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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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December 5, 2006

Jeez. I can't believe it's December already, but that's a good thing, because it means in less than a month the days start getting longer again and in another four months or so I can stop freezing my butt off in the garage working on the car. Anyway, lots to talk about today, so let's get started.

Pilot Sport A/S Wins Again

I wrestled with the choices for a long time, but today I finally managed to pick up new tires to go along with the new CSL wheels I purchased back in August.

The first issue I had to resolve was the proper size for this non-standard application.

My E46 came from the factory with 225/40/18 on the front (on an 8" wheel) and 255/35/18 on the rear (on an 8.5" wheel). In my opinion, the front tires appear slightly stretched over the wheel. However, it is a factory-approved configuration. If the CSL wheels were 8" wide, I would have bought 225/40's and called it a day -- but they are, in fact, 8.5" wide. It stands to reason that if the 225's looked stretched on the 8" wheel of the E46, they'd look ridiculous on the 8.5" CSL wheel. I saw several pictures on e46fanatics.com that confirmed this belief.

Complicating this issue is the fact that not all 225 series tires are created equal. The so-called section width (effectively the width of the tire measured at the widest point in the sidewall) varies among tire manufacturers and models of a given manufacturer. The typical range for a 225/40 series tire is 8.8-9.2 inches, so simply put, you have to look at the specs for the tire as well as the standard tire sizes if you need to reduce the impact of the "stretch effect".

(Image: Tire size comparison between OE 225/50/16 and 235/40/18 While the Pilot Sport tires tend to run wide and look a lot better on an 8.5" wheel as a consequence, I don't think they're wide enough. For this reason, I ultimately decided to upsize to 235/40. Since the 235/40 series tire is slightly taller than the OE 225/50/16 I'm running right now, the speedometer will read 2.2% lower, and that will cause a corresponding decrease in the odometer reading (about 450 miles over the lifespan of the set if we ignore the effects of normal tire wear). The interesting part is that BMW speedometers tend to read 3-4MPH too high on average, so the error introduced by the non-standard fitment reduces the effect of that error.

Trivia: The built-in error in the BMW speedometer is only present in the analog instrument. The optional OBC in my vehicle will, if repeatedly cleared while in the SPEED mode, show the "real" speed of the vehicle. Don't ask me why BMW did this. Some suggest it was the automotive equivalent of setting the time on one's clocks five minutes ahead to ensure you're always five minutes early. And yes, it has just about the same effect in the car too, since I typically add about five MPH to the indicated speed to make sure I'm driving at the posted limit.

The second thing I wrestled with was the brand of tire.

As I indicated in an earlier log entry, I had narrowed my choices down to the Michelin Pilot Sport A/S and the Pirelli PZero Nero M&S. Both brands were available in 235/40 fitment and both came highly recommended. A colleague recently purchased a set of Pirellis for his 5 series and has been happy with them. And here's the kicker -- the Pirellis were nearly $100 less expensive per tire. Since my money is busy doing other, more important things right now, I was a bit more price sensitive than usual. But, when all was said and done, I coughed up the cash for the Pilot Sport A/S. Why? The quality of tire construction is much more important on low-profile tires and Michelin is well known for producing true tires. The downside is that five tires came to a bit over $1300 with shipping. That's one serious hunk of change and the most I've ever spent on tires.

I had briefly considered buying the non-directional Pirelli PZero Nero M&S for the spare to save a few pennies, but figured I'd keep the brand the same so I could rotate the spare with the right rear (which tends to wear slightly faster than the left rear due to the open differential) and not have it look ghetto. A local tire rep also told me that if I really had to, I could run the directional Pilot Sport the "wrong way" for emergency purposes without any negative effect on the tire itself. I would only need to be cautious in inclement weather. That's good news.

Finally, logistics of delivery, mount, and balance

I originally planned to have Tire Rack drop ship the tires to my dealer and bring the wheels to them for the mount & balance. My plans were put on hold when I was informed that the new owners had raised the price to mount and balance a tire from a high, but acceptable $40 to the ludicrous sum of $75. Yes, you read that right. $75 PER TIRE. Their rationale? BMW book labor is 0.7 hours per tire, and people will pay it. Except me, of course. I learned some time ago what equipment King used to mount my tires, so it didn't take long to find a website that allowed me to search for registered operators of Hunter balancing equipment. I found a local company with the same equipment as my dealer that was willing to do the same job for $35 each.

I figured I'd just give the job to the indy shop, but since I'm not one to take no for an answer, I decided to go see the dealership service manager. When I arrived, I discovered that the service manager I'd known for many years (but never had to talk to regarding any service problem if you can believe that) had quit. I greeted the new manager and sat down with him to discuss my issue. He took my phone number to look up my records, then made a few comments about the long history I had with the company and the fact that he had seen me around the shop more than a few times. He asked me whether I had bought my cars there and I replied in the affirmative. We then discussed the fact that I thought $75 was excessive. I believe my sentiment was "I'm not a prude with my money, but I'm not stupid with it either". We also discussed what I wanted to do, and I emphasized that King management never had a problem with accepting drop-shipped tires because they knew I'd never buy from them anyway (thus it was no loss to them). After about 10 minutes, he finally relented and said in the interest of continuing a good business relationship with me that he would reduce the cost for the mount and balance to $40/tire.

I concluded the meeting with the impression that he didn't seem to think that the original price was abnormal or excessive. On one hand I can see that it is the duty of every business to charge what the market will bear, but on the other, the hippie in me suggests that there's a line between making money and outright greed -- and the dealership had crossed that line.

The tires should arrive at the dealer in the next couple of days.

Custom Sway Bar Link Wrench

(Image: Closeup of area sideswiped by moron)The front sway bar links connect to the front sway bar using a ball joint. To prevent the base of the joint (the bolt) from rotating when trying to remove the associated nut, you need a 16mm open-end wrench with a thin profile. My technician told me that although BMW provides a special tool for this purpose, in reality he uses a custom tool he made by grinding down a 16mm wrench. I bought a 16mm wrench from Eppys that I plan to sacrifice for this purpose, and while $10 is a lot to spend on a tool just to hack it up, it's cheaper than the BMW tool by a long shot. I'll talk more about that tool when I do the links.

Back to the Body Shop

Looks like I'm headed for the body shop -- for a third time. I came out from work tonight to find that the car had been sideswiped by a moron who parked next to me and decided to crank his wheel a bit too hard over while backing out. I didn't see who did it, and he didn't bother to leave a note with his information as required by law. In other words, it was a hit and run.

A bit of bad luck, I suppose, but as usual I plan to unravel the mess and spin it into gold:

If you've ever wondered why I have two cars and I don't commute with the E46, this is why. Breathe. Deeply. Relax.

Mileage: 136250, Parts: $1303