1->2 shift, the transmission is definitely better behaved. The occasional "clunk" I used to feel while maneuvering around a particular corner (strong deceleration followed by quick acceleration) no longer occurs. Then there's the sanity I now have in knowing that the tranny should last until I sell the car (whenever that is) or at least 250K miles, and that's worth the coin (well, almost...$3700 is still better in my pocket than BMWs, but you get the idea). I maintain that transmissions don't last forever.

And speaking of transmissions and shifting, here's some trivia I learned during this visit: if you've ever wondered how the E46 cars manage to shift so smoothly and why during high rpm shifts the engine sounds like it momentarily dies at the top of every shift, that's because it DOES. The ECM actually shuts off fuel to the cylinders at the instant the transmission shifts. This is intentional to reduce stress on the transmission. Next time you drive an E46, punch it and carefully listen to it go through the gears. Now that I understand what is happening, it's easy to recognize. In fact, it's so obvious that I'm surprised I didn't notice it earlier.

Parts $44, Labor $38, Total $96. Total Mileage 114813.

May 5, 2005

New Shoes

About a week ago the odometer rolled over 116000, so I decided to take a closer look at my tires. I immediately noticed that the rears had reached the treadwear indicators, which was more or less expected. What I found odd is that the inner portion of the tire had worn more than the outer edges. Normally, such a wear pattern is indicative of a grossly overinflated tire. Truth be told, I'd been running the rears about four pounds on average higher than that recommended for performance reasons, but I didn't expect a few pounds to make that big a difference.

I decided to do some research on the tire and found a couple similar experiences online. Those people attributed the wear pattern to the different compounds used in the tire's construction. Apparently, the inner portion of the tire uses a softer compound for better snow and rain handling while the outer edge is harder for better holdup under cornering conditions. So, what actually causes the wear pattern? I don't know. Perhaps its a combination of tire pressure AND construction. No matter, really. At 29000 miles, it was time for new shoes.

Given my favorable experience with Tirerack, I decided to go directly to their website. I quickly found the Pilot Sport A/S 225/50/YR16 at $155 each, or $650 shipped. The last time I paid $750 shipped, so I figured I'd go ahead and buy from them again. Before I placed the order I called my dealer's parts department to ask if I could ship the tires directly to them -- just as I did with the last set. Predictably, they said "No problem, Doug!", so I called Tirerack and placed the order. They had all my info from the last order, so it took less than a minute for the rep to check stock, take my payment info, confirm the billing/shipping addresses, and give me an order confirmation number. Kudos to my dealer's parts department for providing a convenient drop point, and to Tirerack for making the entire purchase experience very fast and completely painless. This is how business should be done.

(Image: Pilot Sport A/S 225/50/YR16)Even though I knew Tirerack had a warehouse less than 150 miles away, given that I didn't request expedited shipping I was still surprised to see the tires arrive at my dealer exactly 24 hours later. I had ordered them a bit early just to make sure they'd arrive before my maintenance appointment early next week, but I honestly didn't expect them so soon. You can see from the picture how they're shipped.

Given the money I saved on the tires, I figured I'd go ahead and replace the control arm mounts as recommended by my mechanic. While I was at the dealer to take that picture, I put my name on a set of two mounts they had in stock so we can replace them while we have the tires off the car.

Defective Clearcoat on Rim

The one downside to my close look around the car is that I found a small, but noticeable defect in the clear of the rim that the body shop installed during last year's repainting binge. It looked as if a bubble had formed in the clear and that the bubble fractured, leaving a round gap in the clear protective finish. Fearing that this small defect would degenerate into a a greater loss of clear in the coming months, I brought this to the attention of the parts department.

They told me that in order to process the claim, they'd need to take a digital picture of the defect and send it to BMW-NA headquarters, so they took care of that while I discussed some things with my mechanic. The goal is to have a replacement rim installed at the same time I'm swapping tires, but if I need to do this later, so be it.

Transmission Status

It looks as though the throttle position sensor did nothing to change the 1->2 shift characteristics, but for what it's worth, I haven't experienced the pendulum shifting problem since we replaced the sensor. I am now contemplating starting a warranty claim on the transmission, but I fear that the problem will be too subtle to justify a replacement. Guess we'll have to wait and see.

Parts $650, Labor $0, Total $650. Total Mileage 116025.

May 10, 2005

Yesterday I got a call from the parts department with news that not only had the dealer's service manager agreed to replace the defective rim, the rim had arrived in inventory -- just in time for my appointment today.

(Image: Control Arm Bushings)The road force numbers were slightly better (lower) than last time. One tire was less than 2 lbs (effectively perfect), while the others were 4, 7 and (gulp) 14. However, the highest reading was due to a very slightly out-of-round rim, not the tire itself. The problem rim was on the right front, but my mechanic moved it to the right rear in an effort to reduce its effects. Frankly, I didn't feel it when it was on the front, and following some driving, I can't feel any vibration with it mounted on the rear either.

Thankfully, the rhythmic noise coming from the front end is gone (it was indeed a result of tire wear) and the steering is a bit more more neutral -- not that the old tires tramlined to any significant extent. The steering also feels a bit more "insulated" than it did previously, but that may have something to do with the new control arm mounts.

It may be hard to see from the picture, but my old mounts had started to crack (and one was cracked nearly half-way through), so my mechanic's advice turned out to be correct. If you're wondering when you should replace your mounts, I think it has a lot to do with your driving habits and/or the number of potholes you've cursed, but 100K indeed seems to be a good point to replace them. As usual, the labor cost isn't cheap, but the mounts themselves are reasonably priced -- especially given how long they last.

Fortunately, I can at classify a bulk of the expenses on this latest maintenance binge as "scheduled" or "routine". Tires wear out, and there's nothing much you can do about that, short of not driving the car...and to a BMW owner, 'dems fightin' woids!

Labor: $427, Parts $30, Total $485, Total Mileage: 116193.

June 21, 2005

Air Conditioning Repair

I've managed to avoid maintenance on my air conditioning system for as long as I've owned the car, but as they say, all good things eventually come to an end. After a string of hot and humid days here in New Jersey, courtesy of a Bermuda high that took up residence off the east coast, the high moved out rather suddenly one day last week and temperatures returned to normal. Fortunately, that's exactly when my air conditioner chose to go on holiday.

CondenserThis turned out to be an easy diagnosis. When I depressed the snowflake button on the climate control system to start up the compressor, I could hear the doors that direct air over the evaporator coil moving into position, and the fan speed picking up as usual, but the compressor didn't engage and, predictably, the exhaust air temperature remained the same.

I immediately figured the system was low on refrigerant. Why? Air conditioning compressors typically stop functioning if the system detects low refrigerant not only because the compressor would have to work much harder to achieve the pressure required for the system to operate, but because it's lubricated with oil contained within the system, and loss of lubrication due to a leak would doom the compressor almost immediately.

Unaware of how much longer the nice weather would last, I took the car to the dealer, only to learn that they were short staff and my mechanic would be out until the following Monday because he was in school taking a class on the new E90 engine. I tried to make an appointment, but learned that they were booked for the next two weeks. To make a long story short, my service rep and I negotiated a compromise -- I'd bring the car back the following Monday (4 days away) and if my mechanic agreed to look at it they'd take the car in. In the interim, I'd drive with the windows cracked and sunroof open.

Monday arrived and I stopped by a bit after the shop opened to see my mechanic, who quickly told me that he had absolutely no time that day. He told me that his "official" schedule was booked the next day as well, but said if I could bring it back bright and early (7:30) the following morning before the shop opened, he would take a look at it.

Less than 24 hours later, I arrived at the shop and we got to work. With the car up on the lift, my mechanic's skilled eye saw the problem in a few moments. The bottom of the condenser was wet with oil, and the cover that protects the bottom of the condenser from road debris was holding some oil as well. The cover itself, however, appeared intact. Luckily, the parts guys had a condenser in stock, so at this point all I had to do was take a big gulp and swallow the $460 price tag.

Removing the condenser requires removal of the same plastic cover that must be removed to replace the radiator, two bolts near the edges of that cover (you can see them with the cover installed), some covers on the underside of the bumper, the refrigerant lines, and, if you value your sanity, the two grills. Once disconnected, the unit must be pulled out from below the car, so it needs to be on a lift (or at least 3 feet off the ground) to perform this work.

It took my mechanic 15 minutes to diagnose the problem and check stock, and another solid hour and a half to do the swap, recharge the system, and do a short test drive. Book labor is, as usual, a ripoff, but it's not impossible to see an average mechanic taking the better part of two hours for the swap. I arrived at 7:30 and left with a fully operational air conditioning system at 10AM -- but not before I thanked my mechanic for going WELL out of his way to accommodate me.

Miscellaneous Questions

While hanging out waiting for the A/C system to recharge, I asked my mechanic a couple questions, the first of which had to deal with the sunroof. At one point I was futzing with the open/close button and managed to hit it twice in rapid succession when it was approaching the fully open stop. And stop it did. I had to pull the interior cover off and use the tool to roll the roof panel forward a couple inches, at which point the motor regained control. I then opened it completely again (one-touch and manually) and closed it. No problems.

I asked simply "is that normal?", and he said "yes". It's rare, but possible that if you start and stop the sunroof in quick succession (like stuttering on the button), the roof can get stuck. It has to do with the limit switches, which are, coincidentally, part of the motor assembly. And if you're wondering, if the switches do fail (mine had not), you'd need to replace the entire motor assembly.

That question prompted him to look more closely at the sunroof and the tracks that guide it. He said that the lube on mine had dried out and had collected more than its share of gunk, so he removed what he could in the limited time he had and told me to use some WD-40 or other solvent / lubricant to clean up the tops of the track, and then use q-tips to clean out and relube the inner portion of the tracks in which the cables ride. He cautioned me, however, to not use a lube that would dry to a gel, or that might cause more problems than it solves.

I was feeling lucky today, so I also asked, "how reliable are the starters in these cars"? He said that like transmissions, they're rarely replaced, and added that his shop has installed perhaps four starters in the past year. Pretty good odds, I'd say. Why did I ask that, you're wondering? No particular reason...my starter appears to be working fine. And that sound you hear in the distance is me knocking on wood.

Parts: $471, Labor: $304, Total $822. Mileage: 118445.

July 19, 2005

Oil Service

Not much to say except after another 5000 miles, it was time for another synthetic oil service. I also took the time to replace the microfilter (which was a very dark gray, if not black with particulates), as well as the engine air filter.

Well, perhaps I should clarify -- my mechanic replaced the microfilter while I replaced the engine air filter. I was attempting to figure out why the filter wasn't fitting well when I heard something to the effect of "hey, hope that guy doesn't break Doug's car...he'll be pissed!" :-) After my mechanic showed me that the foam seal of the OEM filter (unlike the aftermarket filters) is supposed to be wedged inside the black carrier rather than sit on top of it, it slid right in.

Since my state inspection is coming up and they now read the computer codes, I was also curious as to whether the DME had stored any codes related to the catalytic converters. While the fresh oil drained into the engine, my mechanic hooked up the diagnostic computer to reveal no stored fault codes. And that's a good thing, because it means the prior emission faults were a fluke and the catalytic converters are still functioning normally.

Parts: $88, Labor: $86, Total $193. Mileage: 119858.

December 4, 2005

It's been a long time since I've written anything, so I figured I'd close out the year with a summary of events of the last six months and talk a bit about my plans for next year.

The good news is that I haven't done any maintenance to the car since the last report, but the rub is that I haven't exactly been driving it everyday either. The Acura RSX I picked up at the height of premium gas prices ($3.65 for historical reference) has seen to that. Since I put a couple thousand miles on the car before getting the Acura and the oil service is now calendar time limited, I'm due for an oil change that I'll probably schedule for later this month or early next year. I've continued to drive the car to work once a week (usually on the nicest day of the week) to keep the rust out and so far it appears to be enjoying the time off with no apparent ill-effects.

CondenserIn September the car went through inspection in record time and passed with flying colors (see the inspection report). It certainly paid to go to the out-of-the-way station at 7:30AM as I was the only car there. This time the attendant managed to find the OBD II terminal easily. Since the car had been running well for many months I didn't bother to clear the codes prior to the inspection, and fortunately for my checkbook no codes were recorded during the inspection. The result? It's good in the eyes of the New Jersey Eco-Nazis for another two years.

The plans for the car are uncertain at this point. Now that I have a second car and can take the time to do things myself, I'm seriously considering restoring it. If I do this, the plan will be to take the car to a competant body shop to clean up the paint, then do an interior restoration including carpet, front seat leather, steering wheel and rear deck cover. And while it's gutted, I'll install all new audio gear -- something I've wanted to do for years. And when I'm done, I could sell the Acura to pay for it all and have money left over to put a deposit on (gasp) a new E90.

I 've seen spy photos of the new E90 Coupe and the design does not look that bad. I'm not quite sure whether they have toned down a few of the annoying design cues (like the wrap-around headlights) or drawn my attention away from them with the sexy lowered suspension, low-profile rims and tweaked engine. Either way, under that exterior of questionable design breathes the racing-inspired BMW drivetrain. A 400HP V8 coming to the M3? Wow. Maybe BMW hasn't forgotten about performance after all. Now as long as they keep that iDrive crap optional and business is good to me over the next few years, I may be a repeat buyer.

Oh, and if you're wondering whether my dealer is planning to file for bankruptcy because I haven't given them any money the last six months, rest assured that I'm finding others to crack that nut for me. And it feels *really good* not to be the one writing the checks for a change. :-)

For example, a friend who owns a '98 528 with 100K miles decided it was time to do new struts and shocks. He expressed an interest to upgrade the car to the sports suspension at the same time, and I thought that would be a reasonably priced option. He was fed up dealing with the other dealers in the area so I hooked him up with my mechanic. After some difficulty in researching the parts required (due largely because BMW provides replacement parts based on VIN and this car didn't come from the factory with sports suspension), the parts guys and my mechanc managed to convert this mild-mannered premium package 528 into a tire-screeching sports package car for around $2200.

My friend's comment to me when all was said and done? "Man, [your mechanic] is such a nice guy. He actually took the time to talk to me about what I wanted." All I could say was "Hey, keep it quiet, or we'll both be waiting over a month for appointments." :-)

Mileage: 123850.